During the initial lockdown months of 2020, I
indulged in some of the social media hoo-ha that became the "10 day series."
"Post an album a day for 10 days that influenced your music tastes."
"Post a computer game a day for 10 da..." you get the picture. All
rather drab but entertainment was required.
One such game was the "10 pubs that influenced your beer journey." I enjoyed doing it and vowed that when life became restricitonless once more, I would revisit the ten as part of a blog mini-series.
This is easier than it sounds though. Nine of the ten are within 45 miles of my current home. Three I still go in fairly regularly, whilst a fourth is close to relatives and friends. And despite all the problems that pubs are facing, all ten are still open. Or so I naively thought before planning for Part One of this series.
The first trip was to Leeds and to Mr Foley's Ale House. Whilst I was a student in Leeds this bar was my main pub, changing name from its previous moniker Dr Okell's sometime during my third year. There was a reasonable chance of catching Abbeydale cask on here but it was also one of the first places that I had an inaugural try of a lot of classic Belgian beers, with the first try of Gordon's Scotch Ale being an ingrained memory.
Many a post lecture afternoon or post-work wait for the bus back to Burley Park involved this place, preferably grabbing the sofas in the back room.
|The Skyrack exterior
I learned just a few days before my planned trip that Mr Foley's was no more. A chance to see what had become of the multiple levels or my favourite seat were over. The first of the ten had fallen. With this new information I swerved onto a new plan: one that more ambitiously included many more venues. "Mini-series" was always an optimistic approach and so I decided to finally venture into the heart of Headingley and look at this suburb through the eyes of a simple pub-goer for the first time, reminiscing on a number of pubs that I spent three years bopping in and out of.
Headingley was the focal point of most university evenings, being the local centre for various halls of residency and a lot of student housing. For those unfamiliar with Leeds as a city, it is a small suburb around two and a half miles from the centre. Whilst often considered a student area, it's famous cricket and rugby stadiums have always kept its visitors more diverse. Although there are some more student driven businesses, there was always a sense that it catered for all and, in some cases, resented the large temporary population.
It is mid-February when I take a packed train to Burley Park from Leeds. I detour from here to take a casual glance at my old house, where somebody in a dressing gown having a smoke on their front step rightly looks suspiciously at my odd behaviour. I then walk up St Michael's Lane towards Headingley centre. This was the walk we always took, between the two sports stadiums, to the very first pub that you hit.
The unforecasted snow was coming down heavily as I reached here and I entered through the same way that we always did to this large multi-doored venue. It is relatively unchanged. Vast. Beautiful. Spacious. Although in all my time I don't think I ever saw it this quiet. Universities bring so many varying football fan groups together that any match on Sky would see a large gathering of fans of any club in front of a pub screen. Easier home screening probably makes this less of the case now or perhaps a general malaise towards pubs. As it was, just a handful of Newcastle fans - and none from West Ham - had congregated to see the lunchtime kick-off between the two.
A glance at the bar made beer selection an easy choice. It will have to be Guinness. I can't even remember what I used to drink here. I do recall distinctly this being the first pub, outside of a Wetherspoons, that I had Kopparberg. Long before Dark Fruits, Old Mout or any of the others, it was the first sign that fruited bottled ciders were about to become "a thing."
I supped my pint as my snowy scarf and gloves were drying on a nearby radiator. Within five minutes, boredom had set in. This was never a solo drinker's relaxing spot but a place for larger groups to gather. That remains. I was glad to come just to see the old place again but recognise that others wouldn't think much of it.
When I was here in the mid-to-late noughties, I don't think I fully appreciated how rare it was to have one of the few dedicated beer shops in the country so close in Beer Ritz. A large part of this was financial, of course, as the shop became a once-a-semester treat when the loan first came in and even then my spend was under £15... although that would get you 4 or 5 bottles of unusual beer at the time.
It was a similar story with the the next pub stop. Arcadia easily did the best beer in town but its location and price made it difficult to persuade others of it merits. It was further on than the larger venues and didn't offer yellow card pint prices - or jaegerbombs.
Arcadia was always the only destination here that refused fancy dress to avoid becoming part of the Otley Run. Instead, it became a place for quiet reading, when essay deadlines were approaching. Or a gathering place on birthdays when full control of the drinking choice lay in my hands. It never became my permanent local as finances didn't stretch that far.
But this February day is still my first visit for around 8 years. It is quiet for a Saturday again, despite the bustling streets. This is one of Arcadia's biggest charms; the large glass front that allows endless people watching. The gentle stream of older locals doing a quick shop is punctuated by large groups in various fancy dress or, in one case here, 16 lads dressed as Jonjo Shelvey. It makes for an amusing time between nervously checking the Huddersfield score and enjoying a pint of Lost & Grounded All the Cool Cats.
On my visit, it is still table service; the last place until now that I have experienced it. I have no particular qualms about it because it feels more of a novelty here. I would never advocate it long term but enjoy the experience as a pleasant change of pace. Some regulars are still being served at the bar but I respect the way the hierarchy works. There is something about having your seat and never needing to vacate it that is never appreciated in this country and this makes my stay longer than intended.
Arcadia remains a haven among the chaos around it. I could have named this as one of the ten but it wouldn't have been honest. However, I'd still come to plonk myself in a corner and read those course books now.
Head of Steam (Headingley)
As I walk with my head down through the continuous snow fall I spot the Head of Steam, that I had heard had opened here, and decide to give it a peek. I can't recall what the building was used for when I was a local but I don't think that it was ever a bar.
I've no real issue with the Head of Steam group as
a whole but predictable line-ups across most of their pub can make it feel
Wetherspoons-esque and therefore not worthy of a detour. This particular one is
very Magic Rock and Tiny Rebel heavy and that comes as no
surprise. Only 4 of the 9 cask lines are on during my visit but we were still
finding our feet as recently as Spring.
The place itself has an atypical modern interior yet does manage to feel a little... pubby. The staff are brilliant too and very enthusiastic as I order a half of some IPA. I would have adored this place being available when I was a student and that is at least a positive.
The Golden Beam
I turn the corner from HoS to observe The Headingley Taps. Even now I do a double take when I see it on Google Maps as it is such an evocative name, forgetting that it was a place that I went to a lot fifteen years ago and that it served nothing more interesting than the other Headingley spots, bar the odd pint of badly kept Black Sheep.
I walk back along Headingley Lane, clocking the
recently opened Brewdog/Reds BBQ place. There is no way that I am going
in but it is still interesting for a past resident to think that such a place
could open here and to reflect on just how far we've come in beer terms.
I've a long walk to my next destination and I know there is a place in between that I will be tempted by that breaks up the journey and bladder requirement nicely.
My main intrigue with this newly opened pub is the site that it stands upon, with myself and many that lived in Leeds unable to mentally place where it is or what it was used for previously. I can't help but wonder. Just one pint of my money shouldn't be enough to keep Tim Martin going, should it? Oh what the heck, I needed the toilet.
With this I arrive at The Golden Beam, the recently opened Wetherspoons pub on Headingley Lane, at the midway point between Headingley centre and Hyde Park. Looking at the large building, I still have no memory of it despite passing it frequently years ago.
It is easy to have a pop at Wetherspoons, especially as their owner has managed to build an empire out of being the embodiment of a casual fascist regular at the pub who forces their company upon anybody too polite to refuse. Despite this, I have defended their place and use within smaller communities before. However, this one had all the nasty traits associated with the 'Spoons customer experience.
As I reach the bar in this bright, concert hall
looking place, I encounter a greeting that makes me fully aware that my
presence is of great inconvenience. My desire to order a pint is causing disruption to this person's day. The real 'Spoons experience. I order my
beer and then, as they cockily punch the order into the till with a side mouth
grimace, it all starts to go wrong for them. Something is preventing them from
putting through my transaction. A computer says no moment. They don't
have the clearance. That is fine. Technology does this and I don't mind at all.
At this point they start pleading for help into an Avengers style earpiece. "Can
somebody please come to the till please, please."
Their vulnerability briefly shows and they apologise to me and I retort that I completely understand and not to worry. This was a mistake. This shows weakness. This allows them to return to being unpleasant and dismissive. Eventually somebody comes over to sort the till and they revert back to their indignant face as I pay. You are welcome.
People often defend 'Spoons by talking about how the staff shouldn't suffer because of Tim Martin. Unfortunately, too many of my experiences across the country fall into the sweeping generalisation that they would rather do anything but serve drinks. My Dad used to often say that staff would all run to the kitchen whenever somebody approached the bar. Oh how he would have ranted about this experience here at the Golden Beam and we would have rolled our eyes in response. Nice building though.
The Pack Horse
Heading through town via Hyde Park, I am tempted to nosy in some of the other Otley Run students pubs but resist. We've now entered the university area where a surprising number of pubs that students mostly ignored can be seen.
The Pack Horse was always considered a bit old manny, to use a phrase of the time, and my friends and I would usually be the only students in when we would visit. Despite being opposite a university, it retained older staff and clientele. To be in there was to feel like you were in a local's pub in a quiet area, rather than opposite an enormous red-brick university.
In 2022 that sense is gone.
I am the oldest person here by some distance, including the staff. There are loud remixes of average modern pop songs pumping through the rooms. My St Austell's Proper Job is served in a filthy glass and does not taste as it should. My presence feels a little intrusive on the near party going on in the front room.
The pub itself retains its snugs and fittings and that in itself is lovely. I just didn't feel welcome here at all which was never the case years ago. If anything, I would have thought that 35-year-old me would appreciate here more than 20-year-old me ever did. It was not the case.
I have an Uncle Simon - not a real Uncle you understand, just a friend of the
He was a technician at the University, a drinker of good beer and The Eldon was his local. We would always talk about it. Until he became ill, it was our greeting whenever we would meet. "How's The Eldon these days?" I'd ask and he would mumble his complaints, rather than ever give it praise, like a true pub regular. It was his post work pint of cask ale.
Similar to The Packhorse it retained a degree of being a regular's pub within the student environment, although it would try and capture a bit of the latter crowd too with student card meal discounts.
The atmosphere now has gone a little similar to The Pack Horse, but the clientele has not. Cask beer isn't available on my visit so I order a macro lager via 3 members of staff who are just chatting between themselves.
I sit on the bench seating (nice) and raise my glass to my Uncle who is rather unwell. I consider how he probably wouldn't drink here now but there are still pockets of obvious locals around the place. One says "see you tomorrow" to his pals as he leaves, showing that they still meet here on a daily basis. It just doesn't seem to quite fit.
The beer starts to hit me here. I've written in my
notes that something "is a shame but it means I'll have to revisit in
post-pandemic world." I have no idea what this refers to. It has been
a long day and is nearly time for home.
I am dismayed to find that Mahmoods burger place is not open for some technical reason. No Big Dripper this time. I walk by the main university entrance and begin the descent back into the city centre.
I wanted to visit The Fenton on this trip, even though it was the place I visited the least in my time in Leeds out of the day's pubs. I always liked it here, remembering the humiliation of ordering a Deuchars IPA as Deux-shares as though it were a French delicacy, but something about the place was unappealing to everybody else.
The interior is exactly as I recall and the reasonable cask offering - including a house beer from Ridgeside and beers from Sunbeam Ales - is hidden in the back room. I take my beer into the front snug and consider, through a slightly hazy brain, who this pub is exactly for.
Just like many of the pubs today, interrupting staff conversation to order a pint is made to feel an inconvenience. I don't want to be overly critical of hospitality staff but the final four pubs of the day have done a poor job of welcoming me in.
The rock music is loud and I don't really know what the target demographic is. I neither hate or enjoy my time here. I just don't know what it is for. It is a pub I would be sad to see go for nostalgic reasons but unsurprised to hear that it had.
With this I stumble into the centre of Leeds, ignoring the siren call of Disco Ahoy! and other such treasures. Food and then the train home are all I require. I even wait for the train for 30 minutes on the platform rather than a pub.
It has become apparent since my visit that Mr Foley's has now reopened as Foley's Tap House. That is the reason that this post is "Part 0" because my original planned visit can be rescheduled. This was still a great excuse to tread the paths of a younger me, remembering that my love of pubs has always run parallel with my love of great beer and that, for a long time, the latter was so rare that it was barely a factor in where we went.
I'll see you soon for Part One.