THE opening of the Leeds Arena made it imperative this part of the city smartened up its act.
It’s a good walk from here to the major centres of Leeds drinking culture around Call Lane and Briggate. Given the influx of music lovers drawn by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Elton John, there was always a question mark over the impression they would gain of our city if they ventured out for pre-concert drinks. Mojo, North Bar and Sandinista might all be favoured by the cognoscenti, but would visitors find them?
On the strength of this visit, I would have to say that the Stick or Twist, some 30 seconds’ walk from the Arena’s main entrance, has definitely raised its game.
That in itself is not saying a great deal. There have been times in the past when I wouldn’t have ventured near this place, given its unsavoury, madhouse reputation. And again, this visit is on a Monday afternoon, so perhaps my experience differs to that of someone who rolls in on a Friday night, just as some hard rock act’s final kerrang is still reverberating around the arena. But on this occasion I find the atmosphere benign, the welcome genuine and the service very efficient - which is to say nothing of the beers, which are every bit as good as you’d expect from any Wetherspoon outlet.
I’m sure the change of decor has been a big help. A comprehensive refit has seen the Stick or Twist given a smarter, more traditional look, in contrast to the rather careworn, utilitarian feel you sometimes come across in these places. There has been an apparent attempt to create a “smart city hotel” feel to this long cavernous bar, which takes its name from the casino next door – the choice to stick or to twist being a fateful one familiar to any pontoon player.
So this quite dimly lit room has been fitted with acres of wooden panelling, comfortable curved booths and a sober colour scheme of grey and cream. Hanging above the bar, attractive crystal light fittings twinkle and shimmer like a Downton chandelier.
This place may take some significant hammer on a weekend, but it remains well looked after.
The choice of beers is phenomenal, and starts at just £2.10 for a perfectly decent pint of Greene King IPA, one of the staples of the whole Wetherspoon’s group. Abbot and John Smith’s are the other regulars here, but then there’s a dizzying array of guest beers lined up on the counter vying for attention.
And when you see the full range – a host of craft and bottled beers, an American IPA on draught, a Brewdog lager would you believe – it’s evident that Wetherspoon’s is working hard to attract a much broader clientele than the one it is often associated with.Whatever efforts the company makes to spread its appeal, it remains true to the essential task of serving decent food and drink at genuinely affordable prices. And when I say “affordable” I mean maybe 50% of what you can pay for food elsewhere in the city, and about £1 a pint cheaper too.
I’m seduced by the familiar leaf-shaped pump clip denoting Leeds Brewery, and their gentle, easy-going, citric Monsoon IPA which I’d never come across before. This and a chunky lunchtime burger, topped with cheese and bacon and served with a generous heap of chips cost me a grand total of £6.74.
And there could scarcely be a better time to try out the Stick and Twist. In common with all the other 800-odd pubs in the chain, it starts its continental beer festival tomorrow, when Wetherspoon pubs across the UK will each be serving a range of ten draught ales from around the world, alongside beers from the UK.
The overseas beers have been sourced from brewers in New Zealand, the USA, Netherlands, Australia, Italy and Belgium.and will complement up to 40 beers from UK brewers being served in the pubs during the festival.
Seven of the beers are brewed by female brewers and the range includes new, seasonal and speciality beers, including those flavoured with ginger, heather and honey, toffee, herbs and spices and cinnamon and nutmeg.
The festival runs until November 2. One nice touch is that customers will be able to sample any three of the real ales in special third-of-a-pint glasses for the price of a pint, just like you might find in some high-end city beer bar.
Is it just me, or is Wetherspoon’s moving subtly up-market these days?
Name: Stick or Twist
Opening hours: 8am-midnight Sun-Thurs, 8am-1am Fri-Sat
Beers: Greene King IPA (£2.10), John Smith’s (£2.45), Abbot Ale (£2.45) plus great range of real ales from £2.50 Also Carling lager (£2.75), Fosters (£2.75), Carlsberg (£2.45) Amstel (£2.85) Kronenbourg (£2.85), Stella Artois (£3.15), Strongbow (£2.50), Guinness (£3.10).
Wines: Decent selection available from £2.45-glass and £6.99-bottle
Food: Good value pub meals served every session – breakfast menu 8am-noon and main menu until 11pm
Children: Welcomed, children’s meals available
Disabled: Easy access and disabled toilets
Beer Garden: Broad open air terrace to the front
Parking: Merrion multi-storey car park opposite
Telephone: 0113 234 9748