YOU could easily miss the West Riding.
Its modest narrow frontage is a little obscured by the broader, bolder aspect of the “gentlemen’s club” next door. One assumes that some kind of Lap or Pole dancing goes on there, but being a naive sort of a chap I’ve never dared to venture inside. Maybe some day someone will explain why these girls from Lapland and Poland are so good at dancing we have to bring them over here. You’d have thought that from those latitudes they might need more clothes to perform their national dance.
But I digress, again. To the left of the dance club, a small doorway leads into the long narrow West Riding which may either take its name from the old army recruitment centre which was once based next door, or from one of the former railway companies which used to ply their trade from Leeds Central Station, just along the road. Only the ancient brick goods hoist remains of the station buildings, with all rail traffic now diverted through City Station, a quarter mile further east.
Curiously, on this Monday lunchtime, the West Riding has more of the feel of a gentlemen’s club – in the traditional sense – than its X-rated neighbour. Besuited types are busy talking business; others have escaped the office for the simple solitude of the newspapers and a pint. A couple of plasma screen televisions are showing subtitled daytime schlock while a strange mix of the avant garde and “Songs From The Shows” plays over the sound system.
There’s a mix of furniture with some high tables, some lower sofas and stools, and a simple decor of crimson and cream. Big mirrors create an impression of extra space.
The pub is appropriately railway carriage shaped, and just where you might expect to find a buffet bar offering over-priced coffee and microwaved bacon rolls, a panel-fronted bar is topped by an exciting range of four real ale handpumps. Two are local: Leeds Pale and Tether Blonde from the Wharfebank Brewery at Pool and there is also an IPA from Greene King.
But the rarer find is Bateman’s Bitter from Wainfleet in Lincolnshire which I choose on this occasion, not least because my good mate Jacqui Bateman is a member of the great brewing dynasty which has kept the company family-owned, against significant odds.
It’s a great session beer too, with a big floral nose, a nice rounded, well-balanced taste, and is beautifully refreshing with a dry aftertaste that leaves you thirsty for more.
Leeds Pale is the only regular on here, the guest ales rotate on a regular basis.
The pub is leased from Punch Taverns by Nicola Jones and takes the bulk of its trade from nearby businesses. Significantly, its only post-midnight opening day is Friday, as office staff celebrate the start of the weekend in style. Embracing that market, it was re-styled as Bar Work some years ago, but has thankfully now reverted to its traditional name. The imminent re-opening of the Majestyk nightclub on City Square may soon provide the pub with a more diverse trade too.
The West Riding’s pub menu covers most of the bases, with sandwiches from £2.50, paninis from £3.50, jacket potatoes from £4.25 and burgers from £5. Main courses include the steak and ale pie (£6.50) and gammon and eggs (£7.25) while £5 daily specials offer cracking lunchtime value.
The pub is reputedly haunted, and on October 29 a group of local ghostbusters will be visiting to get to the bottom of the strange noises and curious goings-on which have been reported over the years.
Tickets are still available for this event if you’re interested, but I’ve always preferred ale to spirits.
This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of Leeds independent music store Jumbo Records. The St John’s Centre store is marking this major milestone with a small host of events – including the launch of a special beer. It has been brewed by Castleford’s Revolutions Brewing Company which is gaining a great reputation for music-themed ales such as Kraftwerk Brown Ale and Clash London Porter. Their strengths of 3.3% and 4.5% ABV reflect the relative RPM speeds of albums and singles – and only a punitive tax band introduced recently by the Inland Revenue has made a 7.8% beer unfeasible. Their pale-brown, hoppy Jumbo bitter is brewed to an appropriate 4.0% and will be sale in several Leeds pubs including North Bar, The Hop, Mr Foley’s, The Old Steps, Reliance and the Fox and Newt. Even Leeds University’s Old Bar will have some, I’m told.
Name: The West Riding
Host: Nicola Jones
Type: Popular city centre bolthole
Opening Hours: 11.30am-11pm Sat-Thurs, 11.30am-12.30am Fri
Beers: Leeds Pale (£2.60), changing selection of guest beers (£2.65), John Smith’s Smooth (£2.40), Foster’s (£2.70), Carling (£2.85), Stella Artois (£3.10), Coors Lite (£3.10), Kronenbourg (£3), Guinness and Guinness Extra Cold (£3.05), Strongbow (£2.85)
Wines: Good choice
Food: Decent selection of snacks, main courses and daily specials
Children: Welcomed, but not especially suitable
Disabled: Slightly tricky access and split-level areas inside
Entertainment: Fruit machine, TVs, occasional themed events.
Beer garden: Area to side
Parking: On-street and pay and display areas nearby
Telephone: 0113 2468772
Beer of the week
Old Golden Hen
The mention of Greene King is always likely to elicit a sharp intake of breath from Campaign for Real Ale members alarmed at the Suffolk brewery’s stranglehold on some of the great names of central England’s craft brewing scene.
Fiercely traditional famous names like Old Speckled Hen and Ruddles County all now come under the Greene King banner, the Bury St Edmund’s company having voraciously gobbled up some of their prime competitors.
Old Golden Hen, with its distinctive octagonal label, was one of the beers from Morland brewery in Abingdon, Oxfordshire – but production has now switched to Bury. Even so, it’s still a fine beer, a gorgeous pale golden colour with surprising suggestions of pineapple and guava in the aroma, before it develops a light and toffee character on the palate, with an attractive last kick of mellow fruitfulness in the finish.
It may never please the CAMRA purists, but it’s certainly worth a try.