It is the focal point of a hamlet which almost ceased to exist.
Back in the 1960s, there were plans pretty much to raze the then rather dowdy Crooke Village in Wigan; but the locals formed a co-operative, sold their homes to it, won Government grants and, in the intervening years have evolved it into a lovely little haven.
Crooke Hall Inn has seen it all. The historic building sits on the canal close to the marina and is popular with narrow boat users and walkers.
It’s dog-friendly to the point of there being a jar of biscuits for the pets on the bar; and as a building it has character bordering on the eccentric, not least the vertiginous stone steps up from the towpath garden which have proved a challenge for many a waiter and customer carrying a tray of drinks (plastic vessels are supplied for al fresco quaffing, I should add).
It’s an idyllic spot for a summer’s evening sup in the sunshine.
But as the nights draw in don’t let the change of the seasons delay you. This place is busy the year round.
Inside the decor is a little tired, it has to be said, but some might argue that is part of its charm. And for many it will be the quality of the beverages that count.
Crooke Hall has certainly been much praised by the beer boffins of Camra over the years.
In recent months I’ve sampled quite a few ales there and it invariably boasts a nicely contrasting, quality range.
On the latest visit, for example, I downed a refreshingly sharp Arizona Indian pale ale from the Phoenix brewery and a maltily potent pint called Black Mass that was almost a meal in itself.
So there you have it; a homely, old-fashioned hostelry, dog-friendly, lovely setting, fine booze. Perhaps you would then be mistaken for thinking that this was just an excellent watering hole.
But the Crooke Hall Inn has another important string to its bow: some of the best value pub food around.
It’s not haute cuisine, let’s be clear. But what you do get are good, fresh ingredients, excellently cooked, stylishly presented and your money goes a long way.
The premises don’t seem to bother with starters (unless you want a smaller portion of the main course mussels offering). But worry not: you won’t go hungry!
They have a rounded choice of hearty dishes, including special versions of pub favourites prefaced by the word “Crooked”, including pork, lamb, burger, steak and liver which all promise something a bit extra.
There are lighter options, a children’s menu, their fish and chips are extremely competitive and there is a specials board which mainly entices you with fresh fish and pasta dishes.
In fact on my review visit I plumped for a special’s board sea bass with a prawn and mushroom sauce with new potatoes and a side order of veg: all for a ludicrous £9.95!
The baked fish was beautifully cooked and everything else was tasty and in plentiful supply. The chef is clearly not one of those who thinks that customers should always be left wanting more (aka going home famished).
My other half went for a chicken and chorizo salad which really is amazing in its quantity and quality for the £6.95 price tag. The chicken was plump and moist (they always do chicken particularly well, it seems) and, unlike some places, you don’t get piddling amounts of what should be the main attractions padded out with depressingly large amounts of leaves.
Other establishments might charge two or three times as much for this.
Desserts are all under a fiver. The missus ordered sticky toffee pudding with cream for £4.95 and I had good old jam roly poly with custard for a quid less. At these prices, who can complain, even if they hadn’t been just what we wanted? Incidentally they were giving puds away for 99p the other day!
So a great experience all round, further enhanced by the fact that, for a tenner, you can buy a discount card that gets you 10 per cent off all food and drink for a year!
Looking for high quality, astonishing value fare and a fine pint? Then this place is well worth a try. Maybe you’ll come back again and again.