Pub Review: North Bar, Briggate, Leeds

I SPENT the evening with a Raging Bitch. And having made rather too close an acquaintance with this mega-powerful American ale, my careful shorthand notes soon lost all meaning and direction – necessitating a sober return visit, in the cold light of day.

So it's now a workday lunchtime, and there's an autumnal chill snapping down Briggate. We're not yet past the Bank Holiday, but the grey of looming winter hangs heavy overhead.

North Bar offers a welcome haven; a rich, faintly chocolatey pint of Wensleydale Mild delivers welcome succour, but not the kind of overwhelming strength which would numb those critical faculties needed for an afternoon deskside.

Long and narrow, plainly decorated and perhaps even a little characterless; it is the long bar, topped by a fabulously cosmopolitan choice of beers, which has made North such a favourite on the city circuit.

The decor is deceptively simple, with sage green walls and a parquet floor, leather stools against a purple-fronted bar. Around the walls are dotted a range of original artworks of psychedelic landscapes.

Glass globe lights suspended over the bar add a warm glow to a room lit by a two rails of spotlights, though even on grey days like this, a little of the natural light from gloomy Briggate penetrates to the back of the long bar.

The choice, both on the bar and in the amply-stocked fridges behind, is refreshed on a regular basis, though you can generally expect to find lagers from Germany, Italy and the Low Countries, plenty of bottled beers from around the globe, draught Krieks and Framboises. A recent US-themed festival expanded the range yet further, adding beers from as far apart as San Francisco and Pennsylvania, New York and Colorado.

All this and a couple of real ales too, often from the excellent Rooster's Brewery at Knaresborough. And while it does make me feel faintly Albert Tatlock, there's something curiously reassuring about drinking one's pint of mild from a dimple glass. They do seem to be making a comeback.

Leeds has plenty to thank North Bar for – the first bar in the UK to offer lovely Erdinger on draught; the first in Leeds to serve draught Brooklyn. More importantly North was a pioneer in developing this once-neglected part of town as a haven of bar culture. It's a space now richly populated with the likes of Sandinista and Mojo, Reliance and Reform, which between them have created a viable, vibrant alternative to the well-trodden circuit south of Boar Lane.

The demographic suits me a little better up here, though cocktails – a real staple of that south-side circuit – are very much a part of the mix here too, as are rums, lines of which are stacked up colourfully on fairy-lit shelves behind the bar.

But it is the phenomenal range of beers which puts most of its rivals to shame. A friend and I tried several – the light and floral, perhaps even slightly banana-accented Outlaw Wrangler; the darker, more bitter Elland Bargee; the rich, dark and herby Le Trappe where cloves are the dominant feature; the zingy though rather less distinguished German lager Fruh. All this before we reached the wonderful Raging Bitch, a full-on, full-bodied beast of a beer at 8.3 per cent ABV, where the big determined tastes of a mega-hopped IPA still allow some interesting plum and bubblegum flavours to sneak through.

This was a real eye-opener for my mate: "I would have never in my wildest dreams have thought an American beer could taste like that. I just associate America with Budweiser and bland cold lager. This is so much more complex, more fulfilling."

The Nelson Inn at Hampsthwaite, near Harrogate, is holding a cask ale festival over the Bank Holiday weekend, with 15 award winning ales from around the country in addition to their three regular handpulls. Licensees Richard and Vicky are laying on great food, jazz and plenty of fun and games for families too.

The serious stuff happens in a marquee out back, where they've installed a high-tech, cooled racking system to keep the beers in prime condition. Choices include Thornbridge Jaipur, from Derbyshire; Old Slug Porter from Somerset; and Hook Norton Haymaker from Oxfordshire.

Mind you, my choice might well be the Harviestoun Schiehallion – a great refreshing summer beer which I re-acquainted myself with during a blissful holiday hour a few weeks ago, while sitting with a book outside a great little back street pub in Edinburgh.

s.w.jenkins@ntlworld.com

FACTFILE

Type: Beer bar, pure and simple

Opening hours: Noon-1am Mon-Tue; noon-2am Wed-Sat; noon-midnight Sun

Beers: Real ales change regularly but currently Roosters Outlaw and Knaresborough Mild (2.70); Gradisca (3.50), Lindeboom (3.85), DAB (3.95), Fruh (4.10), Erdinger (4.15), Brooklyn lager (4.50), Bacchus Framboise (3.25) Liefman's Kriek (3.55)

Wine: Good selection

Food: Simple bar food including pie and peas (4.10), hot dogs (1.50), cheese, pickles and bread (from 3)

Entertainment: Quiz Tues. Occasional themed events – Oktoberfest starts Sept 29

Children: Not particularly suitable

Beer Garden: None

Parking: Multi-storey and pay and display areas nearby

Telephone: 0113 242 4540

Email: info@northbar.com

Website: www.northbar.com

EP 28/8/10

Raymond Manners.

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