THE Saltaire’s publicity photographs create an alluring impression. A line of real ale handpumps are ready to dispense Theakstons and Black Sheep; shiny beer fonts offer a host of lagers; downlights make a dramatic show of shelves of wines and colourful spirits against a rustic brick wall.
All these things exist, tucked into one attractively-lit corner of the departure lounge, but between them they create an illusion as utterly false as a film set. Just as turning the camera away from some romcom bedroom scene would reveal a workshop vista of scaffolding poles, cameramen, directors, lighting rigs, make-up girls and grips.
The big problem is that the bar has no front to speak of, instead it simply opens to the side of a corridor between the airside shops and the departure gates, meaning that wherever you sit, you are aware of this endless throughput of people – distracted business folk, happy couples, noisy stag parties and over-excited children.
Open-plan design can work, breaking down the claustrophobia of walls to create a luxurious feeling of space. Here it is that very space which is oppressive, allowing in a hubbub of noise and depriving customers of the intimacy of conversation. It’s as charming as a shopping centre, as frantic as Accident and Emergency on a Saturday night.
Trade ebbs and flows with the departures. Each successive announcement from the tannoy draws a group of drinkers away.
The menu is interesting, but the dishes seem a little over-priced with their gourmet-style beefburgers from £11.50, the steak and shiraz pie (£13) and a good choice of sandwiches (from £9). The menu emphasises the quality on offer, but the tomato sauce bottle on every table suggests their customers appreciate a lowest-common-denominator approach.
Even the windows face the wrong way, showing drinkers the mundane bustle of the car park and the taxi rank rather than the enticing promise of the apron and the runway and the majestic miracle of air travel, giant engines hauling hundreds of tonnes into the air, spiriting travellers away to so many romantic destinations, most of them south of here, most of them warmer.
All that would be much nicer to look at, of course, but I guess there’s not much the Saltaire can do to change its outlook. But somehow just separating this space from the general melee of the airport would offer drinkers a secluded, attractive, perhaps even exclusive little place to await their flight.
At risk of sounding briefly like Donald Trump, it would really help if they would just build a wall. Enclosing the pub would seal in a little atmosphere; creating some proper nooks and crannies would add to that genuine Yorkshire pub feel, providing somewhere that people could eat, drink, chat, read – without feeling as though they were simply in some soulless waiting room.
And yet amid all this, you can sense that the people who designed and built the Saltaire Bar did have some good intentions. By installing Masham’s great family rivals Black Sheep and Theakstons on the bar they offer customers a last taste of Yorkshire before heading off on their jollies.
And there are some nice decorative touches. Elegant onion-shaped lanterns of curved wood hang over a space broken up by leather-backed booths. Chunky white shelving units show off colourful glassware, crockery and an earthenware brown trio of teapots, their handles and spouts all aligned like Wilson Keppel and Betty doing the sand dance. Breaking up the space and creating some separation between drinkers and passengers, could make all the difference.
The Saltaire Bar
Type: Airport bar and restaurant
Opening Hours: From early until late - dependent on flight times. Drinking starts early.
Beers: Four real ales including Theakston’s Best, Black Sheep and Greene King IPA, plus Heineken, Amstel, Stella Artois, Peroni, Symonds Cider and Guinness.
Wine: Decent choice from £5.20-glass and £17.75-bottle
Food: Good choice of meals served all day, with a breakfast menu available from opening
Disabled: Full disabled access
Children: No special facilities
Beer garden: None
Parking: Airport car parks nearby.
Telephone: 0871 288 2288