A HALF mile from the city centre, hemmed in by takeaways and convenience shops, lies one of the unsung gems of the city’s drinking scene.
It may lack the grandeur of the Adelphi, the fame of Whitelocks or the position-A location of the Scarbrough Taps, but the great choice of beers at the Pack Horse makes it worth a visit any day.
It sits across the road from Leeds University’s engineering buildings, and on any given day its clientele is likely to be a lively mix of staff and students, with the healthy smattering of locals thrown in too. Not much passing trade, mind, unless they’re people conversant with the local parking issues, which can be rather difficult. Actually, since they made St Mark’s Road pay-and-display a few months ago, hardly anyone seems to be using it, so that’s probably the best bet.
But my advice would be to ditch the car, use public transport, and try out a few of the real ales here, of which there is a changing range of up to six at any one time, in addition to the Tetley’s which is always on.
Despite being well-used by students, and a staging post on the famous Otley Run, the Pack Horse certainly doesn’t have the in-your-face mentality of the ironically-named Library on the other side of the traffic lights. Nor does it have the cavernous lager-bar feel of the nearby Quilted Llama or the laid back cool of the Faversham.
In fact, with its big selection of excellent real ales and cheap ‘n’ cheerful pub grub, the Pack Horse has plenty of the credentials you would expect from a community local – and it sits on the edge of Woodhouse Moor, with a housing estate in easy reach.
Even so, there’s plenty here for the students, with a games room, and live music in a poky concert room upstairs.
It was a Monday lunchtime when I called in, yet even at this traditionally quiet time of the week, each of the pub’s separate drinking spaces was being used, the real ale being downed with gusto. I settled on the smooth and refreshing Copper Dragon Best Bitter, though there’s no guarantee that will still be on sale by the time you read this; the choice changes so regularly.
The Pack Horse opened in 1871, and still displays the intimate design which was popular in pubs of that time, but has too often been torn out in the name of progress in the years since. The central corridor has doors to left and right leading into compact little snugs, some with the original fitted seating around the walls, and other genuine Victorian artefacts like tiled fireplaces, attractively-fashioned armrests and bell-pushes to summon table service. They’re not working, sadly.
The layout is not unlike that at the Adelphi, where the attractively panelled main bar serves drinkers both in the corridor and in two of the rooms. The building was protected by listed building status in 1994, and is now a sister pub to the excellent Fox and Newt brewpub on Burley Street, almost diametrically across the sprawling University campus.
The food is everything you would expect of a pub offering a quick and easy re-fuelling stop for those dashing between lectures. There’s a good choice of burgers from £2.99, pizzas from £3.50, jacket potatoes from £2 and sandwiches from £3. A good choice of main courses includes cottage pie (£3.95), lamb hotpot (£3.95) and a sizeable all-day Full English for £4.10. With two meals for £6.60, and a buy-one-get-one-free on their smaller bar meals (which include fish fingers, chips and beans!) there’s plenty of value on offer here.
But whether you’re eating or not, just feast on that choice of real ales!
l Talking of which, Leeds Beer Festival is back. To give it its proper name, Leeds CAMRA Beer, Cider and Perry Festival is back - and it kicks off today in its regular venue of Pudsey Civic Hall at Dawson’s Corner in Stanningley. Coinciding with St Patrick’s Day, this year’s theme is a Celtic one, with beers from Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Ireland among the 170 Real Ales on offer.
The festival is open 11am- 3pm and 5-11pm today and tomorrow, and 11am-4pm and 6-11pm on Saturday – and is definitely worth a visit.
Name: The Pack Horse
Type: Historic real-ale pub
Host: Paul McIntyre
Opening Hours: Noon-midnight Sun-Thur; noon-1am Fri-Sat.
Beers: Tetley Bitter (£2.55) plus changing range of guest ales (all £3.05); Foster’s (£2.90), Carling (£2.97), Becks Vier (£3.05), Kronenbourg (£3.30), San Miguel (£3.30), Hoegaarden (£4.10); Guinness (£3.25)
Wine: Decent selection
Food: Good choice of cheap and cheerful pub meals served noon-7pm daily, with carvery available on Sundays
Children: Not especially suitable
Disabled: Slightly awkward access and not ideal for manoeuvrability inside
Entertainment: Regular programme of live acts in function room upstairs, pool table, games machines, TV and juke box
Functions: Upstairs room available for hire Beer Garden: None
Parking: Pay-and-display areas on St Mark’s Road
Telephone: 0113 245 3980
Beer of the week
It sounds like the sort of place you would only drink at your peril, when all other possible alternatives had been exhausted.
And in a sense it is, because anyone choosing to drink at Doom Bar would be foolhardy indeed. It isn’t a pub though, it’s a notorious sandbank at the mouth of the Camel estuary in North Cornwall, where countless wrecks have come to grief and sailors have met their doom.
The beer which takes its name is altogether more friendly. It’s the product of Sharp’s Brewery, which was only founded in 1994 but is already the largest brewer of cask conditioned beer in the South West, its success underlined by a recent takeover by global beer giant Molson Coors.
One hopes that the change of ownership does not impact on the beer, which is fine example of a well-balanced English bitter.
The clear bottle shows off its attractive copper colour, and prising off the lid releases some enticing yeasty aromas. Brewed to a very moderate 4.3 per cent ABV, Doom Bar combines some gentle malty sweetness with the refreshing bitterness of dark fruit in a beer which is beautifully easy drinking.
It’s also the official drink of the University boat race, which takes place a week on Saturday. I’m a dark blue man, meself.
AFTERTASTE ............... ****
***** EXCELLENT **** VERY GOOD *** GOOD ** AVERAGE * POOR