December 11th, 2012Pubs & bars
A friend in need’s a friend indeed, a friend with weed is better (so the song goes). And a friend with ham is even better still.
Rocking up to Friends of Ham I’m still amazed at how this slimline bar has taken the city of Leeds by storm. It’s tiny upstairs belies the belly below, a cosy atmospheric cellar finished with comfy sofas and the now famous shuttle board.
A homemade mantra emanates throughout this dimly lit haven, from the scribbled menus that hang on the walls on plain brown paper to the tables decorated with candles in make-do-and-mend holders. Well scrawled signs dangle from the shelving behind the bar cheekily outlining the offers of the day. This is a place of well crafted tender loving care.
On one visit a handmade poster describes the ham of the week, and another pithily penned notice alerts me to the takeaway beer cans, perfect for taking onboard the trains that lurch out of the nearby station.
It delights us Leeds folk that we can claim to have two of the UK’s best quality bars amongst the city walls (well within the city’s inner ring road at least). Between North Bar and Friends of Ham we might be forgiven for being a bit smug about our position on the beer map.
A friendly bar with ham, good beer , excellent service, great ambience and a convenient location. That really is a friend in times of need.Tags: leeds, meat
I have a confession to make. I was born in the county but I don’t really like Yorkshire puddings (nor can I play cricket). Crispy and fluffy with drooling chicken inside they can be a joy, but I’d never go out of my way to include them in my Sunday menu. Burnt on top but soggy on bottom Aunt Bessie’s must haunt me from a youth spent mostly down south.
In fact, I’m not all that enthusiastic about roast dinner. Dry beef, sloshy gravy, none of that’s for me. Chicken I could eat to the bone, but cabbage, carrots and cauliflower combined with lukewarm meat, I’m ok thanks.
But at the Kings Arms wild horses couldn’t have torn me from my plate of chicken, parsnips, roast spuds, peas in a pod and runner beans.
Not even the ornithological taxidermy on the walls could put me off. I even ate all the Yorkshire pudding.
The Kings Arms at Heath sits on the edge of Wakefield, harboured between the back end of the city and the scrub where rugby fans park for the short amble to the creaking ruins of Belle Vue. The area is an unlikely setting for a quintessential English village, an other worldly mix of residential, rural and renegade horses tethered amidst the oddly placed moors.
Lining the top shelves of the wood panelled walls that surround the dining room are hardback books: travel guides, classics, Edwardian children’s books. What Katy Did peers down from a perch besides an ancient guide to my home county. There’s even a dusty bottle of Yorkshire Black Beer, its sepia label faded from years guarding the shelf.
Plates of food are full and large, the food hearty and good value (Sunday lunch for two with drinks under £20). The beer includes the pubs own bitter, presumably brewed by Ossett Brewery who own this revitalised village building. If the food wasn’t great it would be worth visiting just to nestle in one of the many snug rooms and stare at the glass cabinet of historic beers, including one brewed for a former president of the USSR.
And on a slow Sunday in late summer or early autumn it’s easy to stay snuggled in one of these wood panelled snugs for a long time after the well priced and homemade dessert board is delivered. Or maybe I’ll just have another Yorkshire pudding.Tags: heath, ossett, ussr, wakefield, West Yorkshire
The first time I visited it was a chilly September night. S and I navigated our way via smartphone to find ATJ neck deep in a chalice of something golden and fizzy. We followed suit, once we’d navigated the smorgasbord of beers on the bar, each rarer and more expensive than the last.
The second time I visited I waited patiently for my date, having used a combination of memory and verrrryyy sllloooww loading Google maps. A local glazier kept me entertained until J’s arrival, mostly with his Phil Mitchell innuendo and flashing of his big wad of cash. I think he’d like to have been Ronnie Kray, but I duly accepted a pint with nothing more than dirty water on my hands.
The third time I turned up on my tod and with no prospect of kinship. Alone amongst a sea of pump clips and trendy bearded bar staff, with only an empty hotel room and an empty evening ahead, I clinked my change together until I could afford a Mikkeller and sunk back into a chair with a book and a weary head.
Only one thing joins the dots between these visits and that’s that each time a decision was made in advance.
‘Meet you in Craft?’
If ever a pub didn’t need a description of its tall curvaceous fonts, its terrifyingly eclectic mix of beer (37 draft beers including 16 hand pulls), its exposed floorboard and its trendy use of typefaces, then this is it.
There is no doubt, Craft is a pub that you decide to go because its somewhere worth going.
And next time I’m in London I’ll surely be going back.Tags: clerkenwell, craft london, london pubs
An overwhelming sense of dread overcame me as the quivering bar staff newbie repeated my order back to me – less in a manner of making sure the order was correct but with a hint of worry and trepidation. I was worried also, when newbies pull a pint of proper beer anything can happen.
Faced with a pint of dirty pond water, I sneered obnoxiously. A nugget of hope remained, “Maybe it’ll settle” I thought, in the same way Guinness changes from gone off cream to looking like a sophisticated evening suit with its contrasting head.
It didn’t, but with it being a sweltering day, and being a parched Englishman in a Scottish pub, returning to the bar to ask for a repour was a no go. I gave it an anti-clockwise swirl, a bit of a sniff (it smelt like wood with some pepper), puckered up and took a hearty and rather noisy gulp of the brick red-brown bitter. I was pleasantly surprised, seeing as it looked like it’d look exactly the same on exit as it did on entry. With oodles of mouth satisfying flavour it was a very full on beer, probably better suited to winter nights in a cosy pub. But duty called, and you can’t criticise a beer for tasting good can you?
I got an immediate suggestion of fruit – possibly figs – with a touch of peppery spice identified on smelling and a lively bitter but malty finish that killed it off perfectly.
I would definitely buy The Terror of Tobernory again from a more experienced publican, even if my first poorly pulled pint caused my stomach to swim 2/3 of the way through, but it still tasted good, and has great potential when pulled properly, if not gratifying like a proper pint should be. Afterwards I fancied a sausage roll or a pork pie to soak it up.
But having tried it in its spiritual home, Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, it seems like a spectacular stroke of bad luck to have a dodgy pint there, of all places. I’ll be seeking out some bottles online to pour myself post-haste.Tags: scotland, tobermory
August 1st, 2012Pubs & bars
Sweaty arms, clammy knees. Bag heavy with laptop and a change of clothes. And four hardback books bought from a dodgy looking bookshop opposite Kings Cross Station.
I couldn’t have done that on the way home?!
Four hours of software training weighs heavy, countless lost minutes suffering from syntax and segmentation, not to mention the unfulfilled honeymoon dreams of the course leader.
Lord save me.
Instead The Lamb does, just off Grays Inn Road.
It’s on a quiet street, with a reassuringly traditional green-tiled exterior. The mosaic entrance hall beckons from across the street.
Inside mahogany dominates and the woes of the world are left outside in the sun, too scared the cross the threshold and face the shadows of the snob screens.
Early afternoon respite is a pint of guest ale and a good book, perched on a window stool occasionally eavesdropping the banal conversations of regular patrons, who are few and far between.
An hour and two and a half pints later trade picks up. Tourists poke their heads in, some take a punt on this poky oasis in the heart of London, others can’t quite get their heads around what the pub is for and retreat to the sun and the search for a ubiquitous coffee shop.
You could call the Lamb ubiquitious or common, or traditional, or aged or out of date. But where else can one read in peace without being bothered for another latte, or interject on a conversation about Bobby Fischer and end up talking about the wonder of eighteenth century engineering whilst the staff play chess?
If the coffee houses of Vienna were the melting pot for poltical strategy and evolution of football tactics then pubs like the Lamb are surely Britain’s philosophical front room. And pubs like the Lamb don’t have the same financial clout as those omnipresent frappucino chains.
If the Lamb did for Charles Dickens and Ted Hughes, then The Lamb’ll do for me.
The Lamb, along with Lamb’s Conduit Street, was named for William Lamb who helped renovate Holborn Conduit back in the 16th century, thus improving access to fresh water in the area. A stroll along the street reveals a clutch of independent shops and the People’s Supermarket who have Bethal Pale Ale (mmmm!) in their local beer fridge.Tags: bloomsbury, charles darwin, chess, Lamb, London, london pubs, ted hughes
July 24th, 2012Pubs & bars
It’s dark inside but an ellipsis of light pores over our vantage point in the roof. Under an arch of reclaimed brick brimming pints of Silver King glow in the mild afternoon sun of the wettest June on record.
The Hop sits snugly under platforms 16 and 17 of Leeds Station, in the arches that veer towards Holbeck West Junction and the promise of Manchester and London. The bar peers towards the boats and jetties sitting in the Leeds-Liverpool canal. And it’s quite literally home when our train eventually pulls in on a cloudy Saturday morning to a quiet platform above the pub.
By day time the bar is dark, the only light filters in through the room sized panes of glass facing south. The northern windows back into what are known locally as the ‘Dark Arches’, a subterranean belly that exposes the innards of the Queen’s Hotel and the station concourse above. Trailing below the musty damp atmosphere of the arches runs the heady confluence of the River Aire and Leeds-Liverpool canal. For years the water has hungrily tore at the gargantuan stone foundations which nonchantly keep half of Leeds above water.
If the setting is archetypal city centre, tinged with the wonder of Victoria construction and the romanticism of the industrial revolution, the decor is ostentatiously apocryphal. Giant urns, album cover posters, mock graffiti (mockrafiti?) are bundled incongruously throughout the space, like a collection of artefacts procured from a grand tour of the nineteen seventies.
The room is deceptively huge. Perhaps because The Hop is often packed, often dark and plastered with paraphernalia, the ceiling seems to lean in over the bar which is equally heavy with beer machines and thirsty customers. There’s no doubt this is a place for drinking and jumping to live music.
Both the Ossett pale ales are in demand; smooth and soft beers differentiated with a dash of spice or citrus hop, wholly suppable. The beers are perfectly in line with the concept – functional, flavoursome topped with a ‘we don’t take ourselves too seriously’ flair.
As a crepuscular calm sweeps across the Leeds sky and light fades outside, the music jumps into action behind us. On a platform above the main bar a band strum their guitars into tune at a deafening level. The decibels will only get louder and though the philosophy of The Hop is about to see fruition, it’s just a little too loud for us to take
We retire to the platforms above for a train home, and stand above the canal, the river, the bridge, the pub, the arches and all the fun and history below. We’re rewarded with a twilight portrait of the city and the comfort of knowing we’re home.Tags: leeds, Pubs & bars, train stations, wakefield
0July 16th, 2012Pubs & bars
On days when work is a bit too intense, or the week gradually catches me up and prepares to spit me out somewhere uncomfortable, there is a pub within walking distance of my office where I can take a book, sip on a half pint of cask conditioned British beer, and nestle against the wood panelling, enjoying the quiet and the peace. Admiring the old pictures, watching the flicker of flames in the fireplace, I can tune out the world, retreat into my shell and take time to reflect.
It’s my hideaway.
It’s not a secret or hidden place, just somewhere I don’t tell people I go to.
It’s not even a place where my phone is turned off or my troubles are left behind, in fact it’s somewhere to embrace these things in my own company, on my own terms. I guess it’s less of a hideaway than a retreat.
It’s for those times when I just need to get away for a short while. Somewhere that isn’t work, that isn’t home and isn’t shared with anyone else. I can tweet, I can check emails, I can take a step backwards, formulate a holistic approach to my troubles and then, glass drained, hop up from the pew and walk back to work with a little more verve in my step.
My hideaway is a great British pub, and there’s not a binge drinker in sight.
Tags: drinking, Pubs & bars
Written some time ago, but inspired to publish by Tandleman’s treatise on drinking alone
At the first pub there’s a piano in the window but no one to play it. The seats are filled with ghosts. A long pew is adorned with individually wrapped cushions, resembling a bum-friendly box of Mr Kipling cakes. It’s quiet, the fireplace glows warm and friendly, everything is cosy and snug. Welcome to Pete’s Retreat. “We’ll be at home here, let’s get a pint.”
Much as we could stay forever we’ve a long crawl ahead so off we march off towards The Plum Tree Arms. We’re first in so grab the dominoes and two pints of Wold Top Bitter. The artefacts and fittings come from pubs past and present, and from beside the 1910s till Geoff pours with skill. He quickly challenges us to a game of Yorkshire darts. With no trebles to help us we don’t fancy our chances!
Next up is the modern wooden doors of The Tranters Arms. It’s the antithesis of our first stop, walls like a flat pack sauna and an uncompromisingly purple pool table sitting squarely in the middle of the main room. Tall silver fonts peer over a fussball table, a darts board (regular this time). It’s a back garden sports bar. Only one thing for it, let’s sink a cool lager.
The Magpie, sat deep in hop country, in the garden of Kent. Armchairs prevail here, if you can find them beneath the clutter of a hoarding landlord. We slump down and rest amongst the lived-in charms. And then we spot jagerbombs… let the party begin!
Along the twilight air we hear music, and follow the bluegrass tunes to the Gem Saloon. Guitars, double bass and harmonicas light up the night. Folk feet tap, dancing fingers strum, a violin screeches and a banjo jingle-jangles everyone to their feet. There’s food on the hob, the wood burner chugs away, beer flows freely. Under the hazy yellow glow of oil lamps everyone is free, everyone is in a better place.
Our night ends at The Cool Runnings Rum Shack. We’re running on empty but the shutters are open wide (do they ever close?) and tired eyes find new legs. Under moonlight we ditch the Red Stripe beer for cocktails and spiced spirits, admiring the graft that’s gone into this personal homage. We and stay up late, prostrate on the grass watching stars roll gently over the impossibly deep sky.
Tags: beer at home, beer garden, british pubs, drinking at home, Garden, sheds
As you might have guessed this pub crawl never happened. The pubs all exist though – each one is a home built castle and has been entered into the pub category of this years Readers Shed’s competition.
Head Sheddie Andrew Wilcox says that over the last two years entrants to the category have risen 20%. Whether it’s because of local pub closures, rising on trade beer prices, the unreliable garden weather or a weak property market, it seems that pubs are the new greenhouses and beer the new wine. “It’s the most contested category” Andrew tells us, “and the majority plump for a traditional pub rather than wine bar.
Whatever the reason, here’s to the landlord sheddies and their DIY Moon Under Waters. And make sure you get your vote in before tomorrow’s deadline – Saturday 16th June Midnight GMT.
I would love to be able to call The Glad a university haunt of mine. Tiny, and frugally filled with ramshackle furniture, my feet tap away on the exposed floorboards to jitterbug ska and rocking robin boogie. The soundtrack, like the decor, is unmastered, mono.
If named for the Honourable William Ewart then I can’t second guess what the old Liberal Prime Minister would make of it. Grandiose it is not, but dirty back street boozer it is neither.
The tealit afternoon ambience is bolstered by square rays of sun picking up every airborne particle above the classroom style tables; the long rays lend calm; the little rooster soundtrack subtlely rocks ‘n’ rolls.
This haven is unexpected – glance up the alley to see a typical and old fashioned London pub sign “The Glad”, just another pie and pint hole.
But Lant St, narrow and unassuming, leaves The Gladstone Arms’ pretty facade invisible from Borough High Street, and the pretty facade in turn hides a tumbleweed interior of cacti littered window sills. Buckaroo, Pictionary and draughts hang precariously on an old metal radiator; watching nonchalantly is a Triffid-esque plant casually growing straight out of the neck of a French Horn.
A pint of cask ale, a choice between a scribble in my notebook or a few minutes deep in a ruffled book. I lose my jacket, stick my feet on a wooden stool and sink into my armchair; there’s no need for books as an orchestra of recycled instruments begins to serenade me with an Arcade Fire cover played with melancholy gusto.
This strange little oasis is the perfect matinee from the tedium of the mornings meetings. I hope the record collection takes up many shelves, and that the digital remastering hasn’t lost the crackles of vinyl.
The Gladstone Arms
Borough, London, SE1Tags: gladstone, london pubs
“Harmonica Workshop” reads one of the highlights of May’s music events that are quietly advertised in the snug corridor that leads to the bar.
Amongst the other treats are a French quintet, acoustic guitar sessions and an open mic night.
Add the musical eclecticism to the mix of tiny fire-heated rooms, the perfectly kept cask ale, the feeling of homeliness – all this makes the Grove very special.
Snuggled underneath the Dalekian behemoth of Bridgewater Place (how it survived the calls of the planners wallets who knows?) the Grove stands both proud and humble in a largely soulless corner of Leeds.
This is the place we gathered to dissect the play off loss to Millwall on a mild May evening three years ago (how did Beckford miss that penalty as we watched from the rare vantage point of the East Stand Upper?) the tiny snug filled with groups of men adorned in yellow, white and blue, necking the first pint of bitter and nursing those that followed.
4-4-2, 4-3-3, 1-2 home defeat, 4.6% ABV (x?).
It’s the pub I’d sneak away to when the world needed forgetting for a short blip in my office life (I worked around the corner), the landlord smiling wildly if I popped in after the lunch time rush to hide by the wooden alcoves, dive into a book with big science words and faraway places, and let the flames of the fire lick the daily wear and tear away.
And equally it’s now the place that I wandered down to on a mild Thursday night in May to meet a post of beer blogging friends, who have rushed from the south, the north, the continent, to the European Beer Bloggers Conference, of which the Grove is the appetiser, one pub in a warm up crawl to whet our desire.
Though desire doesn’t seem a word that the Grove invokes, it fulfils it’s purpose in its typically modest way, and a pack of beer bloggers leave merry amidst fierce debate and in fine spirits. The folk music follows us out the tiny framed doors and life in the finest pub in Leeds continues.
Thank you, beer bloggers for coming to Leeds, for all the craic, the beers and (over) merriment (on my part at least). And thank you for sharing Leeds’ finest pub with me. Hopefully see at the Harmonica Workshop one day (bring your ukes and we can make a band).Tags: leeds