|Orangery behind Westgate station
For an introduction as to why I am bothering with these ventures, please see the beginning of Part 0 here.
Wakefield was always a different sort of Yorkshire city. I have spent many an hour trying to defend the "It's a shithole" reviews that others would give it, with little arsenal to use. Even those that lived and breathed the place would refer to it as "The Shake" with a knowing glint in their eye as they pictured the metaphorical tin of polish used to try and add some shine here.
I don't even mean to be too disparaging to Wakey. I knew it well. I lived close by in 2005 and 2006 for university and part boarded in the region for various reasons between 2008 and 2011.
Back in my first stint here, we were out every Thursday for student night, although the number of students in attendance was rather low. No, student nights were for the locals and they would be out in force. And would be again on Friday and Saturday. No bars or clubs ever had to worry about struggling in those days. Each and every one in town was packed for three nights straight.
Every night out felt exactly the same with the same faces occupying the same bars weekly. Wakefield operates under the famous One Degree of Separation system when it comes to locals. You cannot have a volatile break-up with a partner in this city as they will always be in your life through others. You either remain friends with your ex or you leave the city for good.
That is the crux of Wakefield; it never really wanted you anyway. The other people of West Yorkshire know this. My family from the surrounding area will often find themselves shopping and drinking in other local cities and towns. Trips to Huddersfield are common. Days out to Hebden Bridge, Todmorden or Sowerby Bridge are frequent. Halifax, Leeds, Bradford and even Sheffield are regular days out. But rarely Wakefield.
This goes some way to explain why my nostalgic soul has only made one previous return since leaving in 2011, for the 2018 East Vs West beer festival held at the Red Shed club. I planned to return to some of my favourite pubs on that particular day but was so well oiled by the festival as early as 3pm that it all went a little awry.
There is a pub here, however, that makes my top ten list of pubs that aided my beer journey. Unlike Part 0 of these posts, I’m determined to make that one pub the focal point of the day, although I will mention the other venues I popped into on this Saturday May afternoon.
The intention was to go straight to my port of call but a toilet requirement led me to check into a former haunt close to Wakefield Westgate station.
With its close proximity to public transport, Boons
was always a meeting spot or last port of call on a pub based evening out. It
was the home of Clarks Ales in the back when I lived here but that time has
The pub is stunning. Moreso than I recall. Every bit of wood, flagged floor, stools around benched seating, declarations and stained glass could have been designed by me. It is pub cosplay. The walls are busy too - never doubt the power of busy walls. I read a comment on a recent Twitter thread that belittled brewery equipment being used as decor in pubs and that train of thought can get in the sea.
It is a shame about the lack of Clarks but at least the pub remains. The Taylor's is obviously ignored but a couple of Abbeydale's stronger beers are tempting. As it is still early, an Ossett White Rat suffices for now.
My only criticism of Boons is that it smells like a pile of clothes on a bedroom chair that have been worn around the house or slept in. It's a little stale. It could do with somebody smoking nearby to cover up the lingering stench of the older furnishings. It is, of course, why many carpets and old bench seating was replaced post smoking ban. That part isn't enjoyable but everything else is wonderful.
My desired destination lies at the opposite end of the city which allows a walk through the familiar centre paths. The town centre is dominated by a beautiful cathedral that has no right to exist amongst the most generic set of Northern England shops. I don't know why I expected a fancier train station and a new ring road would revamp the place but, needless to say, it has not. I pass a pound store that has a display of bongs in the window, a furniture store that seems to have gained its produce from fly tipping sites and the wonderfully named WFC (Wakefield Fried Chicken.) A man passes by pushing both a petrol powered lawn mower and bicycle down a heavily pedestrianised city centre footpath.
Eventually we come out at the opposite end of the city - near Kirkgate Station - and the purpose of my visit: Fernandes Brewery Tap, now named Luis Bar.
I worked between 2006 and 2008 at a nearby famous car and bicycle spares shop. This was my after work local at the time. I had discovered it before I started work there but it became a part of my drinking journey when the job started. It was the first place that wasn't introduced to me by my Dad that I was a regular in, even if it was once a week after work.
Fernandes' was always a beautiful loft bar on the
second floor of a building that also housed the brew kit to Fernandes' Brewery
on the ground floor. Every fixture in the pointed, exposed-beam ceiling
was covered with pub memoriablia, making it feel incredibly homely. It always
had a great range of European bottled beers alongside the cask offerings from
the on-site brewery. This was the place I had the likes of Westmalle Tripel and
Orval for the first time, as well as my first experience with the Kwak
round-bottomed glass as a 19-year-old; a big part of anybody's beer journey.
A first floor bar opened towards the end of my time in the area and never appealed as much, missing the homeliness of the original. So I was disappointed to find that Luis Bar now *only* consists of that middle bar, with the second floor now cordoned off on the stairs.
The bar feels hot on arrival as the outside
temperature approaches 20 degrees. There are no Fernandes beers available
but plenty of Salt occupying the kegs (Fernandes Brewery was brought into the
Ossett Brewery group some years ago.) I opt for Red Willow Weightless and
attempt to find a seat. I assume they are at a scarcity because a large group is
stood up in the bar area, taking up a lot of room. It turns out they are just
nobheads, merely standing around the seating rather than using the numerous
options. I hope their orthopaedic problems are sorted soon.
I find a seat and I initially hate the pub, remembering fondly the place that encouraged this 2022 revisit. Now it feels devoid of the character I loved.
But then I nip to the toilet to discover that my beloved loft area still exists - it is just no longer the bar area. Access to it is now at the opposite end of the building, blocked in view to me by the aforementioned standing crowd. It is very similar in style and decor to how I remember it but with an added balcony looking down upon the first floor. There are even dimpled copper tables! I decide to stay for another beer, this time opting for a Chevalier Victorian Mild from Tom's Taphouse that the barperson is quick to inform me is a light coloured mild - obviously there have been complaints about this shade of mild.
I finally sit in the area that used to be our spot fifteen years ago and get the experience I was hoping for. It has been slightly redone and repurposed but still feels the same. The same bench seats even lift up, once housing a lot of brewery memorabilia that some uni friends attempted to steal once but now it just has lots of toilet roll.
Pubs need to adapt and change to stay afloat and relevant. Whilst my nostalgia may not fully appreciate the changes here, clearly the locals do. And the beer range is still fantastic. There can be no arguments that the changes here have been successful and I am glad to see an important pub to me still thriving.
The Grey Horse
|The Grey Horse as I remember it in 2008, as seen through Google Street View
Whilst Fernandes may have been my after work local, there was a pub even closer that I would nip in at Saturday shift lunchtimes for a couple of pints of John Smith's Smoothflow and a check of the football scores. On one famous lunchtime visit I knocked back 6 pints of the stuff in under an hour and was unsurprisingly reprimanded by my boss on return to work, where I was struggling to stand straight. In hindsight I was fortunate to not lose my job.
The Grey Horse would have undoubtedly needed a visit on this return to Wakefield but I was sad to see that it had fallen victim to the lockdown period and never reopened in 2022.
I can muster few thoughts on The Grey Horse. Besides the positioning of the bar, I can remember very little about its interior. But it was a locals pub and always busy on these brief Saturday afternoon calls. It will have meant a great deal to so many of its drinkers. Yet I doubt anybody reading this blog ever visited; even those that may be local to the area.
In truth it was a "nothing pub" but it was a pub all the same. That is all it needed to be once upon a time but sadly that isn't enough to survive in the current industry climate. It was wet led and reliant on people drinking keg poured macro-produced beers. It is the sort of place that many will consider to be no great loss. I'll mourn it though as I do any pub closure, especially one that was a part of my life for a couple of important years.
The Talbot & Falcon
It was FA Cup Final day on my visit and quickly approaching kick-off, so I walk across town to The Talbot & Falcon to see if they had any TVs.
The Talbot held an odd place in old Wakefield pub crawls. It must have once been a venue for real ale buffs and cask beer because trips around Wakey would always feature a stop here. And we were always disappointed. There was never much more than the likes of a badly kept Bombardier or Black Sheep Bitter. Yet the older people in the group would always make us call, usually after hearing a rumour that it was "good again."
Now there isn't even the most basic cask beer to offer. But the televisions are there. With pints of Carling I sit and watch the first 90 minutes of the cup final and admire a pub that is still lovely inside, even if my focus on the game didn't produce any picture evidence.
Aside from a couple of inquisitive looks, I am left to be the stranger in the corner. It isn't overly busy but in some ways reminds me of the aforementioned Grey Horse. Maybe I should have tried the Smoothflow. It is just a pub and a reasonable one at that.
With the game going to extra time, I'd reached my lager limit, so used the short break to hop to The Black Rock. It is much busier in this place that my uncle and others reference as the best pub in town currently.
It was never on my radar when I lived in the area though. In fact I don't remember coming here at all so its highly regarded reputation is a recent development.
I find a spot at the bar to watch extra time,
hoping I'm not inconveniencing anybody behind me who has been watching for 2
hours already. It is a lovely little place where the main room has back bench
seating around the bar. I opt for Oakham Citra, welcome after the bland lager
from before, and consider something I'd never thought of before.
I don't think I've ever appreciated the creaminess of a creamer.
Whilst debates about sparklers have formed many a Twitter rant and even a tattoo club, the conversation very rarely talks about creamers. But by Toutatis is it in evidence here. This was Oakham Citra smoothflow. Nitro Citra. It was lacking all of the aroma but was so velvety in texture, almost buttery and full bodied. It wasn't crisp and refreshing like usual, yet the sheer depth to it saw it devoured by the pint in moments.
Whilst hardly my serving method of choice, there is something unique to this pouring style that occasionally hits the spot. It really did here. I like the pub a lot too, although once again failed to take any photos.
Liverpool win on penalties and I head straight to Westgate station. I'm a bit wobbly and writing this down today it is apparent as to why that is. I had much more than I realised. I was going to end the day at The Elephant & Castle near the station but am sad to see that is closed too. It is probably for the best I didn't have any more beer anyway. I even spend my 45 minute wait for a train exchange in Leeds eating and downing water on the platform, rather than going to any of the decent venues by the station.
Wakefield isn’t going to be gentrified any time soon. The city couldn't exist without its unique residents. But the people of Wakefield couldn't come from anywhere else. It is a place like no other and one that, despite any tone in this post, I will always love. Next time it will have to be Mex Bar and Buzz though.