IT’S late afternoon on the Tuesday before Christmas, and for the staff at Leeds University across the road, this is the last working day before the holiday shutdown.
Festive songs are pulsing mercilessly from the sound system, while academics and administrators, technicians and support staff are expending the last of their office party bonhomie before heading home.
Although this has long been a university pub, of the various establishments dotted around the campus the Eldon is the one which is least-obviously targeted at the students. For many years it has been a favourite of the thirsty staff from the sprawling engineering departments across the road.
While the Fenton and Pack Horse go big on great beers and live bands; the Faversham has cool and cachet; the Library is loud and brash and lively; the Eldon most resembles a simple downhome community boozer, with its real ales, cut price food and wall-to-wall sports T V.
The management here is clearly working hard to address this and tap into the captive student market. On Tuesdays they host events for international students; “Throwback Thursdays” see reduced prices at the bar; quiz nights and DJ sets ensure that this place remains lively, seven days a week.
Which is to say nothing of the live sports. With numerous big screens, and three Sky boxes to ensure all sports can be catered for – even when there are fixture clashes – this is a great place to head for and catch up on the action.
And of course the Eldon pulls in the student pub crawlers too. This is a key fixture on the Otley Run, and by the time the fancy dress parties have staggered to this staging post towards the end of the pub crawl route, most are considerably worse for wear. Given that they started at Woodies in Headingley and have been into about ten pubs in between, it’s hardly surprising. It is a serious badge of honour to complete the trek, but with only two more pubs to reach – the Fenton and the Dry Dock – many of them will have given up by this point.
Which is a serious shame because the Eldon serves some great beer. There are six real ale handpulls spread along the bar and fonts serving a good range of alternatives too. On this visit, the real ales include choices from Adnams and Leeds breweries, while a blackboard at the end of the bar offers helpful tasting notes to each, plus a “coming soon” list of the next beers to arrive. They include Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker, currently CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain.
I go for something less familiar, the Autumn Red ale from Conwy brewery in Wales. This is a beer perfectly named; its deep russet colour is redolent of autumn leaves, its rich malty caramel and toffee nature creates a lovely soothing and warming experience for the cold autumn nights. It has some nice more-ish bitterness in the finish too.
The food menu offers plenty, with pub classics such as ham, egg and chips (£4.99), lasagne (£5.79) and fish and chips (£4.99) alongside more imaginative choices like the Moroccan spiced lamb burger (£5.79) and the halloumi salad (£6.29). Steaks start at £5.29, burgers at £4.79, sandwiches at £3.79, and pies at £5.49 – while anyone with an oversized appetite might want to try one of their “You vs Food” challenges, which include a whopping 32oz Big Lad Burger and chips (£15.99).
There are plenty of offers – cut priced “Fish Fridays”, cheap steaks on Monday and Tuesday, and lots of main courses on a two for £9 deal, so there is real value to be had here.
The Eldon is part of the John Barras pub company which specialises in this simple combination of good beer, keenly-priced food and live sport. Others in the city which have this same formula include the Station Hotel at Crossgates and the Regent in Chapel Allerton.
Despite a prodigious throughput of people, it’s comfortable and well kept – and currently decked out in tinsel, lights and sprigs of pine for the festive season.
One really nice touch is the line of upholstered leather panels built into the wooden frontage of the bar, which add an extra level of comfort to the simple pleasure of leaning on the bar, or while you’re waiting to be served.
I’m not sure I have ever seen this anywhere else, though perhaps I just didn’t notice.
Name: The Eldon
Type: Lively, good value alehouse for the University community and beyond
Opening Hours: Noon-midnight Mon, Wed, Thur; noon-1am Tue, Fri, Sat; noon-11.30pm Sun
Beers: Changing choice of real ales plus John Smith Smooth, Moretti, Carlsberg, Carling, Stella Artois, San Miguel, Guinness, Strongbow
Food: Punch company menu pub grub served noon-7pm Mon-Fri and noon-5pm Sun
Children: Not especially suitable
Disabled: Ramp access from the rear, disabled toilets.
Entertainment: Sky Sports on several big screens
Beer Garden: Small courtyard to rear for smokers
Parking: On-street parking areas nearby
Telephone: 0113 245 3591