The Sparrow: Bradford’s Fledgling Bar Grows Up
‘The good thing about these tables is that they are actually quite trendy now!’ Mark Husak laughs as we discuss the finer points of the formica tables dotted around The Sparrow. Resplendent in bygone chic, the tables were a transplant from a working men’s club – obtained in return for a charity donation. The coffee machine, burbling behind the bar, was a renovation job from Leeds University. Somehow these recycled gems seem entirely right for a bar that exudes such an easy-going spirit, and recently celebrated its second birthday.
It pretty much sums up the nature of Mark Husak, too; joint-owner of The Sparrow. We sit discussing the past two years over a couple of pitch-perfect pints of South Island Pale, one of the best beers to come from long-time supporter Saltaire Brewery. It’s hard not to fall into the clichés of ‘ Two years…it’s gone really fast!’ but, inevitably, the phrase keeps popping up. Time has passed quickly, and The Sparrow now enjoys a firmly cemented reputation as one of Yorkshire’s best beer bars.
We, the drinking public, obviously only see the end product; a bier cafe in every sense, from the local artwork adorning the walls, the gig listings of the odd acoustic act, the coffee machine, the aforementioned formica tables. Visit during the day – any day except when Bradford City are at home – and you’ll feel like it’s Sunday afternoon. Today, Mark probably feels anything but; he’s taking time out of a busy schedule to chat, and it’s then when you get a sense of the hard work involved in starting – and running – a modern bar.
‘Les (Hall, Mark’s partner in crime at The Sparrow) had been working in Law for years, and I’d done some music promotion and management before going into teaching. I always wanted to do my own thing though.’ Starts Mark as we chat about the early days of The Sparrow. When Mark decided that being a teacher wasn’t for him, two things, at least, were clear. A stoic Bradfordian, there was only one place to site the project. ‘We were passionate about beer – and passionate about Bradford.’ he states, matter of factly. ‘We actually had people saying ‘Why are you doing it in Bradford?’ he laughs. ‘We wanted to drink in Bradford, not move to Leeds or Huddersfield. Now, I think you can say we’ve done that, and we’ve proved there’s a market, I think.’
‘Les and were actually at a mutual friend’s wedding in Poland, around 2009. Les mentioned that he intended to leave Law, and I decided to join him. We knew we had to find a property – the right property – and whilst Les left his job, I kept working a couple of days a week could to keep things going. I was actually working (teaching) when this place opened, as it happens.’
That lasted all of two weeks and soon Les and Mark were full-time bar owners. The building itself presented challenges, as it’s listed, but nothing that the duo couldn’t overcome. ‘It wasn’t the first building we looked at, but it was the right size and layout. It used to be a wedding shop.’ Mark laughs. ‘We had to convert some rooms into the cellar, rebuild the toilet, and the bar is new to what was there then.’
Mark goes on to explain how the beers started to appear; with one beer in particular holding a special place on the bar. ‘I’d really enjoyed Bernard in Pivni in York many, many times, and I approached them to see if we could stock it. They were a little reluctant at first – as they are the only people to sell it – but eventually we worked something out and now we are proud to sell it, and they help us out loads. It sells well; and we’re the only place except them to sell it at the moment. Having a good lager was really important to us. We have unfiltered on permanently, more or less.’
York’s Pivni was not the only inspiration behind what Les and Mark had in mind when setting up The Sparrow. ‘North was always a proper bar; still my favourite. It’s got such a great atmosphere and vibe. There are others, of course, like Zephyr, which we like, too.’
One thing was at the forefront of Mark’s mind; what sort of landlord he wanted to be. Or not, perhaps. ‘We always wanted to be a bar, not a pub. We’ve got enough pubs in Bradford that have closed down, and we didn’t want to be compared to anything or anyone before us. We wanted to start with a clean slate.’
And they did. Being a bar holds no barriers to Mark in terms of what he sells, and the clientele ranges from your CAMRA stalwarts to people who want a coffee, to packed matchdays at Valley Parade. ‘We still sell loads of Cask ale; we have a low-abv Pale Ale on at all times. Keg, bottles all are popular but the Ales are our main sellers. We make sure it’s priced right, and kept well. You have to; but at the same time we sell £15 bottles of imported beer. We want to offer something for everyone.’ Bradford CAMRA certainly concur; it was crowned Pub of The Year last year.
And why is it called The Sparrow? ‘Because we just liked the name’, laughs Mark.
Local collaboration is important to The Sparrow. Jump over to their website to see the cavalcade of local artists and musicians that pop up on a weekly basis, and food has started to come into play. Brooklyn Brewery are sponsoring their Street Food Fridays, which is the brainchild of The Sparrow and Northern Streats. They’ve also built a lasting partnership with Prashad, Drighlington’s lauded Gujarati restaurant, holding beer and food nights at both the Sparrow and Prashad’s premises. The Sparrow’s artwork is all original, coming from Everyday Something.
Needless to say, Mark and Les are currently hard at work on a new project, of which announcements should be made soon. More short-term sees a US Beer week on now (with a tasting hosted by Rob from HopZine), and the launch of new brewery Northern Monk on the 18th July. Mark’s particularly pleased to be working with Northern Monk, a new cuckoo brewery hailing from – you guessed it – Bradford. Further details are here.