OTLEY is blessed with so many pubs that wandering the streets deciding on somewhere to drink I almost feel spoilt for choice.
One major boon here is the parking, which is free, so having found a space in one of the town centre car parks, I set out on a labyrinthine walking route which takes me past several pubs before I finally settle for Whitakers. Or The Whitakers, as it is properly and curiously known.
First is the Junction – perhaps a little less characterful than I remember it from years ago – and there’s the foody Rose and Crown. Next I pass the much-loved Bowling Green, now revived as a Wetherspoons and the real ale paradise of the Old Cock. I pass the Ring of Bells which is rather sadly boarded up, before arriving at the Red Lion, which I might easily call in upon, but for the rather intimidating knot of smokers who are standing outside.
And in any case, The Whitakers is right next door. Gold lettering above the door tells me that it has been here since 1841, a date quite in keeping with its sturdy stone frontage. According to the excellent Otley Pub Club website, it was previously known as the Dram Shop, Kirkgate Vaults and Quiet John’s – before settling on its present name following its purchase by Wm Whitaker wine and spirit merchants in 1904. The inn sign incorporates the family crest.
Maud’s Yard next door recalls the site’s previous ownership by Edmund Maud(e). Whether this is the same 18th century gentleman who also owned The Palace in Leeds is not immediately apparent, but when I walk in to find Tetley Dark Mild, Tetley Bitter and Joshua Jane on the bar I know that I’ve made the right choice.
A blackboard over the bar is chalked up with other selections including Ale Mary from Leeds Brewery and Golden Goose from the Goose Eye Brewery near Keighley. The pub’s real ale credentials are further underlined by the cask marque symbol above the bar – a reliable sign that the beers here have been tasted, tested and have passed muster.
On one wall a map of the UK has been painstakingly marked-up with stickers showing almost 100 breweries – the greatest concentration being around Leeds and West Yorkshire, of course.
I opt for the Dark Mild, a rare pleasure and one which many thought would vanish altogether under Carlsberg’s stewardship of Tetley’s. Like the flagship bitter, this is now being brewed by Banks’s in Wolverhampton – and I find it here to be at its lovely, fresh, soft, easy-drinking, thirst-quenching best, with hints of toffee in the taste and the bitterness of raspberries in the aftertaste. Mind you, for all the much-chronicled efforts which Banks’s put in to replicate Tetley Bitter, the Dark Mild should have been a piece of cake, given that the Black Country has been the spiritual home of milds for centuries.
I use the time it takes for the beer to be pulled, to take in the surroundings. Lone drinkers are relaxing at the pub’s window tables, warmed by a wood-burning stove whose fumes lend the feel of a country in to a pub which is very much a part of town centre life.
A waitress scurries past with steaming plates of pub grub, at a pub which clearly prides itself on its food. Main course choices include gammon and chips (£6.50), vegetable suet pudding (£6.15) and barbecue chicken (£6.75); burgers start at £5, giant filled Yorkshires at £4.80 and sandwiches at £3.50. At weekends The Whitakers even offers a £2 credit crunch lunch, which represents amazing value.
A couple wanders in with their dog but are told he is not welcome until after 3pm, which is when they stop serving food.
I take my beer to a table in the rear, which is markedly more down-at-heel than the comfy drawing room feel of the area to the right of the main door. Here banquettes and wooden panels and some simple scenes of stained glass divide the space effectively. A bookcase, a plasma-screen TV, games machines and an old upright piano show a determination to be all things to all people.
A quiz night, disco, beer garden and kids meals reflect its universal appeal. In the crowded market place of Otley’s pub trade, and a time when everyone is feeling the pinch, this is precisely what pubs must do, to survive.
Name: The Whitakers
Hosts: Wayne and Mel
Type: Lively town centre local
Opening Hours: 11.30am-11pm Sun-Thur, 11am-midnight Fri, 11am-11.30pm Sat
Beers: Changing selection of up to seven real ales at any one time – predominantly from Yorkshire. Also Fosters and Carling lagers plus Guinness
Wines: Reasonable selection
Food: Hearty pub grub available 11.30am-2.45pm Mon-Fri and noon-7pm Sat and Sun
Entertainment: TVs plus games machines and occasional special events. Quiz Thurs and Disco Sat
Disabled: Straightforward access
Children: Welcomed, kids menu available
Beer garden: Yes, to rear
Parking: Town centre car parks nearby
Telephone: 01943 4625800
Beer of the Week
The increasing proliferation of Greene King pubs around the county has made Abbot Ale an ever-more-familiar presence on the bar. Alongside the brewery’s other big sellers like Greene King IPA and Old Speckled Hen, Abbot has displaced some Yorkshire favourites at pubs where the likes of Tetley’s and John Smith’s had been the beer of choice for generations.
Abbot Reserve is a stronger, firmer, more full-bodied take on the standard bitter; brewed to a premium 6.5 per cent and packed with the rich fruitcakey tastes which you might associate with GK’s wonderful Strong Suffolk Ale.
Bright ruby brown of colour, there are suggestions of bonfire toffee in the aroma, before that complex melange of flavours hits the palate, dying away in a dry aftertaste laced with marzipan.