SOMETHING is clearly happening down Meanwood Road. First a brewery opens for business, then a Waitrose, and now two of the city's most "happening" pub groups are opening new premises in this once neglected twilight zone. Meanwood, it seems, is on the up.
There is a new addition to the fantastic North Bar stable set to open on the east side of Stonegate Road sometime in the New Year, but Market Town Taverns have got in first, putting down a significant benchmark for this surprising re-surgence of the suburb's licensed trade.
At the same time, East of Arcadia neatly borrows its rival's penchant for points of the compass, signalling that this bar is a mile or so east of the excellent Arcadia on Otley Road. So after North Bar and Further North, how will the yet-to-be-opened pub be named? West of Further North perhaps? North by North West? East of East of Arcadia?
Only time will tell, and right now who cares, least of all the good folk of Meanwood who will soon have two great bars in the heart of their community. Since both the Meanwood Arms and the Becketts closed, both surely a decade ago, they have never been so well served; their two remaining pubs, the Myrtle Tavern and The Bay Horse, both sitting on the edges of the suburb. All they need now is for Leeds Brewery or Arc Inspirations to head this way as well and they'll know for sure they're living in the coolest part of town.
For now though, they have East of Arcadia, which occupies the same plunging curve between Meanwood Road and Monk Bridge Road which was once the footprint of the cavernous Becketts. Those who, like me, recall that once-fine alehouse's sad decline into careless, shameless neglect can only be pleased to see the space now used so creatively, albeit many years too late.
And though the new building has been there for a while it had stood empty for a while before the Market Town Taverns boys arrived. Their dcor is simple: whites and beiges, spotlights and hanging lanterns whose curves echo the grand sweep of the seating area, where a line of floor-to-ceiling windows frame the traffic and the terraces and the takeaways. An elegant arc of tables closest to these windows forms a carpeted seating area, minimally partitioned from the solid-floored standing area nearer to the bar.
Vintage beer advertisements are a trademark of the Market Town Taverns look. Here the clean lines are broken by framed posters for Moretti and Aventinus, Paulaner and Duvel. The bar itself, a simple L-shape over in a corner close to the door, hardly seems substantial enough to do justice to the drinking space, but the panel-fronted, marble topped counter is crammed with more than enough handpulls and beer fonts to compensate for the lack of space.
There are plenty of staff too, and though they do rather have to jostle for space, service is brisk, friendly and well-informed. Even so, it's probably not a job for someone of claustrophobic tendencies.
The range of beers changes all the time, but when I called in on Monday I made an early acquaintance with the full-bodied, bitter and almondy Ridgeside Challenge, which is brewed just a couple of miles along the road. It's good, with a slightly nutty, smoky aftertaste which reminded me a little of Timothy Taylor's.
Next up was the darker, richer, more potent and almost Christmas-cakey Midnight Bell from the Leeds Brewery. Both Ridgeside and Leeds will retain a permanent place on the bar here, though the particular product will no doubt change from time to time. In three visits to the bar, spread over two days, I actually came across a different Ridgeside beer every time, culminating in the strong and hoppy Southern Cross, whose long dry aftertaste is truly remarkable.
Black Sheep, Landlord and Ilkley's Mary Jane are also regulars, alongside a changing range of continental lagers which should usually include Warsteiner and Kaltenberg, themselves both staples of the Market Town Taverns empire. The list of bottled beers, which include the lovely Budvar Dark, starts with a selection of interesting refreshing fruit beers and goes all the way to a bunch of murderously potent Belgians – Kwak, Duvel and Chimay Blue.
The food was good too – I had a cracking wedge of belly pork wrapped round juicy black pudding on a creamy, mustardy mashed potato (10.95), while my partner made short work of a sizeable cheese burger and chips (8.95). The menu goes heavy on meat and fish, sausages and pies, but there's a certain subtlety and care with which its presented that sets this apart from the average pub fare.
On a busy night when he's supervising bar staff, serving customers, and bringing dinners from the kitchen, duty manager Chris Chapman finds five minutes to come over for a chat. "This place has really kicked off with a rocket," he told me. "We're aiming at the young professionals, and already there's a fantastic atmosphere. It's what Meanwood has been waiting for."
He might well be right.
Hosts: Phil Shepperson
Type: Quality food and ale bar
Opening Hours: 11am-11pm every day
Beers: Black Sheep (2.84), Timothy Taylor Landlord (2.98), Ilkley Mary Jane (2.46), plus choices from Ridgeside and Leeds Breweries and three other real ales. Great choice of continental lagers including Warsteiner (3.28), Kaltenberg (2.94), Leffe Blonde (2.27-half pint), Timmermann's Strawberry (2.30-half pint). Marston's Oyster Stout (3.10), Aspall's Cider (3.26)
Wine: Great choice of quality wines from 3.25-glass and 13.25-bottle
Food: Quality pub meals served noon-2.30pm and 5.30-9pm weekdays, noon-9pm Sat, noon-6pm Sun
Children: Welcomed but no special facilities
Disabled: Straightforward access and disabled toilet facilities Beer Garden: None
Parking: On-street areas nearby
Telephone: 0113 2755488