There must have been a temptation to name this the Atlas Bar.
That they have instead incorporated the word “pub” into the title might, a couple of years ago, have seemed rather perverse, but it reflects this city’s resurgent love of cask beer perfectly. And of course I wholeheartedly approve.
Atlas, which opened at the end of November, is ideally placed to exploit the trend. It sits on the corner of King Street and St Paul’s Street in premises once occupied by the Bank of Ireland and, until recently, the Create restaurant. Close by are offices, banks and the legal heartland of Park Square; on this Monday lunchtime visit, two big parties of besuited corporate types file in, thirsty from the mean labours of the morning.
The first sight which greets them on arrival at the bar is a line of real ale handpumps dispensing chiefly Yorkshire beers, most brewed in the LS postcodes. Even so, their own Atlas Special is brewed by Lancashire’s Thwaites Brewery, best known for light and bitter Wainwright ale – though manager Pete Hayes tells me that a number of the city’s brewers are being auditioned for the job. For now though, the Blackburn version is a splendid start, a gently bitter, golden, sessionable ale that soon hits the spot.
Atlas is from the same stable which gave Leeds the Epernay champagne bar off Millennium Square, and the Pour House in Granary Wharf. The premises have been tastefully converted, though the layout is much the same as it was in its Create days.
Stepping in from the busy junction you emerge into a high-ceilinged, dimly-lit saloon in sober shades of brown and tan. A long central banquette topped by a row of beige-shaded lamps, neatly divides the room’s two main drinking areas of dark wooden tables and stained oak flooring.
A crystal chandelier glints above the attractive curves of a chrome spiral staircase which sweeps up towards the more intimate drinking space overhead, the banister twinkling with fairy lights, though this may be just a seasonal feature.
The sound system oozes a re-assuring blend of sixties and seventies standards. From Doo Wah Diddy to Reet Petite – it’s all here.
At one end the long bar is set into the bold arched windows, allowing daylight to stream through racks of whisky bottles, lending an enticing golden glow to the back bar, and a tempting diversion from the draught products along the polished counter.
Whisky is a big part of the mix here, with Pete aiming to offer over 100 different varieties. They currently have 70, ranging from the £3-a-glass Johnnie Walker to the £16-a-throw Glenmorangie Signet, with choices not just from Scotland and Ireland, but from Holland, Sweden and just about everywhere else the spirit is distilled. The Taiwanese malt is “er, interesting” he tells me. The approaching Burns Night will give Pete and his team the opportunity to really show off their whisky credentials: the five-course Scots feast will pair each course with both a beer and a whisky, while a piper and a ceilidh will complete the festivities. At £25-a-ticket it sounds like it should be a great night, though it’s not one for the faint of heart, I guess.
The menu covers most of the modern pub dining staples from smoked pastrami to butternut squash, with the accent heavily on fish. Main courses start around the £10 mark, though I have heard good things about their £20 giant ploughman’s lunch platter. I guess it’s intended for sharing.
This being lunchtime, and me perhaps not having quite the appetite for the ploughman’s seductive mounds of scotch egg, pork pie, roast beef, cheese, cabbage, bread and piccalilli, I choose a £5 sandwich instead. The sandwiches are proper doorsteps, so thick that I would probably have needed to attack mine with cutlery if I didn’t have so large a mouth or were more concerned about maintaining some level of personal dignity. As it was, I manhandled my way through four inches of crusty white bread stuffed with curried egg and spinach.
Pete admits that Atlas opened quietly, allowing customers to discover it was there. It was a good move, it meant that the staff had the time to settle into their roles rather than everything having to be the finished article on day one.
Even so, it quickly built up a following: “We had an excellent Christmas,” he tells me. “We had a lot of people looking around and seeing what we were doing. The feedback was all positive.”
And now that mad month is over, he’s ready to push on. With dedicated beer and whisky experts joining the team soon, he’s clearly determined to put Atlas on the map.
Name: Atlas Pub
Manager: Pete Hayes
Type: Modern alehouse
Opening hours: 11.30am-midnight daily
Beers: Ever-changing range of six draught ales, all £3.50-pint, plus Warsteiner (£4), Amstel (£4), Heineken (£4.20), Kaltenberg (£4.20), Estrall (£4.50), Guinness (£4.50), Symonds cider (£4.20)
Wine: Good choice
Food: Quality pub meals served noon-10pm daily
Entertainment: Background music; occasional special events
Children: Not particularly suitable
Disabled: Easy access and disabled toilets
Beer Garden: None
Parking: City-centre car parking available nearby
Phone: 0113 244 2906
Beer of the Week
Yorkshire microbrewery Wold Top celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2013 by launching this as a limited edition draught beer, chiefly for sale at pubs around its Driffield heartland. It proved so popular that it has now been released in bottles too and a few arrived on my doorstep, perfectly timed for sampling over the festive period.
Unlike some celebratory brews, which ramp up the alcohol content to heroic levels, Yorkshire Tenner is an easy-going 4.1% ABV, pale gold – almost summery in character – dry, refreshing and gently bitter, with some meadowy, floral aspects to the aroma and a suggestion of spice to the taste.