IN the front bar of the Cardigan Arms, five lovely ivory-coloured globe lights hang from the ceiling, illuminating this historic space.
Well, that’s the theory anyway. In practice, only one of these five globes has a working bulb at present, meaning those regulars who have come here to play cards and chat are doing so in the semi-dark.
One of them bemoans the lack of disabled facilities. “Even Wetherspoon’s has a disabled toilet,” she tells me, adding rather mistakenly: “Of course, you’ll never put that in the paper.”
It’s all rather a shame to find such obvious faults at what should be a fabulous suburban inn. Few have such history or character, but unless those things are preserved, nurtured, loved, then they will soon fall into disrepair. Just look a couple of hundred yards along the road at the beautiful old Rising Sun, now a boarded-up shell, just waiting to be put out of its misery
Happily we are not at that stage yet at the Cardigan Arms, and I’m sure that the continued support of its regulars will keep this place going, but it needs to do plenty more to keep the passing casuals, like myself, coming through the door.
Let’s start with the beer. There are two rows of three handpulls here, one on either side of the bar. Only the Tetley pump is connected to anything meaningful in the cellar, though this is a Monday when I call in, so I can forgive them for having sold out of the two guest beers over a busy weekend.
Having said that, the Tetley’s proves a big disappointment. As soon as it’s pulled I know there is something wrong – it’s too pale, too brightly golden – and its thinness on the palate, too much sweetness, too much carbonation, speaks of a beer whose recipe has either been altered at the brewery, or the wrong cask has been connected in the cellar. It’s perfectly drinkable, but it’s just not Tetley’s.
There’s more – background music turned up too loud, a fire door closer not working and no food. They used to do great meals here. The lack of lightbulbs continues in the lovely front parlour, where only two of the four wall lanterns are working.
And now to the positives. This front room – which still has the etched glass in the window and doorway denoting it as the Smoke Room, is a lovely space with ornate high ceilings, a tiled fireplace and three huge gilt mirrors which emphasise the space. Immaculately-upholstered banquettes wrap around the walls; in the wooden mouldings above them are the old bell-pushes which will once have summoned staff to table service.
Outside, Kirkstall Road’s busy traffic blazes past in a blur of frosted glass.
The upstairs has been rediscovered as a live music venue, with a regular programme of acts.
The Cardigan is one of the oldest pubs in Leeds, with its origins in the 18th century, though the current building is largely as it was following a complete redevelopment of the building in 1890. Rumour has it that Buffalo Bill stayed here whilst appearing in his Wild West Show on Cardigan Fields in 1904.
Prior to that it had been in the hands of local landowners the Brudenells, whose most famous son was the Fifth Earl of Cardigan who, on being ordered to lead the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade did so with the resigned cry: “Here goes the last of the Brudenells”.
Remarkably, he was one of the few who survived – and the Charge is recalled in some lovely paintings in the smoke room.
It’s his lovely late Victorian building which survives, and it really should ought to show greater evidence of thriving, given that some of its local rivals – the Haddon Hall, the Kirkstall Lites, the George IV, the Queen, the Rising Sun – have all closed down, leaving just the charmless Aire of the Dog as its nearest competition.
But it needs to do more to convince me to come back. Mind you, after that Tetley’s, at least I didn’t go home smelling of booze.