THIS suburban pub, well off the main circuit and hemmed in by low-rise seventies housing, was recently named the third most important licensed premises in the UK.
Digest that small fact for a while and I’ll talk about rugby, and specifically about the Hunslet Hawks to whom this pub has become something of a shrine.
Boards display the Hawks’ proud history, as though this were the club’s own museum.
Pride of place goes to memorabilia from the day in 1938 when 54,000 people were shoehorned into Elland Road to see them defeat Leeds in the Challenge Cup Final.
In the white-faced brick cellars of the Garden Gate can be glimpsed a sporting past; a time when every pub and factory and church fielded teams of men to carry their proud names across the whitewash.
One can imagine great hulks of working men, stirred to the cause and striding into battle, local honour at stake.
The showers and communal bath are still there, relics of this glorious past.
Ghosts must hang here, echoes of these great men, stepping through the fine hot mist, nursing their wounds and cursing still.
They might find today’s society bewildering, fractured and lost but, drifting upstairs for an after-match pint, they would recognise much about the Garden Gate.
It’s perhaps ironic that it has taken a Londoner, Garden Gate landlord Mark Anderson, to properly recognise the pub’s sporting past and re-instate these links to the local club.
A minibus runs from here to home matches; a group meets here monthly to discuss the club’s proud past.
You can even buy match tickets over the bar.
When Hunslet legend Harry Jepson celebrated his 95th birthday recently, he did it here.
The pub is even older, taking its name from the nearby market gardens which were a source of significant local income at the time.
It is a ceramic palace, from the ornate brown and cream tiled exterior, to the greens of the pub’s long central corridor which divides little snugs, nooks and crannies from the two main drinking areas which are either side of a central bar.
The corridor is itself a gem, tiled from floor to ceiling, save for polished mahogany panels and panes of etched and decorated glass.
The floor is an ornate tiled mosaic; a tiled archway arcs over the corridor.
Wood, mirrors and glass predominate in each room, though it’s the ceramic which makes this place truly special. No-one seems to know for sure, but it’s only a part-romantic notion that these tiles were Burmantofts Faience, a relic of the time when the east Leeds suburb was famed for its pottery.
It is these features which have won for the Garden Gate international fame, being ranked in one recent list as third most important in the UK, behind Liverpool’s dazzlingly ornate Philharmonic and Belfast’s majestic Crown.
The Garden Gate has been in Leeds Brewery ownership for a while now, and after being run as managed house for some years, has now been leased to Mark, who admits:“I walked in and fell in love with the place.”
He has taken it back to the basics of good, keenly-priced ale, simple hearty pub food, and friendly welcoming staff which are the hallmarks of a great community pub.
He’s revived the darts team, and added some good guest ales to the familiar Leeds Brewery choice.
Those rugby players would surely approve.
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THE GARDEN GATE
Address: Whitfield Place, Hunslet
Hosts: Mark Anderson
Type: Traditional suburban alehouse
Opening Hours: 11am-11pm daily
Beers: Leeds Pale (£2.60) plus good choice of guest beers (£2.80). Also Carling (£2.60), San Miguel (£2.90), Coors (£2.75), Guinness (£3.10), Stowford Press cider (£2.80)
Wine: Small selection from £2.40-glass and £10.50-bottle
Food: Good value pub meals served noon-2pm and 5-7pm Mon-Fri; noon-6pm Sat-Sun
Disabled: Welcomed, reasonably straightforward access, though slightly cramped inside.
Entertainment: Darts and dominoes Monday, acoustic night on Wednesday
Beer garden: Some outdoor tables to front
Parking: On-street parking nearby
Telephone: 0113 2777705