CHANCING upon the Bridge, you’d never guess it’s almost 150 years old. Its cream-painted frontage, with picture windows onto its attractively lit interior, is suggestive of something much more contemporary. Yet when the Bridge first opened its doors, Disraeli was Prime Minister and Abraham Lincoln not long cold in the ground.
It’s doubtful whether any of the first customers who walked in here on Good Friday 1868 would recognise much about the place now. The shape may be the same, but all manner of refits, rethinks and refurbishments have stripped away anything which formed a bridge to the past.
Its latest incarnation, unveiled last week, sees a brighter, more open, more modern look – tiling and floorboards, open-plan dining, fashionable beiges and soft greens. The games room has been extended, a state-of-the-art kitchen installed, while feature walls celebrate the life of local rugby league legend John Holmes and artist Frank Simpson who was killed in the First World War.
A change of configuration on the bar means that the pub’s eight real ale handpumps are now lined up side-by-side on the counter, spoiling you with splendid choice. They include dark and hard-to-find Tetley Mild, Cornwall’s popular Doom Bar and the ubiquitous Greene King IPA. The guest selections vary from week-to-week, and currently include Black Band Porter from Kirkstall Brewery, a mile or so down the road.
And when you realise that the entry level pint is Yorkshire Sparkle at £2.40, you begin to understand how value for money is right at the heart of this business. Tetley Bitter is £2.60 a pint – just 5p more than the last time I came here, some two years ago. Also at £2.60, Leeds Pale is 20p cheaper than it was back then.
This commitment to value continues on the menu, and though it’s not the bargain basement pricing we experienced at Pudsey’s Crossed Shuttle last week, we still enjoyed a hearty meal for two for under £18. My wife went for the 8oz sirloin steak (£10.99) which came with chips, peas and a jug of a rich chasseur sauce. I was served with a sizeable wedge of steak and kidney pie (£6.29) again with chips and peas.
Pies are a big thing here – the menu lists several different choices, some of them even classed as “deluxe”. They’re proper pies too, not just a dollop of stew with a pastry crust slapped on top at the last minute.
Pub classic meals start with fish and chips (£6.99), scampi (£6.29) and lasagne (£5.99); burgers and hotdogs start at £4.99 and there’s a choice of sandwiches and jacket potatoes. It’s all no-nonsense sturdy fare.
Licensee Rachel Jenkinson came here in 2000 after finishing her degree at Leeds Met. Six years ago she took over as landlady, running the Bridge for the Warm and Friendly Inns pub company, which sounds like a big chain, but isn’t. In fact, the Bridge is the only one.
She’s delighted with the refit: “It has been transformational. They have done a brilliant job. The feedback has been really good and we’re now in a position where we can compete.”
Her nearest rival is the Woodside, just a couple of hundred yards away, but crucially right on the ring road, whereas the Bridge is tucked away at the bottom of Butcher Hill and misses out on all that valuable passing trade.
“The Woodside is really food-based,” says Rachel. “We’re much more about beer but of course we’re not part of a regular circuit like the pubs in Town Street. Because of where we are, people have to want to come here.”
Once they’re through the door, she does her best to keep them, with a loyalty card giving customers 5p back for every pound they spend. Quiz nights, darts, football and pool teams, Sky Sports – and one of the best beer gardens about – all help make this a proper local, where one-off punters soon become committed regulars.
Name: The Bridge Inn
Type: Popular pub-restaurant
Opening Hours: 11am-midnight Sun-Thur; 11am-1am Fri-Sat
Beers: Tetley Bitter (£2.60), Tetley Mild (£2.50), Leeds Pale (£2.60), Doom Bar (£2.95), Yorkshire Sparkle (£2.40), Greene King IPA (£2.80), changing range of guest real ales plus Carlsberg (£3.05), Carling (£3.30), Stella Artois (£3.70), Becks Vier (£3.40), Coors (£3.45), Peroni (£4.20), Guinness (£3.50)
Food: Quality pub meals served from noon-9pm daily
Disabled: Slightly tricky access, no special facilities
Beer Garden: Large area to rear
Parking: Areas to the side
Telephone: 0113 2587339