OPEN air drinking space in the city centre is at an absolute premium, particularly given the great weather we’ve been having lately.
So when I spotted the sign for a “beautiful beer garden” at The George, I thought it was time I paid it another visit. I’ve been to this famous old drinking den several times down the years, but I didn’t know it had a beer garden.
To get there, you have to walk through a rear door where the stained glass indicates the way to the gents. And while I might take issue with the pub’s extravagant use of the word “beautiful”, this functional terrace with its deck seating and mis-matched window boxes is certainly an enticing south-facing suntrap.
It’s Monday afternoon and I’m taking a welcome opportunity to end the working day with a beer and conversation and some determined sunshine.
Broad black canopies which can be wound out to provide shelter – most often from driving rain, rather than oppressive sunshine, I suspect – have been drawn back to the wall; a barbecue sits in one corner, ready for action.
From here, you get two reminders of the George’s historic purpose. To the left, Brodrick’s majestic cupola dominates the skyline, to the right, the red brick of the magistrates court shines in the sun. This has long been a favoured watering hole for those who had business with the council and the courts.
The hospital too - medics, patients and visitors have slaked their thirst here for generations. As if to prove it, a group of doctors join us at the next table, where they make light work of several pints of lager. “We’re liver specialists,” one of them tells me, though I suspect it was his little joke.
Inside, the pub has remained unchanged in years. A U-shaped bar which dominates the centre of the space; around the walls are polished wooden panels, attractive egg-shaped lanterns and mirrors etched with the head of King George III. It’s a period piece which would be lauded as highly as Whitelock’s or the Adelphi were it in a more central location.
I sense here a pub in transition. The phone is currently disconnected, and that’s never a good sign.
The last time I wrote about it, there was a vibrant atmosphere, lots of real ales, an interesting food menu, Sky Sports – and customers. Now it seems like the place is being pared back to its essentials – the Sky is gone, the kitchen closed, and although there are six real ale handpumps, none of them are connected up to anything interesting in the cellars.
“It’s owned by Punch,” says the barman, by way of apology. “They have a tie-up with Carlsberg-Tetley, but they still manage to leave us without enough Tetley bitter to put on the bar.”
As for the meals: “We reckon there are 13 places within 250 yards of here which do food, so it’s hard to compete.”
He may have a point. A few years ago, when I was researching my book The Great Leeds Pub Crawl, I considered one of the trails being a stroll eastwards along Great George Street, starting at the Joseph’s Well on the other side of the inner ring road. Some of the pub names have changed since then, but it would still make for a good evening out, taking in the George, Veritas, the Victoria, Carpe Diem and Nation of Shopkeepers, before continuing into Merrion Street and the Picture House and the Wrens. Those still standing could press on to Mojo, Reform and Verve, though I might cut straight to the lovely old Templar from there.
On current form, you wouldn’t stop long in the George, certainly not if you wanted a pint of bitter or something to eat. The staff seem keen enough – and I can’t praise them enough for dealing with a deeply unpleasant intruder into the beer garden during my visit.
So perhaps you’d linger long enough to see the potential here, for someone with real ambition to come in and get poor George right back on his feet.
Name: The George
Type: Historic city alehouse
Opening Hours: 11am-midnight Mon-Wed; 11am-1am Thur; 11am-2am Sat-Sun; noon-11.30pm Sun
Beers: Tetley Bitter (£2.90), Leeds Pale (£3.30) plus one guest ale (£3.30), John Smith’s Smooth (£2.90), Carling lager (£3.60), San Miguel (£3.95) Thatcher’s Cider (£3.70), Guinness (£3.70).
Wines: Small selection available from £3.50-glass
Children: No special facilities
Entertainment: TV and games machine, occasional live music
Functions: Large room downstairs with its own bar
Beer garden: Attractive smoking area to rear
Parking: On-street and pay and display areas nearby
Telephone: 0113 345 0505