|A pint in Mr Foley's Tap House from December 2022|
This is Part 3 (the fourth post) of an ongoing project. Please see the beginning of Part 0 for details.
Come the end of this journey, there may be a lesson in procrastination that I am unlikely to heed. These posts stem from a list that I made three years ago and a series that I embarked on 18 months ago. We’ve only now reached a 30% completion rate and with this post we are back to fail for the second time.
This odyssey began with a trip to Mr Foley’s Tap House in February 2022 – named Dr Okell’s bar on my first visits in 2005 – only to discover that it was closed. It did reopen by the time that the post was coming out and I managed a brief visit in December 2022. However, my July 1st 2023 trip to Leeds, on which this post is based, is met with this sign at the door of the bar:
A quick check of social media shows an Instagram post from the day before (June 30th) announcing the closure of the place. The comments on that text picture suggest that the staff found out that they no longer had jobs via this social media post, which is barbarous and heartbreaking. The pub was presently owned by Black Sheep brewery and, with the much documented threatened closures and change of ownership in recent times of that business, there seems to be a sense of the corporate cruelty in this move.
This is a post with a common goal and not a deep dive on the poor treatment of hospitality staff like this. However, I'm infuriated by the callousness of this and affect to people's lives. Whilst many online were enchanted by the recent rescue of the Black Sheep brand, I've nothing but contempt for those in charge at this point. I’m sorry to any staff affected by this short notice decision.
There are counter-arguments and further discussions to be had around this subject, but for this post I'll continue with my intended subject.
Dr. Okell's / Mr Foley's Tap House
Dr. Okell’s was formative in my early beer years whilst I was a Leeds resident. The famous North Bar was slowly changing the city's beer scene but at the time we preferred the comfort of Okell's. In this Headrow bar we would often spend a few post lecture hours on one of the sofas in the back room, with a newspaper and the puzzle page. As mentioned in Post 0, the number of famous European beers that I sampled for the first time here was extensive but my first taste of Gordon Scotch Ale always holds a strong memory for me. My favourite brewery of the time (and one of them to this day) Abbeydale Brewery would also often pop up on the cask lines. I could hardly hide my excitement at having my housemate sample Absolution for the first time, on a post Saturday work shift visit. As money was tight, I conceded a couple of future nights out just to return for more the following day.
In my final year in Leeds, the bar was sold by Isle of Man based Okell’s to York Brewery. Little changed about the bar, apart from the understandable presence of more of York’s beers on the pumps and, after initial trepidation, it settled into our favourite place again.
|The view towards the bottom of the pub, where we used to sit|
It remained one of the beer highlights of the city following my exit in 2008, with friends still visiting on every central pub crawl. I vividly recall a return visit in 2011 where, on the back of a recommendation from famous beer blogger Ghost Drinker in Beer Ritz, I tried Summer Wine Brewery’s Cohort for the first time – a beer I still talk about to this day (and for whom I coined the fruitless #BringBackCohort hashtag.)
The conversation around Foley’s dropped off as bars nearer the station began to spring up. The successful openings of Friends of Ham, The Brewery Tap, Bundobust and Tapped Leeds drew crowds back towards Boar Lane area, with lonely Foley’s feeling like a step too far. The addition of The Turk’s Head, Banker’s Cat and Head of Steam in later years would cement this. I remember finding it strange that people didn’t flock to Foley’s after a session at Leeds International Beer Festival at the Town Hall, despite it being opposite the venue. There were either other establishments higher on the priority list or people just weren’t aware of it anymore.
Whilst I was disappointed early last year when it was closed, I was also not surprised. And when I visited the reopened bar in December 2022, I didn’t feel the wave of sentimentality that I’ve felt from other pub visits through this blog series. It still felt very similar. A pool table was now in the area that we used to sit, though I didn’t mind that as an addition. There were plenty of great beers from the likes of Beak Brewery on – as well as a lot of cider. The various screens were showing the Women’s Football and the pubs multi-levels still felt like a bit of a novelty. I had a good couple of hours.
Yet somehow it felt dated. Pubs are timeless in nature. They arouse nostalgia. They hold a moment in time. But bars have more of a shelf-life and Foley’s had started to expire. I’d never viewed the place like this before but it occurred to me that if you stuck a few macro brand fonts on the bar, instead of the wide-ranging options, and took the plants down, it would be identical to a lot of mid-2000s Sports Bars. If my first visit to one of my 10 favourite places had been in 2022 then I don’t think I would have been enamoured by it. Perhaps this is what others have been seeing for the last decade.
Indeed, the fact that my socials had nothing to say about this abrupt closure shows how far off the radar it was.
Dr Okell’s / My Foley’s will be a place I talk about for the rest of my days but I find myself not as sad as I thought at its demise. Pubs are timeless but their modern day cousins tend to have a shorter lifespan. I think it was time.
Town Hall Tavern
I pondered. I rocked on my heels. I looked up and down the street. Eventually, I continued down the Headrow to an old haunt a little further on. Curiosity got the better of me even if I came to dance with the devil.
The Town Hall Tavern is another place that I am surprised is not on the Beer-spotters radar. Owned by everybody’s favourite ****** ***** Timothy Taylor’s, it would appear on paper to be the sort of venue that would be undeservedly venerated by the beer crowd, in that unfunny cult way that they sometimes do. And within weeks you'll have the local brewers turning up in their Trillium merch, with the International brewers they've collaborated with on that day, to try an ironic pint of Landlord and eat a bag of Scampi Fries. The accompanying social media post will talk about how this is a real pub experience. The whole thing will be eye-rollingly mirthless but it'll happen again and again anyway. Hang on, I best stop giving them ideas.
I liked the Town Hall Tavern at a time when I didn't mind Taylor's and loved Ram Tam. Okell’s and here made a nice 1-2 on a weekday afternoon, although this was always the lesser establishment. I have no humorous stories to tell of the pub and fewer standout memories, to the point that revisiting was almost researching.
If it was a bit unmemorable then, the smell makes it memorable now. It has a very distinctive scent - like an old sandwich that used a lot of raw onion. The interior is now mostly done up in that particular grey shade that a lot of modernised pubs are. I believe it is known as “Ruined Pub” on the Dulux chart. There's plenty of outer wall seating; some of which has been raised. There are 7 cask pumps of Timothy Taylor beer. There's a interesting mix of people; from a post work solo office drinker, to a daughter drinking with her parents, to a couple of bikers parked outside, to a large mix of stereotypical student types wearing a great variety of hats. The service is great and so is the atmosphere.
Yet the beer quality matches the smell. My Dark Mild isn't bad enough to return but definitely has some cellar issues. There are hints of swimming pool water blending with Taylor's already harsh house yeast. I sip it slowly.
I have wondered for 15 years what it was about the Town Hall Tavern that hadn't made me rush back and for nobody else to ever mention it. I have my answer as I try to dry my hands under a dryer that cuts off after two seconds. It somehow feels like both a biker's bar and a student pub and neither of those places are for me. Still, it clearly does a decent trade so… maybe get an Air Wick plug-in.
The Angel Inn
The Angel is one of the four pubs down an alley off Briggate and is a Sam Smith's place. This was easily my second most used pub in my time in Leeds, primarily due to the price, although location mattered.
I worked for a time at a local shop and the shifts could be horrible. We were often scheduled into two 4-hour shifts in a day that had a 2 hour break between them. For many it was worth returning home for an hour but, predictably, I took a seat in the nearby pub for this period, with a newspaper and cold food that we were allowed to bring in. Often one of my housemates would plan his day around dropping into town for this couple of hours to join me here.
We were poor and so the prices, which I seem to recall being around £1.35 a pint, were most welcome. The upstairs bar of The Angel (the pub has four rooms across two floors and a bar on each floor) was used at the time, something that doesn't appear to be the case now, and so we would often converge up here. Whilst it never felt intimidating, the downstairs bar was usually more populated by locals and a little louder.
Like many of Sam Smith's pubs, The Angel is very neatly preserved and exactly as I recall. I last visited in December 2022 when, hand on heart, I forgot entirely about the mobile phone ban in Humphrey's pubs and snapped the below picture. I was given a scathing look by a gentlemen nearby and it took a moment to realise why.
|The seemingly now disused upstairs bar in The Angel Inn|
On this visit on a Sunday in July, I find the place nearly empty and have the left downstairs room to myself. I sit with a pint of OBB which is now £3.00/pint. I gaze out of the window. I walk the exterior of the room, treating the various pictures on the wall like a particularly uninteresting museum. I gaze out of the window some more and all these thoughts about this pub and Sam Smith's pubs in general come flooding to mind and I have no method of jotting them down.
The romanticised idea of mobile phone bans in pubs would seem to come from a good place on the surface. Conversation is encouraged. Making new friends is the desired goal. It creates a nicer atmosphere apparently. It sounds idyllic.
But it is absolute poppycock.
I think back to 15 years prior, sat in this exact pub with a newspaper and a pint. Now my phone is a newspaper, holding all the articles that I could read whilst I'm here. But I can't. I can't repeat that experience any longer. I could do with checking the train times, to see if I have time for another here. But I can't. What was the name of that pub further down Briggate that we sometimes stopped in? I'll check if that is open. But I can't. I could do with letting my partner know how I'm getting on too, so they can go about their day. But I can't.
I even wonder about The Ashes score. That may help me strike up a conversation in the other room, except it won't other than: "How are England getting on in the cricket?" "I don't know. I have a device in my pocket that holds all the answers but I can't use it. Is anybody carrying a portable wireless that we can find out from?"
All that is left to do is jot down these opinions about this pub, to form into a blog post at a later date. But I can't.
Then I picture the times that my mother and I would meet for a drink at the station for a quick catch-up. She would spend the entire time showing me the pictures of recent visits to my niblings on her mobile telephone device, giving me updates on their progression with visual evidence of the funny faces that they now pull. The idea that such activity should be banned from pubs seems to go against everything that the technophobes desire. We wouldn't bother meeting in a pub at all if we couldn't share those tales with the appropriate digital imagery.
As I retreat outside to check my train times, I realise that I haven't taken any pictures of the pub. Sam Smith's pubs are often beautiful inside. Do you know what really helps attract people to your pubs in this day and age? Pictures that they see online of their gorgeous interiors. It is free advertising. Why would you want to prohibit that?
Personally, I tend to avoid Humphrey's pubs now as I want my phone to be available to me. I also don't often have cash on me and I had heard that they are all cash-only establishments (however The Angel did seem to have a card machine lurking next to the till.) I didn't think I felt too strongly about Sam Smith's rules but as I leave The Angel Yard this time I realise it is entirely unjustifiable in 2023 and will stifle any potential pub turnover. If I’m wrong, then I assume that the business and all of its pubs are flourishing currently.
Whitelock's Ale House.
I briefly considered whether it was worth including the infamous Whitelock's as part of this. It isn't exactly shy of promotion or general awareness of its presence. But I called in on this day as my memories differ greatly to its recent untouchable status.
|I need to remember to take more interesting pictures in future|
In the days when Mr Foley's was my regular, Whitelock's was not in good form. Pubs frequently have dips and this was in the midst of one. It was a pub that my older friends would call into on city centre crawls to show any newbies the place itself. The beer wasn't kept brilliantly though, and it was infamously the most expensive pub in town, something that didn't sit well with the countymen.
This view was immortalised in one trip in 2007. A group of us were on a day crawl around Leeds centre and sat in the Whitelock's alley (because in 20 years I think I have found an internal seat twice.) It was the one time in three years that my staunch lager-only housemate turned to me and said, "Go on then - let's try this shit that you drink. I'll let you pick for me."
The beer was an IPA from York Brewery (that I recall being just called IPA but this is likely a false memory) and it was off. Really off. Not end of the barrel off, just poorly tended to swill. I wasn't confident or experienced enough to return or question it, but my memory was that all beers tasted like that in the pub. "This - THIS! - is what you like?" said my housemate, and he never touched ale again.
I was so affronted that I still answer the FAQ "What is the worst beer that you have ever had?" with that particular pint. Perhaps it has tainted my view of Whitelock's to this day as I've never held the same affinity for it that others do. This is nonsense of course as it is a beautiful pub, with terrific staff and always a perfect pint of Five Point's Railway Porter, as I enjoyed on this visit. It is as good as everybody says.
I'd probably like it more if I ever managed to sit inside.
I intended to visit The Grove Inn inHolbeck to complete my old Leeds haunts but bus replacement services home made this unreachable. It's a shame because The Grove is likely to be the one pub I still hold in the same high regard as I did back then. Still, regardless of my surlier opinions, it is still nice to revisit these places that hold such vivid memories to me. I can't wait for part four.