“You better not put that in the paper, I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Former Leeds RL player Paul Fletcher objects to me mentioning that he’s responsible for the lovely posies of spring flowers on each table at the Bay Horse. He’s clearly in touch with his feminine side, but isn’t keen to admit it: “They were on offer in the garden centre, that’s all.”
“Yes, but you only went to buy wood,” says partner Carmel, adding to his blushes.
My earliest memory of this north Leeds suburb comes from around 1977, and the fateful day I steered my racing bike past the Bay Horse, into the woods from the Myrtle Tavern, down the park’s steep hillside in a streak of chrome and yellow – and headlong into Meanwood Beck.
Much here has changed in the decades since. The Myrtle and the Bay Horse remain great rivals, but three significant events have played a hand in their business.
On the upside, the development of the Woodlea estate on the vast Meanwood Park Hospital site, created for them a new clientele. But this also brought the closure of Parkside Road. This handy rat-run to the Ring Road is now sealed at one end, while the other has been remodelled into a slightly awkward “kink”, removing at a stroke all the passing trade and making the two pubs that little bit harder to get to. Then the more recent arrival of two great bars – Alfred and East of Arcadia – shifted the focus of the local drinking scene a half mile south.
Though the Myrtle thrived, its near-neighbour struggled – and by February 2013 was shuttered up and dead, another apparent victim of the nationwide wave of pub closures. It might well have stayed that way but for the arrival of Carmel and Paul, who have spent a small fortune putting this famous community pub back on the map. It re-opened in June, its vast suntrap beer garden perfect for the summer heatwave, if anyone had actually realised that the pub was back in business: “Once people have stopped coming in, it’s quite hard to get them back,” says Paul.
But if anyone can make this work, Carmel can. A former UK licensee of the year, she has run a string of great pubs including the New Inn at Headingley and the Devon at Crossgates. She led the Skyrack to be the first £1m-profit pub in Britain, becoming in the process the country’s highest paid licensee.
That wealth of experience is now channeled into getting the Bay Horse back on its feet, though as a tenant, rather than a manager, she has gambled a significant stake in the business: “When you’ve been successful it’s a huge risk leaving that security when there are 46 pubs a week closing. But we backed ourselves to do well.”
Much of what worked in her previous pubs is replicated here – Sky Sports, live music, special events. A roaring open fire plays to the “home from home” feel she is hoping to achieve.
Carmel’s naturally proud of the quality of her Guinness, but there are also two real ales, currently Hobgoblin and Landlord, and the choice changes regularly.
Copper Dragon Best might well be on the bar by the time you read this but the Landlord was on such good form I suggested she made it a permanent fixture.
Rather than have a St Patrick’s Day celebration, Mayo-born Carmel has had a whole week of cut-price Guinness, Irish coffee and the Cheltenham Festival leading up to the big day.
Tomorrow is Ladies Night, with fashion, beauty and a clairvoyant; local band Lucy’s Shoes play music from the last seven decades on Sunday evening; there’s a traditional Irish music session on Monday afternoon, before entertainer Des Hurley leads the Paddy’s Night party.
Paul’s influence is most evident in a display of signed rugby league shirts. And the pansies, obviously.
Name: The Bay Horse
Host: Carmel Daly-Fletcher
Type: Lively suburban alehouse
Opening Hours: Noon-11pm Mon-Thur, noon-midnight Fri-Sat, noon-10.30pm Sun
Beers: Changing choice of two real ales (£3.20), plus Kronenbourg (£3.60), Coors Light (£3.60), Carling (£3.30), Fosters (£3.25), Strongbow (£3.30) and Guinness (£3.50)
Wine: Good choice
Food: Sunday lunches
Children: Welcomed, outdoor play area
Disabled: Easy access and disabled toilets
Entertainment: Sky Sports, DJ Saturday and special events including live music
Functions: Upstairs room available for functions
Beer Garden: Large area to rear
Parking: Large car park to side
Telephone: 0113 8088618