“ACTUALLY that’s an art installation,” says Sam Ward, when I question why the loft space of the Brunswick has been left empty, with just a steel plaque on the floor.
I’ve never had any great pretensions to be an art critic, but here I’m left feeling a total philistine, in front of three of the four mates who established this artsy food, music and beer venue in September last year.
Sam worked with Matty Wall, Sam Haworth and Nick Lofts at the excellent Belgrave just up the road from here. They proved such a good team that they decided to create their own venture in these corner premises which were once home to a bridal shop.
Their ‘traditional pub in a contemporary style’ does the very things which have been at the heart of the licensed trade for generations, with a focus on quality, locally-sourced beer, hearty dining and lively entertainment.
From the entrance on the corner of North Street and Melbourne Street, you enter a long bar of chunky pine and bare lamps, with bare brick, plain walls and some splashes of a sombre greeny-blue. Circular neon lights hang above the space like haloes missing their angel.
A narrow staircase leads first to an upstairs bar and kitchen, with some interesting photographs of industrial architecture, and then to the exhibition space.
Back at ground level, the bar is topped with six handpumps dispensing a good choice of ales, predominantly from Yorkshire and taps connected to the eight keg lines. The easy-going Kirkstall Pale is essentially the house ale, with Saltaire, Northern Monk and Manchester’s Cloudwater the other breweries that will usually be represented.
Above the bar are displays of some of the hipster canned beers that they sell too – it’s amazing how this once-derided method of packaging has fought its way back to the vanguard of modern brewing.
I’m chatting with the owners over a pit of the big tasting, refreshing and fruity bitter Summer from the Ilkley Brewery; though I also get to try the stronger, full-bodied Pacifica from Saltaire. The choice here is always a good one: “We try to buy from breweries which share our ethos,” says Matty. “And we look for beers which are going to compliment what we do in the kitchen.”
Food is a big part of the boys’ Brunswick formula, with choices such as sausage and mash, beef pie and baked haddock all around the £10 mark. On Wednesdays their hearty “pie and a pint” deal comes in at £9, while there are also grilled sandwiches at lunchtime and a popular Sunday roast. The new summer menu will be launched soon.
Brunswick has joined a thriving circuit. When I began writing about pubs, this part of town was all about The Wrens, the Eagle, the lovely old White Stag – and Mr Craigs. North, Mojo and the Reliance proved a blueprint for how these streets could re-invent themselves as the Northern Quarter – and in recent years they have been joined by the Social, Pit, Brotherhood, Belgrave, Shuffledog, North Bar Brewery and the Brunswick.
“There’s a great set of independent bars here now,” says Matty. “But rather than competing, we actually compliment each other and try and help each other. It might be a bit different if we were all exactly the same, but we’re quite distinct from each other.”
A new map of the city’s best bars, designed like the London Underground map, has included the Brunswick for the first time, alongside some of the four owners’ favourite places - North, Sela and Bundobust. “It feels strange to be held in the same high regard as them,” says Sam H.
Maybe, but it’s richly deserved.
Address: North Street, Leeds
Hosts: Sam Ward, Matty Wall, Sam Haworth and Nick Lofts
Type: Modern city alehouse
Opening Hours: 11am-11.30pm daily
Beers: Changing choice of real ales. Kirkstall Pale (£3.50) is the only regular, with five other handpumps and eight keg lines including Brunswick Lager (£3.50).
Wine: Good selection
Food: Good choice of meals served 11am-11pm daily, with pie and a pint deals on Wednesdays, plus Sunday roasts.
Entertainment: Jazz on last Sunday in month, DJs Thur-Sat, quiz night Tues, TV, art exhibitions
Disabled: Tricky access and the bar is on three levels
Children: No special facilities
Beer garden: None
Parking: On-street parking available nearby
Telephone: 0113 247 0546