THE lovely old Grove offers perhaps the most striking image of Holbeck’s changing landscape.
Built as a community local in Victorian times, this traditional real-ale and music pub is surrounded by post-millennium glitz – offices, city living apartments and private car parks.
And after a worrying time of change in recent years following the departure of its long-serving licensee Rachel Scordos, now under the careful stewardship of Dave Graham, the Grove seems to be right back on track.
To step inside is to take a small trip back through time, into a public house oblivious to the change outside, where you can compare the relative merits of mild, bitter or stout while listening to a folk band or a guitar duo or just some drunk bashing out a tune on the piano.
The pub retains its attractive old tiled corridor entrance, a nest of rooms on both sides offering the kind of intimacy immediately lost in open-plan designs.
Posters advertise the programme of gigs and concerts, which take place in the larger concert room to the rear. A piano and a tiny stage fill one corner of the room; bare floorboards, a big gilded mirror, a turned-wood hatstand and candelabra-style lighting lend the feel of some old west saloon. Leeds Folk Club – the longest-running group of its kind in the world – has met here on Friday nights since the 1962,
John Rowe has been a part of the furniture here for almost as long, and is now back doing shifts behind the bar as the new owners do everything they can to win back its place as a great city alehouse and live music venue.
“We want to build on the best of what this pub used to be,” says Dave, proud that the live music is once again drawing the crowds in and that his no-nonsense pub grub is attracting a good lunchtime trade from the high-rise office blocks around the corner.
But none of this would work had he not began by rebuilding local faith in the Grove’s real ales. “People come in for the beer,” he says, standing behind rows of eight handpulls, which dispense a changing selection of real ales. “Daleside Blonde is our regular ale and we try to mix it up with a variety of styles and strengths.” The beers come predominantly from Yorkshire, and the ever-changing blackboard is handily colour-coded, to help those who drink with their eyes make their choice. There’s usually a good range of golden beers, deeper-coloured bitters, and darker, richer ales. They fall into three neat price bands, all dependant on the strength.
Frankly, this is all great to see. For a while last year I’d heard rumblings that things were quite unhappy down here, and that the Grove had lost its way; haemorrhaging customers as the quality of the beer declined. The music crowd had taken its trade elsewhere too.
“It was quite sad to see it happening,” says Dave. “I was a regular and I could see its decline.” When a friend from local company Yorkshire Scene gave him the chance to take it over, he jumped at the chance. “We really care about the place and we want it to do well.”
“We’re slowly getting there. The regulars are happy – and that shows in the till.” The beer is flowing and the Tuesday jam sessions, Wednesday open mic nights, and regular bluegrass and French music sessions are once again filling the Grove with song.
A two-day Grove Festival on the first two days of August will be great entertainment and a real celebration of this hard-working new regime.
Next Thursday sees the start of a four-day celebration at Whitelocks to mark the renowned city centre alehouse’s 300th birthday.
Address: Back Row, LS11 5PL
Host: David Graham
Type: Live music alehouse
Opening Hours: Noon-11pm Mon-Thur, noon-midnight Fri-Sun
Beers: Daleside Blonde (£3.40) plus seven other real ales from £3.20 to £3.40. Also Becks (£3.80), Carling (£3.70), Budweiser (£3.90), Stella Artois (£4.20) and Guinness (£3.80)
Wine: Decent selection from £3.50-glass and £14.20-bottle
Food: Good value pub meals served noon-3pm Mon-Sat and noon-5pm Sun
Entertainment: Regular programme of music including jam session Tues, open mic Weds, bluegrass last Thurs in month, Leeds Folk Club Fri. Also quiz Sun.
Disabled: Straightforward access, but slightly tricky navigation inside
Children: Welcomed, no special facilities
Beer garden: Outdoor area with smoking shelter outside
Parking: On-street parking available nearby
Telephone: 0113 244 1440