WHEN this building first opened as the Hogshead, way back in my early days of writing this column, it held onto some relics of its place in the city’s past.
For decades this was the Watson Cairns cycle shop, the place where thousands of children will have come to badger their parents into treating them to a special birthday and Christmas present. The gleaming yellow 10-speed Eddy Merckx racing bike which I picked out here was the gift that marked the start of my teenage years.
And if this lovely old store could have ridden out the lean years and survived for just another decade, it would probably still be here now, thriving on the resurgent popularity of cycling as the hipster’s cardiovascular workout of choice, and selling colourful lycra and expensive carbon fibre to a new breed of born-again riders. But it fell short, squeezed out at a time when the idea of the Tour de France coming to Leeds seemed about as unlikely as the Winter Olympics being staged on Otley Chevin.
The Hogshead briefly enshrined this piece of social history by displaying old bicycles high on the walls, while oddments of enamelled signage and accessories played to the theme. But these thoughtful touches are long gone, swept out in a series of changes, some major, some incremental. And now as Bowers Tap it has edged into the hipster’s other favoured leisure territory – beer. Flanking the six real ale handpulls on the bar are a rack of keg beer fonts; behind them, eight taps offer a changing range of craft ales whose names, strengths and challenging prices are chalked up on little blackboards – Innis and Gunn Special, White Rat, Kirkstall Framboise among them on my flying visit this week.
Being a creature of irrepressible habit, I go straight for the real ale, and a pint of the lovely refreshing Wainwright, still a fine crisp pint, despite production having switched from the independent Thwaites Brewery in Blackburn to the massive Marston’s.
I find a place at one of the many plain wooden tables beyond the bar. Each has a good view of the TV, but the screen I’m nearest to has for some reason been switched from Wimbledon, which I’ve come in to watch, to some retrospective on the life and goals of Frank Lampard. The sound’s been turned down, so I have a quick check on Twitter, just in case he’s died.
Food is served all day long, starting with the Full English from 10am, and on through a whole host of pizzas, burgers, tapas dishes, sandwiches and hearty pub favourites like cod and chips, steaks, pies and sausage and mash. That other hipster favourite, pulled pork, features too, naturally.
l And if, like me, you derive some of life’s greatest pleasures from a brisk walk in the countryside, followed by a pint of real ale in a well-kept village inn, then you’ll enjoy a new book published by the Campaign For Real Ale. Wild Pub Walks by Daniel Neilson features 22 different suggested walks, each described in detail and with some great pubs along the way.
Several of Daniel’s routes are in Yorkshire, and the one which most caught my eye was a nine-mile ramble in the brooding North York Moors, starting and ending at the New Inn in Cropton, home to the Great Yorkshire Brewery. I wonder if I can persuade one of my walking group buddies to drive...?
address: Bowers Tap
Lower Briggate, Leeds
Type: Lively sports and ale bar
Opening Hours: 10am-11.30pm Sun-Thur, 10am-1am Fri and 10am-1pm Sat
Beers: Great choice with six handpulled real ales, and a changing selection of craft keg beers and lagers
Wine: Decent choice
Food: Wide ranging menu served all day
Children: Not particularly suitable
Disabled: Straightforward access to ground floor bar
Entertainment: Nine TVs with live sports coverage, games machines
Functions: Upstairs bar available for private hire
Beer Garden: Some outdoor tables to the front
Parking: On-street areas and cirty centre car parks nearby
Telephone: 0113 244 2275
BEER OF THE WEEK
Iron and Steel Bitter - Chantry Brewery
With a name like Iron and Steel Bitter, this beer could only have been forged in the steel-making heartland of South Yorkshire.
Plenty of the new breweries which have emerged in and around Sheffield in recent years celebrate this proud heritage – there’s golden Brightshine Ale from Sheffield Brewery, Stancill’s Stainless and Toolmakers Brewery’s Lynchpin.
The sad closure of Rotherham’s Wentworth Brewery in 2016 left Chantry as the only brewery in a town which once boasted companies like Bentley’s and Mappin’s who competed for custom among those who laboured in Rotherham’s furnaces and glass factories.
Iron and Steel (4%) is a simple, sessionable copper-coloured bitter, yet still possessed of sufficient toffee character and an iron-like firmness to be suggestive of something rather stronger.
The famous old Cutlers Arms, a short walk from Rotherham’s football stadium, is an appropriately-named venue to try the whole Chantry range.