Category Archives: pubs in Leeds
Kirkstall may be one of the busiest suburbs of Leeds – leading away from the city and to the Abbey and Horsforth heading north-west, or up into the student heartland of Burley and Headingley heading north-east – but it’s not what it used to be for pubs. Aside from the resurgent West End House and The Vesper Gate (owned by Sizzling Pubs), there’s not much for the beer drinker on this busy junction.
This wasn’t always the case. I remember the Kirkstall Lights being a cheap, popular local in the late 90’s (I lived in nearby Burley whilst in college at the time) which did a decent sideline in live music, and stalwarts of the area cite long-gone drinking dens such as The Morning Star, The (somewhat infamous) Star & Garter, The Abbey Inn and The Rising Sun (the recent fire at which was a real shame for those interested in design; one of the first Tetley’s houses (its gorgeous interior was destroyed finally after a year or so of being used as an ersatz furniture warehouse) as ‘decent drinkers’. The George IV sits idle, rotting away behind ornate glasswork, at the very bottom of Kirkstall Road.
So it’s heartening to see a new pub (housed in what used to be The Old Bridge Inn) being taken over by local heroes Kirkstall Brewery and turned into what is ostensibly their brewery tap. You get a sense that the area needs The Kirkstall Bridge Inn (not the Old Bridge, as the signage outside confusingly still states); not just for the students who now inhabit what used to be the original, bustling brewery overlooking the canal, but for the residents of Bramley and Kirkstall, too.
After a long development / refurbishment, it finally opened at the end of the summer – and it’s been worth the wait. Inside, the pub itself is unrecognisable from it’s somewhat tatty, unloved former self. There’s cosy nooks, plenty of dark wood and the walls gleam with original and reproduced breweriana, most of which came out of Steve Holt (Kirkstall Brewery’s owner) extensive private collection. New seating and partitions have been created, and the overall feel achieved is that of a large, single-roomed pub with plenty of privacy – which is quite an illusion to pull off. Speaking to Steve, I know he’s proud of it – but has promised more to come in the way of decoration.
Bar-wise, it’s as you’d expect from Kirkstall Brewery; Three Swords Pale, BYB and the luscious Black Band Porter were all in fine fettle, and to be expected as permanent. There’s Kirkstall’s lager and Framboise on keg, and, at the time of my visit, a couple of guests from The Tapped Brew Co. The fridges groan with Vertical Drinks’s US and Belgian roster; Stone, Oskar Blues and, of course, Sierra Nevada all being present and correct.
Downstairs, the transformation is even more striking; the dark, dingy ‘basement bar’ now a second bar; stone-flagged and spacious, leading out to the riverside beer garden. It feels like part of the pub, despite being underneath it. There’s no food, but local food vendors such as Bundobust and Fish & are enjoying long-term winter residencies, which solves that problem. Wilson’s (frankly excellent) Pork Pies are also available for those wanting something more traditional.
So, overall, an excellent addition to an over-populated but under-used part of Leeds. Let’s hope the students and local residents take the opportunity to pop in rather than heading into Leeds – I know my canal-side weekend dog-walk just got another welcome little stop on it (dogs are welcome in the basement bar).
It’s not just change at the pub, though. I took the opportunity to have a chat with Matt Lovatt – part of the new brewing team at Kirkstall- to see how life has changed since I last interviewed Steve Holt and Dave Sanders for Great Yorkshire Beer. Dave Sanders recently left the brewery and made the short hop towards Bradford, joining the team at Saltaire Brewery.
Matt’s one of the army of talented homebrewers being given a chance to step up. ‘I’d never been employed in a brewery before. I have home brewed for about five years now with varying levels of success. I had just moved house and was toying with the idea of setting up a vanity brewery in my garage when I was asked if I was interested in working at Kirkstall.’ he explains.
He’s already finding the challenge of commercial brewing lies not only in recipe formulation, but brewing to schedule and at a level of consistency that the drinkers demand. ‘(There’s) plenty to learn – and also to unlearn. Home brewing is great but scale, free time and attention span tend to lead to occasional, eclectic brew days! Returning to a recipe can seem like a wasted opportunity. By contrast, at Kirkstall I’m really enjoying getting to know a set of core beers and working out what makes (and keeps) them what they are. We recently hit capacity so we are also in the process of scaling up which presents its own logistical challenges.’
There’s not just Matt on the team – Alex Dodds is the Head Brewer. Starting out managing pubs (including Wire in Leeds and a stint with Market Town Taverns, he got his break in brewing as Brewery Manager at Wensleydale a few years ago and moved to Kirkstall in 2012 to assist Dave Sanders. He and Matt are joined by Tom Summerscales, who started at Kirkstall within a week of graduating from Heriot Watt this year. Tom is also a keen home brewer and has had some previous experience at his home town brewery, Ossett.
So, what are the new -look Kirkstall crew working on at the moment?
‘Our first priority is to be able to make more of the beer that has already proved itself. Beyond that, some other things in the pipeline include keg Three Swords (which, at the time of publishing, has made an appearance) and some seasonal specials for North Bar (whose house Pale ale, Prototype, is a perennial favourite and brewed by Kirkstall).’ Explains Matt. ‘A pet project of mine is to get a pilot plant going at the brewery. If all goes to plan it should be possible to indulge some experimentation to complement our established range.’
So, very much a case of new brew team, new challenges for Kirkstall Brewery. Not least the addition of a new pub to showcase their wares. Much like Kirkstall bringing brewing back to an area of Leeds once known for it, the pub should hopefully bring a few drinkers out of the city centre and Headingley. Trust me, it’s worth the visit.
I grew up not far from Oakwood. My school bordered Roundhay Park, and the area still holds a huge emotional connection for me. I don’t have any family in that part of Leeds anymore – we’re now scattered across the opposite side of Leeds – but my wife and I still spend a lot of time in the area, mostly walking Wilson in the park itself, happy to make the 20 minute car journey across Leeds to a place we both love. To use a hoary cliche, it’s very much a case of going home.
The Oakwood Clock stands proud still, very much a survivor but under constant threat. Originally intended to be the centerpiece of Kirkgate Market, it is slowly being restored by the businesses in the area and hosts the Oakwood Farmer’s Market, too. It’s simply the place to meet in Oakwood, and deserves saving. One such business helping out is Stew & Oyster, holding a day each month where they sell a beer – normally a Yorkshire one – and every penny of the proceeds goes to towards the Clock restoration fund. This, as well as it’s location, is one of the reasons Ilkley Brewery and I made sure the final cask of The Good Stuff ended up on the bar there a few weeks ago.
Synchronicity is a funny thing. On a Tuesday night, Louise, Wilson and I were sitting in Stew & Oyster, hosted by Tyler Kiley (ex Friends of Ham and Mr Foley’s), chatting to Rob (Hand Drawn Monkey) and Steve Holt (Kirkstall Brewery), discussing (among many other things) Great Yorkshire Beer. When I was young, this place was a bank. Now, it’s a bustling bar, selling beer that I’ve written about and is being managed by another friend from the latter part of my life.
What would the younger Leigh have made of it? He’d have liked it, I think, but probably would have been angry (I was the archetypal angry young man as a teen – I must have been a nightmare) at the groups of ladies drinking wine or the two brickies nailing pints of Sagres after a day on their feet. What Stew & Oyster does really well is being complete; a full circle of a bar that truly caters to the community – it was nicely busy for a dreary (gotta love this summer) Tuesday night. Four handpumps toted a typically regional selection of well-kept beers (The Good Stuff, Hawkshhead’s Windermere Pale, Hand Drawn Monkey’s excellent IPA, and Magic Rock’s Curious, if you’re interested) alongside some kegged treats but – importantly – bolstered by the likes of Vedett, Sagres, Ciders, Spirits and Wines.
Looking around, every table was drinking something different and that’s the kicker. Stew & Oyster Oakwood is a lovely little suburban bar; the food looked good, there’s plenty of seating, and it’s dog friendly. Whereas Call Landing can sometimes feel a little cramped inside (yet boasts probably the best beer garden in inner-city Leeds), Oakwood basks in legroom. It doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard, and that’s clearly appreciated by the community.
So, if we do get a little sun this Summer and you find yourself enjoying the splendour of Roundhay, take the short walk down to Stew & Oyster. It’s my old stomping ground, and I’ll be certainly retracing those 80’s/90’s steps from now on.
‘Oakwood Parade’, as we used to call it, is certainly a hotspot at the minute; North are opening a bar there shortly, as well as Otley, which opened this week. If you want a more traditional pub in that part of Leeds, then The Roundhay Fox and The White House are both nearby.
Anyway, onto the pub. We chose yesterday lunchtime to pay a visit and see what was going on. The usual friendly, relaxed atmosphere and staff remain, as do the tin beer posters and assorted other breweriana (including a gorgeous plate for Goose Island’s Matilda that I simply have to have) that adorn the walls. The extension means that both the ground floor and upper mezzanine area have more or less doubled in size, and it’s a tasteful job.
Feeling peckish, we noticed that the food menu had been slightly scaled back, and also in price – which was a nice surprise. Given that I rate the Hamburger as one of my top five beer foods, I decided to give the guys a chance to impress with a Blue Cheeseburger. Excellent it was too, a big, rough, meatball-esque burger and a great cheese that started off buttery and then hit you with that sharpness that you need in a blue cheese. A chewy bun, and slices of tomato rounded it off well. My partner’s felafels were also given the thumbs up – as were my other friend’s Bean Chili.
From a range that included Saltaire’s Winter Warmer, TT Landlord and Copper Dragon’s Golden Pippin, I gave Vale Breweries’ Vale Pale a go; a very much no-nonsense Pale with a decent floral aroma. A nice alternative to Landlord, I thought. Their Wychert Ale had much more depth, with a fruity nose, a tight, creamy head and a treacle/bonfire toffee vibe in the body which aptly fitted the freezing temperatures outside.
We left happy in the knowledge that Arcadia remains improved, and putting the rest of the Drinking – Pits in Headingley to shame.
So far a week of pleasant surprises, all in all.
The Station Inn, New Quay Road, Whitby, YO21 1DH – Tel: 08721 077 077
The Victoria & Commercial Inn, Great George Street, Leeds: Tel – 0113 2451386
>Regular readers of TGS will know that another passion of mine is local history; and it would seem that recently, I keep coming across stories of haunted pubs in and around the Leeds area. A result of too many pints of Tetley’s, or genuine scary stories? Pubs do seem to attract the odd lost soul.
Take TGS favourite The Palace; a ‘gray lady’ resides there, although no one can really pick out a figure from the pub’s history that would fit the bill whilst they were alive – some even think it’s a man dressed as a woman, in fact. Staff of the Queens Hotel in City square tell of sharing their work with a number of ghosts – particularly two men; one victim of a shooting and one hanged man. My favourite inner-city pub ghost tale has to be that of The Old Red Lion, situated opposite The Adelphi. The upstairs rooms there supposedly rattle with goings-on; girls being seen at the windows despite the rooms being empty, and even blood dripping from the ceilings onto drinkers! The doors to these rooms now remain locked. Awesome stuff. The Golden Lion also has reputedly been the site of sightings of a man dressed in Victorian clothes, striding up and down the basement.
My local, The Abbey Inn in Newlay, is a treasure-trove of paranormal activity. It’s even been on the telly for this reason – Bar stools re-arranging themselves, piled on top of one another like Jenga bricks. The rope on the bar-bell swinging when no one is around it; ashtrays and such flying across the bar. Perhaps the most perturbing is the spooks’ habit of making the handpumps keep going once a pint is filled. Its ok poltergeists stacking furniture, but beer wastage is bad enough for a landlord to manage without cheeky spirits emptying casks.
Further afield, The Black Bull in Otley reports heavy footsteps in the upstairs rooms, ‘unpleasant feelings’ and people having their faces stroked by unseen fingers, and the ghost of Branwell Bronte haunts the Black Bull pub in Haworth, another pub that I’ve sank more than my fair share of pints in. Although these are my favourites, it would seem almost every moderately old pub has a friendly (or not so) friendly ghost wanting to share a pint with you. So beware – that ‘cold spot’ you might inadvertently sit may not be a draft from an open door – you could be sitting on the knee of someone who’s been sitting on that barstool for a very long time…