Ten a penny, now, are the pubs which are at pains to show off their vintage credentials – the dandyish names, the moustache-and-suspenders staff, the 1920s cocktail vibe.
Which is fine, I’m not against it. But in contrast, the Victoria Hotel quietly stands as a real emblem of yesteryear charm at the city centre’s edge on the history-steeped Great George Street.
The decoration alone merits a visit to the spacious pub, with its beautiful period lamps, mirrors, ceiling, bar and brass over three rooms.
It’s no surprise, because the Victoria is one of three Nicholson’s pubs in Leeds – the cosier, more regal cousin of The Palace and Scarbrough Hotel across town. The company specialises in preserving ornate boozers of historical interest, and can be found on pretty much every street corner in the centre of London.
This particular one – built in 1865 to serve visitors spilling out of the Assizes Court at Leeds Town Hall – was almost knocked down in by developers in the 1973 until outraged punters, thank goodness, had a thing or two to say about it.
It’s an ale haven, of course, but in terms of its pumps tends to stick with old trusties such as Tetley’s, Timothy Taylor’s and its own Nicholson’s tipple.
I go for the latter when I meet my friend inside, who gets a bit of a scowl for supping lager (Peroni, £7.95 for both pints) when there’s at least six pumps on offer – less than there usually is, actually.I’ve had the same drink here in the past with good results, but on this night it’s not at its best, leaving an unpleasant taste.
The Tetley’s, however, is in great nick. Many rue this beer’s apparent decline – the re-location from its proud Leeds home probably didn’t help – but when it’s kept as well as it on this occasion I think it goes down beautifully.
And in deference to the bygone theme, I next opt for a wildcard pint of Timothy Taylor’s Dark Mild (along with a Diet Coke, £6.05 all together). A nutty brew that nicely caps off the visit.
Plenty of quality lagers, wines, and spirits are on offer too.
We also have a bite to eat. Smoked salmon fishcakes with salad and triple-cooked chips and a mac ‘n’ cheese with garlic bread and a side order of chips (£20.65 all in, and including the pint of Tetley’s). The portions were reasonable, looked nice and matched up to this in taste.
Staff were also friendly and the atmosphere warm, with enough people in there supping for us to miss out one of the secluded boothed tables. A bouquet of lilies sitting on the bar could be smelled from over the other side of the room.
In an era of pop-up bars and fleeting business ventures, it’s refreshing to experience a pub which is clearly proud of its rich history without it becoming pretentious.