An A-board outside the Black Bull is threatening us with an appearance by Disco Dave, but we decide to risk it anyway.
It’s not a pub I’ve ever visited before, and certainly isn’t where we had planned to end up.
We’ve come south from Leeds in search of an evening pint and the rekindling of some memories, only to find that two great old pubs which figured large in my formative teenage drinking years – Wakefield’s British Oak and Vine Tree – are currently standing empty and abandoned in their prominent roadside locations. A similar fate has befallen the nearby Spindle Tree, which received a positive review in this column a few years back. The short drive out from Wakefield towards the motorway would be enough to convince any sceptic that the licensed trade is not an easy business to be in right now.
So by the time we hit downtown Rothwell, I’m feeling a little downhearted myself and beginning to despair of ever getting my hands on a beer.
We have passed the ever-reliable Three Horseshoes at Oulton, but that pub has featured at least twice before in this column.
Eventually though, the bright lights of The Black Bull offer a welcome reprieve, despite the impending arrival of Disco Dave and his quiz night.
Stepping inside, we find the place to be already quite crowded. A few groups are gathered at tables in the bay windows and on stools around the bar. Some lively debates are already under way, the arguments lubricated and liberated by alcohol. Perhaps some of these are quiz teams, ready for action; that we feel just the frisson of a chilly glare is maybe a sign that they see us as unwelcome competition.
Which we aren’t – we’ll be out of here at the merest mention of quiz sheets and picture rounds.
As usual, I’m here for the beer. The same A-board outside has promised a selection of cask ales, a claim which appears to be backed up the prestigious Cask Marque plaque which is displayed proudly at the door. And though there are a couple of handpulls, there seems to be only Tetley Bitter on sale during our visit, which is a poor sort of a selection by anybody’s standards. There’s lots of lagers though.
All the same, the customers here seem happy enough, judging by the animated conversation around the bar. Much here points to the Black Bull being a much-loved community local, with its Sky Sports, its pool table and dartboard, its poker nights and quiz nights. Its ethos is, according to one website “no drugs, no mugs, no thugs”, which seems a decent recipe to me.
The selection of newspapers is a welcome touch more in keeping with the upper end of the market; out back is an attractive enclosed beer garden. What’s not to like, as the young people say?
Above the bar, a painted blackboard tells the rather lyrical story of how the Black Bull has stayed standing while seeing off the competition from its local rivals, which is at least partly true, though just along the road a second British Oak remains open for business – and one or two other decent pubs round here survive.
The Black Bull is essentially open plan, though its alcoves and bay windows create various discrete drinking spaces each wrapped around a central bar, whose panel frontage is echoed in a ceiling of gleaming polished wood. I’m not sure who has the job of keeping up with the varnishing, but Sisyphus would struggle.
To the left of the main door has a pool table and dartboard. TV screens in strategic locations mean that customers get a good view of the sport wherever they happen to be sitting, but tonight it’s tuned to MTV, whose music videos are an ever-present reminder of the arrival of Disco Dave.
So we drink up and head home.