It’s a sunny afternoon at Woodies and drinkers have spilled out onto the patio to take advantage of this rare opportunity for some sunlit boozing.
Inside, others are gathered around the pub’s various TV screens, keeping an eye on the racing.
During my 25 years of writing this column, Woodies is one of a handful which have featured regularly, every five years or so. This must easily be my fifth review of the place – and I’m sure all of them have been positive. But my relationship with this pub goes back even longer, to my first visit to the Yorkshire Post Sports Ground in nearby Glen Road, when as a visiting cricketer, I was first introduced to a pub which was probably still called The Woodman. Countless visits followed, many of them when I played for the YEP football team.
The pub has seen any number of changes of direction over these years, but its rebranding as a craft alehouse by owners Greene King was an absolute masterstroke, regaining some of the local trade it had lost over the years, while seizing on the unprecedented popularity of quality British beer. So now, when you pitch up at the long bar which stretches almost from the front door to the back, you’re assaulted by an obscenity of choice – twelve real ale handpumps and numerous other fonts hooked up to kegs in the cellar, delights such as Blue Moon and Jaipur among them.
“The handpumps are mostly Yorkshire beers,” says assistant manager Sam Whitaker joining me for a drink. “We have to have some Greene King products on the bar, but we have quite a lot of freedom with the others.”
A quick glance along the line-up reveals local favourites like Leeds, Ilkley, Saltaire and Ossett breweries, as well as the rarer Shiny Sheff from Stancill in South Yorkshire. “We’re beginning to look further afield now too,” he says, pointing out Moorhouses and Oakham pump clips.
Prices start at £3 a pint, and head upwards depending on strength. “When the weather’s like this we tend to get people preferring the golden beers or lagers,” says Sam, and I immediately confound his expectations by going for the rich dark pleasures of Leeds Brewery’s Midnight Bell, one of my “go to” beers on any bar.
Woodies’ most recent makeover placed the accent so heavily onto bare wood and brick that it was quite a shock the first time I walked in. That look is now beginning to age and is perhaps growing more comfortable with itself, more familiar, more homely. And it’s noticeable that it is now attracting a different demographic, the average age having shifted roughly a decade northwards since my last visit. And though I might have put that down to the university vacation, Sam insists this pattern holds true during term time too. “We only really get the students at weekends,” he says.
But in whatever guise it has adopted, Woodies has always been a great venue for TV sport – and with three separate Sky boxes, they can cater for whatever competing demands arise. “We’ve got a huge following for Gaelic football for some reason,” says Sam – a Leeds United fan who admits that working on Saturday afternoons is one of the real downsides of his job.
As for his future, Sam is weighing up the options: “Part of me would like to go into the office side – maybe auditing or health and safety,” he says.
“But if I ever got the chance to manage this place, I’d take it like a shot!”
Otley Road, Headingley
Host: Allan Ware
Type: Quality beer and sports venue
Opening hours: 11am-11pm Sun-Weds, 11am-11.30pm Thurs, 11am-midnight Fri-Sat
Beers: Greene King IPA (£3) plus changing choice of real ales and keg beers. Also: Carling, Stella Artois, San Miguel, Peroni, Guinness
Wine: Great selection
Food: Decent pub food served noon-9pm daily
Entertainment: Multi-screen Sky Sports TV, games machine
Disabled: Straightforward access
Beer Garden: Outdoor tables to the side with smoking area
Parking: On-street spaces nearby
Telephone: 0113 278 4393