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The Oakwood and Me

He awakens from this dream unable to remember exactly what it was, or much at all beyond the simple fact that he has dreamed about being a child again. …He thinks that it is good to be a child, but it is also good to be a grownup and able to consider the mystery of childhood…I will write all of this down one day, he thinks, and knows it’s just a dawn thought, an after-dreaming thought. But it’s nice to think so for awhile in the morning’s clean silence, to think that childhood has its own sweet secrets and confirms mortality, and that mortality defines all courage and love. To think that what has looked forward must also look back, and that each life makes its own imitation of immortality: a wheel.
Or so Bill Denbrough sometimes thinks on those early mornings after dreaming, when he almost remembers his childhood, and the friends with whom he shared it.”
Stephen King, IT, 1985

 
“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…. they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”
Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi, 1970

 

                                                                                *
As in most summer childhood memories of the early 1990’s, it’s hot. Really, really hot. Hard, powder-blue sky, short shorts and sweaty polyester replica football shirts. Ice pops dribbling neon sugar-water down your wrist. Leeds United are playing – or have played, actually – and have won. I know this even though we’re playing in the car park of The Oakwood pub with a rapidly-deflating ball. We’ve all been assigned the requisite personas: Speed, Strachan, Chapman, Dorigo et al. Everybody wants to be Gary Speed or Lee Chapman, of course. It’s less of a football game, more a Battle Royale with a 99p football. The radio’s on in the bar and the odd explosive cheer emanates from inside when the double doors to the beer garden swing open, kicked by a guy doing trying to port three pints of Skol to his mates outside. The terrace adjacent to the car park is full, and pints upon pints of gold-hued lager are being necked with almost as much ferocity as the mid-day sun beating down on this corner of Leeds. Cars rolling up and down Easterly Road are beeping their horns and through the tree-line to the dual carriageway beyond I can see the odd flash of a white, yellow and blue bar scarf draped down the side of a nearly-closed car window. We play. The sound from the pub and the terrace is just chatter: low, grown-up talk humming under the cranked commentary, sailing on that ashen crown of cigarette smoke that pubs had in those days.

 

Thomas Dutton and Co at The Salford Brewery was founded in 1799 and thrived as one of Lancashire’s early major brewers. In 1897 they changed their name to Duttons Blackburn Brewery and in 1928 they began to acquire neighbouring breweries and their pub estates, which fuelled Dutton’s growth in the following years. Around 1936, they built The Oakwood Hotel in Oakwood, Leeds.

 

Oakwood 1939

The Oakwood Hotel, circa 1938.

Blackburn Brewery Company, Volunteer Brewery in Bolton, Penrith Brewery, Leeds’ Kirkstall Brewery and Adlington’s Mercer’s (of the famous Mercer’s Meat Stout, brewed with meat extract) all ended up in the arms of Dutton’s. At one point they owned well over 600 pubs and off-licences, radiating outward from Blackburn and across Lancashire and Yorkshire.
This carried on until 1964 when Duttons – and their estate –  was purchased by London brewer Whitbread. Dutton’s name was obliterated a couple of years later, becoming simply Whitbread West Pennines.

 
Since the close of the second world war, Whitbread had also been expanding their operations by acquiring smaller, less financially stable regional breweries. By purchasing Dutton’s, Whitbread added another 764 pubs to their already growing estate. By 1971, Whitbread had bought another 26 of these breweries, including the likes of Rhymney, Liverpool’s Threlfall Brewery, and Brickwood, who were housed on the south coast.

 
The new playground was amazing. When the weekends came, we couldn’t wait to get up there; turn the corner and be faced with a brand-new, multi-level slide and swing set, all standing proudly atop fresh, still-damp wood chippings. I still catch the smell of those chippings in garden centres to this day; deeply earthy, sweet forest floor. When I do, I’m transported straight back to that playground.
The slide; shaped like a fort with two levels that begged to be transformed through the alchemy of an adolescent mind into a rocket, castle or den. Something to be defended. Somewhere to hide.

 
…And the swings – oh, the swings! The never-ending tournament to see who could go ‘All the way round’ –  or, jump off at the highest peak, sail through the air like Eddie the Eagle and land on two feet – began in earnest that afternoon, I’m sure. Ringed by the bushes, which ran the edges of the beer garden and concealed within a labyrinth of dens and hiding places, you had a first-rate world to play in. The pub – boxy, white, stern – lingered in the background like a playground monitor. That was where your parents were. Or –  even worse – other adults. A source of pocket money, yes, but this was not their world. This was ours.

 

                                                                                  
The years that followed were prosperous, and Whitbread became a gargantuan operator. Despite buying off-licences and starting a considerable spirits and soft drinks division, when the ‘70’s rolled around, there was another market that Whitbread had their eye on: casual dining. Founded in 1955 by Frank and Aldo Berni, Berni Inns had had proved immensely popular. Their mock-Tudor restaurants catered in ‘quality’ steaks, indulgent desserts and – perhaps most famously – prawn cocktails – at prices keen enough to keep families coming to dine there once a week.
Beefeaterold

So, with the opening of the Halfway House in Enfield in 1974,  The Beefeater Inn was born. Whitbread had been testing the steakhouse concept in the north with Trophy Taverns and Dutton’s Grillhouses but had pulled them all under the Beefeater Steakhouse umbrella by 1979. There was a new gang in town, armed with as much steak, deep fried scampi and black forest gateaux as you could handle.

 

By  1984 there were 150 Beefeaters in Britain, with Scotland following and a fraught expansion into Germany. Beefeater was a success, and remained a bedrock of Whitbread’s retail division throughout the 1980’s. The Oakwood became one, and remained one right through the 80’s.

 

As for the pub itself, the memories are vague; really vague. As i sit and type this, at 38 years old,  I’m wondering how much of my memory is construct, how much genuine. But, I’ve visited it enough in my mind-palace in talked about it with relatives to assert that regardless of how much truth lies within, I’m happy with it.

 

The Oakwood didn’t seem like a gloomy or dark pub.  Windows ran most of the way around the bar and let plenty of that aforementioned glorious 90’s sunlight in. The carpet was standard-issue red floral, the mouldings faux-brass and the wood stained mahogany, as was the norm in those days. Entering the pub you were faced with a long, glass-backed bar along one wall, with raised seating areas straddling the back walls, behind you. The odd, multi-level design made the pub feel larger than it probably was. Cigarette machines abutted the doors, and probably did a brisk trade on the days the man with the bag full of ciggies didn’t come around, stopping at each table.

 
But the bit that made it interesting was where the kids ate. The Oakwood had a grotto.
The grotto is strange to comprehend, even for my young mind.  Plastic walls molded to look like a cave, green and blue lighting, a bridge that you had to cross to get into it. Piped music; pixie lullabies, perhaps. I remember a booth – a small one, child-sized. Must have been hell for the adults to sit in it. I can hear water. I do remember, clearly, the food. A white, branded plate, laden with steak-cut chips, peas, and chicken nuggets. Burgers with splodges of ketchup dead-centre in the middle of the bun. Orange fish fingers. Ice-cream in little metal bowls. It’s all good. Actually, better than that – It was magical. We must have eaten here loads, but these are the only things I recall of the grotto at The Oakwood.

 
My Mother worked for a short time behind the bar at The Oakwood. Her recollection of the bar layout matches mine but offers a little more on the grotto: and village: ‘To the right of the bar, as you walked in, there was a step leading down to the grotto, which contained little houses with actual windows, doors, and tiled roofs. Each house contained a table and seats and, as you can imagine, the lighting was dim. Before you got to the houses there was a stream with a bridge and a tree. There was a water feature inside that trickled water into the stream. It was like a cave with lights.’
Katie Hargrave, who grew up nearby, has kindly passed on a few of her family’s’ pictures for use in this piece. Although not dated, you can see the tiled roofs of the little huts. In one, the railings of a well, which also contained running water. She recalls enjoying birthday parties with Mr Men cake. A munchkin village inside a pub, indeed.

 

 

Oakwood 1.jpg

Photo courtesy of Katie Hargrave. Note the well in the background.

Poster Valerie Clapham on the Leodis Photographic Archive is also on the birthday party trail: “I can remember when this pub was done out, they created a children’s room like no other I ever seen, at least in this country. They had a stream running through, there were trees and plants, it was brilliant. You could book the room for parties, both my two had their Birthday parties there. That would have been in the late 1970s”

 

Oakwood 2.jpg

Photo courtesy of Katie Hargrave. Looks like a Mr Men cake to me…

Distinguished Leodensian beer writer Barrie Pepper- who also lives nearby –  recalls: “ I visited it when it was a fish restaurant a couple of times. The food was ok but it was a bit pretentious! (Later) it had streams running through it with dinky little bridges…’
As Barry attests, the area where the grotto stood in those days was, for a long time, a fish restaurant – which may seem like an odd choice as a bolt-on to a suburban boozer but for the upwardly mobile residents of Oakwood it was popular enough.
I can’t find any other references to the ‘Grotto’ design being used elsewhere; the thought of the Leeds one being the only one is a comforting one, at least.

 
It’s Christmas Day. As usual, we’re at our grandparents. Despite my uncle’s slightly ruffled appearance due, no doubt, to Christmas eve excesses, it’s been suggested that the younger men of the house decamp to The Oakwood for a beer or two whilst dinner’s being prepared. My dad, brother, uncle and I trudge up Oakwood Lane to find a buzzy, slightly lairy Oakwood pub and spend a pint or so  – forced, I’m sure, in my uncle’s case – catching up before walking back home and (hopefully) finding a fully-cooked Christmas dinner prepared and ready. I had received a Walkman that very morning and was besotted with it. Orange-foamed headphones, the lot. Gunmetal gray with yellow detailing, along with a double cassette of Now ‘91. (I didn’t remember the year or full tracklisting – I’ve just looked it up. Heh, memories). I was obsessed with The Scorpion’s biggest hit ‘Wind of Change’ – it’s haunting, whistled refrain and unabashed power-ballad chorus coupled with just the right amount of mystery peppering the lyrics really hit me where I lived in those days. I sat with my coke, drowning out the yuletide pre-lunch topers, spongy headphones on, lost in a world of German power ballads.

 
The 90’s, however were a different matter. In his 2014 book,  Brewers, Brands and Pubs in Their Hands, Tony Thornton writes “….With Whitbread’s propensity to experiment and introduce new restaurant concepts, observers wondered whether it (Beefeater) was being starved of investment.” The brand became a little dated and declined – hardly helped by the BSE crisis that hit the UK livestock trade in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s. A site restructure meant that 50 sites, including The Oakwood Beefeater, was sold.

 

 

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The Oakwood McDonald’s April 2018. Aside from the signage and golden arches, the building itself is more or less the same as it was then.

Word spreads like a summer heat-rash on the streets. The Oakwood is no more. It’s going to be ….a McDonalds.

We can’t believe it.

It’s like all of our christmases have come at once. McDonalds was the sole preserve of ‘town’; a pre- or post- cinema treat. Soon, those salty-delicious fries and squishy, saucy burgers are going to be on our doorstep. What a life.
Except, when it opens, we’re all a little too old to really care. We go, of course. A couple of our friends have actually gained employment there – tales of food allowance if you work a certain amount of numbers astound the gang. Free McDonalds!

 

Planning permission documents place the Oakwood Pub becoming a McDonalds in 1998. In 2006, a further 239 sites (mostly ones not attached to a Premier Inn) were sold to Mitchells & Butler, who still operate the brand today.

 

The Oakwood was a compass, a turnpike in our young world at the time. The green and yellow Yorkshire Rider buses which took us to ‘town’ (Leeds City Centre) stopped there, headed westward and – as is the way of a lot of pubs on roundabouts –  the stop was referred to as ‘The Oakwood stop.’ To the north of the roundabout, Roundhay Park lay with it’s vast, green spaces, lakes, ice cream vans and concerts – perhaps the place that encapsulates my childhood the best. To the south lay our house and that of of our grandparents, as well as our schools. Friend’s houses dotted all around the vicinity. With the opposite parade of shops boasting a chinese takeaway (The New Dor Bo – still there) and Big Mama’s pizza, a launderette (Soap Opera – still there), my second-cousins Butcher’s shop (seriously; when i say the meat trade runs in the family I mean it) a real, reach-out-and-grab-the-produce grocer (Fruit Bowl), two newsagents (one which was, almost retro-futuristically called ‘Candylines’), a branch of Threshers (Also owned by Whitbread at one point – RIP) and, for a short time, an grimy, dark independent video rental shop which had a couple of tatty arcade machines – The Oakwood roundabout was pretty much the centre of the world. And presiding over it all was the art-deco grandeur of The Oakwood pub.

 

Oakwood Rear.JPG

The rear of the pub. The terrace/beer garden is still standing, but the back left-hand side looks to have been extended. The playground was where the writer is taking the photo from.

It’s only later – much later – that I realise that I never got to drink beer in The Oakwood. I never got to catch up with the gang as adults, buying a couple of rounds or lingering over a boozy lunch. Our kids won’t play in that playground, the source of so much happiness for me, my brothers and sister, and our pals. Yes, everybody drifts away – such is life – but the Oakwood looms large despite me never enjoying it on its own terms. Our timelines didn’t align, our stories just fell out of sync. I’d have loved my first underage pint to have been in there.

 
But it’s still there, in a way. I can visit McDonalds, and feel strange; like I’ve slipped into another dimension and there’s only me who knows it. I can order a burger, and mentally draw up where things used to be. The girl serving me wouldn’t have even been born when it was a pub. I can eat my burger, feeling odd, like a temporally-displaced character from a Philip K Dick story.  I can drive past it, and point it out to my daughter and wife, then spend the next ten minutes recounting the stories I’ve just told you. At least there’s that. Despite the golden arches, it still looks like The Oakwood.

 

The Oakwood and me: we parted on good terms.

 

A memory:  I’m working on Saturdays now, in my grandfather’s Butcher’s shop. I get home around five and am old enough to kind of do what I want. I have a friend – who lives over the road – whose mum lets him watch Horror movies. He’s a little older than the usual gang, and I’m a little older now, too. I go over to his house, knowing that Saturday night is film night. I knock on the door. He’s eating, and could I come back later? asks him mum, wearily. So I take myself up to the chinese takeaway and buy what, to me at the time, represented the absolute pinnacle of self-sufficient comfort food: New Dor Bo’s Fried Rice. I ask for a fork and with my steaming aluminium carton in tow, cross the dual carriageway to sit on The Oakwood’s wall. I gobble my food, knowing that when I’m finished I’ll wander back towards home. I’ll call for my mate and we’ll watch Halloween and The Thing in the dark, scaring ourselves witless. Easterly Road is busy, people getting home after work, readying themselves for the weekend. The sun’s setting. Behind me, kids play in the playground. Our playground. They look young.

 

I don’t know them.

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The Kirkstall Bridge Inn, Leeds

IMG_1160Kirkstall 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.

kirkstallSo, 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.’

Pic courtesy of Kirkstall Brewery

Pic courtesy of Kirkstall Brewery

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.

 

The Old Peacock, Leeds

Old PeacockIt’s entirely fitting that, above the bar in the freshly-appointed dining room of The Old Peacock, you’re watched over by the framed, faux-aged visages of Billy Bremner, Paul Reaney, Eddie Gray, and other luminaries of a Leeds United team that shone like no other. Although the hand of that team has at times weighed heavily on the shoulders of subsequent players lucky enough to don the white shirt at Elland Road, The Old Peacock honours them; celebrating them and their memory with taste and style.

The Peacock’s gone through the mill in its years in the shadow of Elland Road’s south stand. It hadn’t avoided the old clichés of ‘football ground/local support’ clubs; serviced and run by fans for the fans; it fell short of attracting any trade other than those who chose to go in it. That’s not all bad; a “boozer” it was and a “boozer” it remained – but it lived and died on matchday takings. Changes of ownership, abrupt closures and a general malaise about the business itself didn’t help. On matchdays it was the place to meet if you wanted to sit in a pub (or, more acutely stand in the car park), but other than that…well, even if you were a home supporter, there where times where it felt like an exclusive place  to drink.

So when news filtered through that  Ossett Brewery had joined forces with the current owner Greene King and were going to take the place over, things had to be good, right? Ossett aren’t short of expertise in this area – they’ve won awards for their pub estate, with The Hop chain in particular proving  that live music and real ale are natural bedfellows. But what exactly did I expect? Well, I expected decent beer – and not much else. A lick of Paint. New staff. We’ll get onto that later…

It’s difficult to talk about The Old Peacock (which is the new, yet old, name) without pointing out that the place is now somewhere that you’d want to drink in more often than matchdays. A simple concept – in fact, the only concept that will make pubs like this trade well – but so many get it wrong.

Peacock interiorJon Howe, author of All White; Leeds United’s 100 Greatest Players, agrees. “The problem is that, in the other 340 days a year when Leeds United aren’t at home, the pub becomes just another establishment struggling to drum up trade in a low-income area where many people would prefer to drink at home. What Ossett Brewery have done is recognise The Old Peacock’s unique heritage and put a bit of thought into how they can exploit that 365 days a year. There aren’t many good pubs in Beeston. There aren’t many good pubs next to football grounds, anywhere in the country. The Old Peacock is now a vibrant pub that doesn’t just treat fans as a commodity to be exploited, much like the club’s previous owner did, in fact.”

“The Old Peacock adds a sense of refinement to an area that previously lacked it…” continues Jon, “…And the pub provides a welcoming atmosphere with great music that people might want to come back to, maybe even on a non-match day.”

The refurbishment is stunning, frankly. The way that Leeds United has been weaved into the fabric of the pub is brilliant; overt in the wallpaper on the far wall (a sepia collage of newspaper cuttings, trading cards and Leeds United ephemera) and the gorgeously florid Peacock mosaic on the floor ( which took over two weeks to complete by local artist Leyla Murr, using some 8000 pieces of glass), subtle in the yellow and white floor tiles and the clever dropping of the despised red from Ossett’s logo that adorns the windows.  The dining room adds pictures of the brewers of Ossett and a gallery of old pump clips made into wallpaper that ties the whole feel together. It’s beer, beer and food, beer and football.

photo (4)The overall effect is that – if you’re a Leeds United fan – you instantly smile; you spend first five minutes of your first visit pointing things out, wandering around, having a look what;s on the menu, and such. And if you don’t particularly care for football, it’s not in your face – you’re just drinking in a very smart new pub.

Jamie Lawson, the driving force at Ossett Brewery and this venture, couldn’t agree more. ‘The Old Peacock had been on my radar for a while – after all, it’s no secret that I’ve always been a big Leeds United fan. It had definitely seen better days prior to our refurbishment, but the whole team at Ossett Brewery were determined to return it to its former glory. We wanted to make it a place where everyone from locals and football fans to families and business people could come for a nice pint of real ale and some quality food, which I think we have achieved.”

I spend a little time chatting to Thanos Dimou, the softly spoken, enthusiastic bar manager who is more than happy to regale us with the story of the roller-coaster ride that the last few weeks have been. Despite being with the company for a while, it’s the first pub he’s actually run.

Thanos’s pride in the place is clear as he talks. He was here during the building, and saw the place become what it is now. I wonder aloud if there was any thought to strip the football ‘theme’ out of the place entirely, I ask. “No, not at all. As you know, Jamie is a Leeds United supporter, so all the little things you see (at which point he gestures around us) was all part of the plan from the beginning. We’ve kept the heritage of the pub… but want to make it a 7-days-a-week pub” Thanos re-confirms.

“It’s refreshing to see how the locals have actually taken to the place.”  he smiles. “I’ll tell you something – one thing happened recently that was really touching. When we opened, these two guys came in, got a pint, clinked glasses and looked around with huge smiles on their faces. One of them then turned to other and said, ‘I’m home.” Those two guys are now regulars – one of them was actually walking out of the bar as we walked in. One wonders how often they drank in here on non-matchdays before. ‘The people of Beeston have been so respectful; they’ve embraced the change.’

photo (2)It’s not only locals who are dropping in and planting their stakes in the ground. Thanos tells us of the recent visit of a gang of marauding Norwegian supporters (Leeds have a voracious Scandinavian following) who overran the place before a game recently, erecting flags in the car park and buying Peacock shirts to take back home with them. “They were fantastic. They had banners, flags, everything…they were here all day. They loved the place – it’s wonderful (as a bar manager) to see that.”

Beer – wise you’ve got the Ossett range that you know and love : Blonde, Silver King, Excelsior and 1919, a ruby-hued, sweetly malt-led house beer, brewed for the pub itself and commemorating the year of the club’s birth. Wine, lager (still the best-seller on matchdays) and ciders adorn the fridges and keg-tops. Make no mistake, this is Ossett’s show – the only concession to Greene King is the presence of Golden and Speckled Hen on the bar.

The food offering is excellent, too. On our visit we ate tasty, fresh Fish and Chips in gargantuan portions, and they cosy up alongside the likes of burgers, hot & cold sandwiches, and separate Pie and Grill menus, all at decent prices for the portion you get.  The kitchen is now open – plan and faces what used to be known as the ‘members area’ (then a smoky room that you couldn’t go in), now a large dining room fronted by an impressive brick arch. You can eat anywhere, but the two spaces flow nicely; too many pubs with dining rooms seem to create invisible barriers – but not here. The staff, Ossett Brewery-shirted and busy, bustle about pulling pints and balancing plates of food as they go. Thursday is steak night,  and Sunday roasts are gaining in popularity.

photo (3)‘Although the  physical refurbishment is complete our food menu will change regularly and we’ll continue to welcome new guest ales’ says Jamie. ‘…Plus, we’ll  plan more events that will keep our existing customers coming back for more – we’ve already welcomed legends such as Eddie Gray through our doors.’

There’s been a pub on this site since the mid-1800’s, and the current one has  been standing since 1963. Since then, the pub has undergone many, many changes. Let’s hope that this one is the last; Ossett have done wonders with it. But don’t take my word for it – go see for yourself.

You can buy Jon Howe’s ‘All White: Leeds United’s Greatest 100 Players’ via Amazon, and his webpage is here. You can see more (and buy) of Leyla Murr’s artwork on her site, where you can also keep up to date with her exhibitions. Since this article was published, Ossett have also opened The Hop in York, and Leyla has created another mosaic for the Rat & Ratchet pub. 

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