But soon the urban landscape begins to change, and the effect of recent investment begins to show. A decommissioned airport terminal is now a swank Marriott. A former match factory has become prime office space. I begin to understand why Aldridge and others like him, the true Scousers who came from next to nothing, are sanguine about their prospects. “You have to move forward,” he says. “It won’t change Liverpool. It’ll bring opportunity.”
I already feel the difference. The old Moat House hotel, now demolished, used to cater to a mature demographic; it felt like a VFW convention had gathered at the bar. Instead I find Print hotel, a members-only club with a clientele two generations younger. It has music pulsing, no reception area, and six spacious, starkly designed guest rooms. It couldn’t be better situated, straddling the main shopping area and the Cavern Quarter of bars and clubs. Even more comfortable is the Malmaison, part of a small chain that specializes in retrofitting historic buildings. This one is newly built and has a Vegas feel. Rooms are dark, with black leather and wood. Shampoo and conditioner come in eight-ounce tubes and are meant to be taken home. A sleek lamp is turned on by tapping its base.
Best of all is the Hope Street Hotel, a converted furniture store in the Georgian Quarter, near several repertory theaters, the Liverpool Philharmonic, and the best restaurants. My room has two walls of exposed brick that are more than a century old. The floors and furniture are polished wood, the bathroom sink resembles an oversize salad bowl. The window faces the vast Liverpool Cathedral, a red sandstone masterpiece constructed over much of the 20th century that is the fifth-largest church in the world.
But up next, a few doors down Mathew Street from where the Beatles played the Cavern, is the Hard Days Night Hotel. With Beatles-themed rooms and other nostalgic kitschiness, it’s just the kind of blatant attempt at commercialization that seems bound to fail here. At the reconstructed Cavern, and at other nearby bars, the music scene is still thriving—as it has since the Merseybeat years, through Echo & the Bunnymen, the Teardrop Explodes, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Walking past this neighborhood at night, I’m aware of an excitement, even a frisson of danger. I can envision the middle-class suburban teenagers Lennon and McCartney arriving in the heart of this unpolished city, tramping cautiously down Mathew Street with their battered guitars: a sharply rendered image that connects me to the Beatles’ Liverpool years far better than some hotel room decorated for a song they wrote ever could.
That evening i visit the Tate Liverpool, in the converted warehouses of the Albert dock development, to view the installations nominated for the Turner Prize. Then I settle in on a bench behind the museum, overlooking the river. The sun has set, and the lights on the far bank glow yellow in the dusk. I spot a packet ferry leaving the Wirral, then track it as it crosses.
Not surprisingly, I can’t get the old Gerry and the Pacemakers’ song “Ferry ’Cross the Mersey” out of my head. I hear Gerry Marsden singing “This land’s the place I love/And here I’ll stay,” words that have enticed me since I first encountered them, not long after the song’s 1964 release. It occurs to me that I fell for Liverpool then, decades before I ever saw it.
I see the boat glide to the dock beneath the Liver Building, and the passengers stride off the gangway with an eager step. I look up and notice that it has just started to rain.
Bruce Schoenfeld is Travel + Leisure’s wine and spirits editor.