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The Old Cock, Otley: A Labour of Love

IMG_0197‘Tell you what; that’s a lovely radiator.’

Three grown men, myself, Stewart Ross (of The Flying Mallard Pub & Wharfedale Brewery) and Lee Pullen (erstwhile Landlord) sit there, beers in hand, admiring the grey-steel radiator. Like something from Metropolis, it hangs on the wall in pride of place; practically an ornament. Which is exactly what it is.

‘It doesn’t work.’ laughs Lee. ‘It’s from Joshua Tetley’s son’s house in Roundhay. We bought it and the fittings to use as a feature.’

This may all seem a little over-the-top; but for Lee and his wife Linda, The Old Cock deserves such attention to detail. A real labour of love, I don’t think I’ve ever met a landlord who can honestly say he built the pub. Let’s go back a little.

In 2007, after many licensing wrangles and planning squabbles, Lee and Linda finally procured the empty building, which was then being used as The Sugar Street Bistro. Lee had the sole intent of turning into a pub; and, with his background in construction, had no fears about taking the job on himself. Built in 1755, the building clearly had charm – it had been two little cottages at one point – but a pub it was not. The cellar had been filled in; new windows were needed – and that was just the internal works. Externally, the roof and pointing all needed replacing.  This was no makeover job; this was a solid project with a pub for the community springing into life at the end of it.

The work took a little over two years to complete. The aforementioned cellar was dug out entirely by hand, reinforced, then concreted. Again, as with the radiator, you’ve got to appreciate the details; the cellar is tiny but impeccably designed, with everything in its place and a place for everything.

IMG_0191As Lee takes us round the building, the story of how the pub blossomed into life out of a construction site comes into focus. Lee and Linda spent hours going up and down the country, scouring auctions and eBay for pub mirrors and breweriana such as acid-etched glass to use in one of the snugs. The bar is made out of wardrobes, and even the table we are sitting at was made by him. I know it sounds corny, but when Lee says that he’s probably laid his hands on every surface in the pub – every brick, every roof tile, every pipe – he’s telling the absolute truth.

As you’d expect, it wasn’t easy. Money was tight, credit was racked up and wrung out of every avenue they could find, but it didn’t matter. Lee and Linda were building their pub. Thier pub.They christened the pub The Old Cock; both a nod to the hens and cocks that the couple keep at home, spiced with a little Yorkshire cheek. ‘The regulars say it’s named after the Landlord’ Lee chuckles, quite happy to help perpetuate the myth. ‘People stand outside the sign sometimes and take pictures of the blokes stood underneath it – before coming in for a pint.’

Opening weekend went by in a blur, but Lee remembers that his first beer pulled was, interestingly, a Tetley’s bitter – with some Wold Top on the bar to keep it company.Now, the focus is very much on local beer and a minimum of beer miles being used up. The likes of Briscoe’s, Rooster’s, Wold Top, Naylors, Copper Dragon, Ilkley, Goose Eye and Rodham’s make regular appearances; joined by beers from further afield that Lee seeks out to add a little colour. Dark Star, Ulverston, Bristol Beer Factory, Hawkshead – as well as independent Ciders – all make guest appearances. It was rightly awarded Leeds CAMRA’s pub of the year in 2011.

IMG_0198‘It’s not just local beers for the sake of it, though.’ Lee asserts. ‘We want our beer to be varied and popular. It’s not unusual for us to sell out of a certain beer in an afternoon in busy times, and I think that proves how going the extra mile to get something good in pleases the customers.’ He won’t, for example, always go for the crowd-pleasers. ‘I tend to not stock the bar with just ‘Pale and Hoppy.’ he laughs. ‘I like to have all styles covered; a stout, a porter…and a mid-colour beer!’ he muses. ‘I love chestnut-coloured beers, but they can be hard to find, but we love ’em here.’ Now there’s something you thought you’d never read; think on, brewers.

It’s well appreciated by the locals – at 1400 on a Tuesday afternoon, the pub is pleasantly busy with drinkers ranging from your typical CAMRA types to your couples resting their bones after a meander through Otley. The beers we drunk during the afternoon were in tip-top condition; Little Valley’s Stoodley Stout smooth and silky, leaning toward  on the bramble/fruity side of stout than dry and roasted; Rooster’s Fort Smith effortlessly bold and brassy, and an interesting ‘Cask Pilsner’ from Copper Dragon (Silver Myst), that ended up being simply a really crisp, grassy Pale Ale.

The Old Cock is the kind of pub you want to bump into when visiting a market town like Otley. There’s plenty of pubs in Otley – and many with history – but The Old Cock is a perfect example of the kind of pub you’d like to run if you did one yourself. Building it brick by brick? That’s special indeed.

You can see more pictures of the project on The Old Cock’s excellent website here. Also, if you feel like taking a ride over to Otley and spending the day there, there’s an excellent new project called The Otley Pub Club which will give you all the info you need for a day’s drinking around the town.

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