“THEY’RE all from York Brewery,” comes a voice from the end of the bar.
The Thomas Osborne is York’s latest venture in Leeds and I’m expressing some disappointment that the pump clip for Guzzler, one of their flagship ales, is turned away from the bar, indicating its unavailability.
I survey the line of handpulls before asking the barman if they are serving any other York beers. “The Speckled Hen is definitely from York Brewery,” he tells me. At which point, a confidently assertive female voice from along the bar tells me that Caledonian Deuchars and Rooster’s Yankee are from York too.
I’m puzzled. Given that – unless I’m suddenly living in some parallel universe – the three real ales in question come from Bury St Edmunds, Edinburgh and Knaresborough respectively, I briefly wonder if she is having a joke.
The voice is that of one of the pub’s senior staff, so I tell her what I know, which may not be much but its enough to force her to offer a small retraction: “Well, they come to us from York Brewery, that’s what I mean.”
This might very well be true, though the Minster city is clearly just a staging post for these beers on route between their origin and their point of consumption. It’s like saying parmesan cheese comes from west London, just because it’s imported through Heathrow.
This first brief encounter left me rather puzzled and disappointed, not least because York Brewery’s other Leeds pub, Mr Foley’s in the Headrow, has set such a fantastic standard with both its selection of interesting real ales and its well-trained staff who are knowledgeable enough to discuss their beers and advise their customers.
But it’s early days. The Thomas Osborne has been open for just 10 days, so the staff are still finding their feet, and irrespective of anything else it’s great to see this place back in business. It is the old Streets of Leeds, a once fine pub which slipped alarmingly from being a slightly exclusive, well-run watering hole to a dangerous, notorious dive, in remarkably quick time.
Only a change of ownership, attitude, and a history-erasing change of name could have given the place any chance of survival. They’ve even gone so far as to change its geography. While the pub fronts onto busy Street Lane, it’s now listing itself as in Sutherland Avenue, just around the corner. Like many of the leafy residential streets which run at right angles to Street Lane, it’s an address with real cachet.
Reputations are less easily airbrushed away. With fights, drugs, stabbings, anti-social behaviour and a murder on its CV, the new owners will have to do plenty to win over sceptical Roundhay locals and convince them that things really have changed. The Streets was a horrible blight on their community for far too long.
A £60,000 refurbishment, a strict dress code enforced by bouncers, a new menu and wine list – and the change of ownership are all aimed at turning things around. York Brewery has the pub on a short-term lease (I know of at least one other local brewer which turned it down) and it remains very much a pub on probation.
In which case, Duncan Leggatt is as much probation officer as manager, and though its big screen sports TVs will doubtless be a big draw, he’s banned football shirts from the pub, along with baseball caps and tracksuit bottoms. My scruffy jeans and fleece just about pass muster.
“We really want to concentrate on the food,” he tells me. It’s mostly traditional pub meals such as fish and chips, scampi, steak pie, roast beef (all £7.45) with lighter basket meals at lunchtime (£4.95), burgers from £4.45, sandwiches from £4.25 and jacket potatoes from £3.45.
All four ales are selling well, apparently. “The original plan was to have the Guzzler and one other on permanently, and rotate the others – but I can’t take any of them off, there would be an outcry.”
The pub is named after someone with connections to both York and Leeds, curiously enough. Thomas Osborne was born in South Yorkshire in 1632. He became High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1661 and MP for York four years later, acting as Lord Treasurer and Lord Lieutenant of West Riding. He was made Duke of Leeds in 1694.
Despite rising to high ranks, he was famously disliked, with the Earl of Shaftesbury describing him as “proud, ambitious, revengeful, false, prodigal and covetous.”
Just the kind of character they’re trying to keep out of the place, I’d have thought.
Best of luck to all involved in the Headingley Ale Festival, which opens at St Michael’s Parish Hall, just around the corner from the Skyrack, in St Michael’s Road, tomorrow (Friday). There are 45 Yorkshire beers on sale at the event, and opening hourss are 4-11pm tomorrow, 2-11pm Saturday and 2-9.30pm on Sunday (or until the beer runs out). There is top festival nosh such as pie and peas on sale, and if you come along from opening on Saturday, I’ll be there too, shamelessly flogging copies of my little book. For more details visit: www.headingleyalefestival.co.uk
Name: The Thomas Osborne
Host: Duncan Leggatt
Type: Community pub reborn
Opening Hours: Noon-11pm Sun-Thur, noon-midnight Fri-Sat
Beers: York Guzzler (£2.55), Deuchars (£2.60), Roosters Yankee (£2.60), Old Speckled Hen (£2.65), Kronenbourg (£3.20), Foster’s (£3), Amstel (£3.15), Heineken (£3.15), San Miguel (£3.20), Guinness (£3.30), Strongbow (£3.30), Bulmers Original (£3.30).
Wines: Wine list offers choices from £2.10-small glass to £11.95-bottle
Food: Good quality pub meals served noon-9pm daily - curry nights on Thursdays, fish menu on Fridays
Disabled: Straightforward access from rear, disabled toilets
Children: Welcomed if well behaved
Entertainment: Sky Sports TV, Thursday quiz
Beer garden: Outdoor seating to side and front
Parking: Large area to side
Telephone: 0113 268 8552
Beer of the week
Moorhouses Black Cat
This is the flagship, multi-award-winning brew from a confident Burnley brewer whose ales have become much more familiar on this side of the Pennines in recent years, both on draught and in bottle.
Just as their Witches’ Brew and Pride of Pendle celebrate the town’s notorious links to the dark arts of witchcraft, so Black Cat takes its name from a potent symbol of magic. The beer isn’t quite black though, and holding it to the light allows some of its deep red-brown colouring to reveal itself.
The label describes it as a dark ruby ale, though there is also something of the porter to this beer with its easy-drinking nature, and its rich, flavours of toffee, dark fruit and chocolate – yet without the serious full-bodied mouth-feel of a stout.
In fact, brewed to a very moderate 3.4 per cent ABV, it is much more of a session ale than you might guess from the forbidding name or its colour. The aroma is delicate dark chocolate, the taste a burst of smoky autumn with some interesting suggestions of hazelnut in the finish. And it’s moreish enough to soon have you reaching for a second bottle.
AFTERTASTE .................. ***
***** EXCELLENT **** VERY GOOD *** GOOD ** AVERAGE * POOR