Saturday morning and, loaded up with footballs and goalposts and burly sixth formers, the Jenkins-mobile is heading through Meanwood en route to training at Glen Road.
I kop a sideways glance at Alfred and find the suburb’s much-awaited new bar is still under construction. There’s a line of white vans at the kerbside; hard-hatted blokes in lumberjack shirts are grafting inside. Bare wires hang from the ceiling, the picture windows stacked with buckets of plaster and stray pieces of timber. Essentially it’s a building site.
So Dick Danger, Pyjama Boy and Young Beano (I said I’d give them a mention) head off for our training with the rest of the lads, and I resolve to return to Alfred in a fortnight. When it’s open, like.
Anyway, Saturday evening and I’m passing the same way, this time heading for The King’s Speech at the Cottage Road and the nice little Italian restaurant next door. I look again, and now, by the wonders of British labour, the bar is not only finished, but open, serving, and thronged with first-night customers.
It’s the latest in the North Bar stable, and given the recent trend for bars named after points of the compass – North, Further North, East of Arcadia – I mused in this column two months ago that this one should be North By Northwest. Perhaps there were Hollywood copyright issues, but instead the bar has been named Alfred, a small doffing-of-the-cap to Mr Hitchcock, director of the classic Cary Grant thriller. His picture can be spotted behind the bar, and the sixties stylings here are a further homage to the era.
But the name neatly brings in a little local geography too. The bar is less than a mile from King Alfred’s, that curious rocky outcrop between Stonegate Road and the ring road, much beloved of teenage couples and illicit smokers, and a place I visited regularly during the glorious high days of my mis-spent youth.
Alfred does what each of the other bars in the group has already done – it brings great real ale and interesting foreign beers to Meanwood in the same way that North does for the north side of the city centre, Further North does for Chapel Allerton and the Cross Keys does for Holbeck. The significant difference here is that the rival Market Town Taverns got in first, opening the splendid East of Arcadia just before Christmas, directly across the road from Alfred in a suburb where the huge new Waitrose store is a telling statement of confidence and ambition. What’s more, East is bigger and does good food too. It will be interesting to see how this little contest plays out over the coming months.
Boss Duncan Smith doesn’t seem worried. “We’re different to East.
Meanwood now has options. We know that people from round here used to travel to Chapel Allerton to go to Further North. Now they don’t have to.”
With three real ale handpumps, Alfred boasts 50 per cent more than its illustrious stablemate, a figure which reflects its slightly larger floor space and capacity. One will always serve a Rooster’s beer from Knaresborough, another will offer something from Marble in Manchester, while the third will provide further variety, from Elland, Salamander and other northern breweries.
On this occasion I had the rich, dry, bitter Rooster’s YPA, followed by the sharp and ever-so-slightly-too-ginger Marble Ginger. I should have guessed from the name. Lagers include the dark Brooklyn, wheaty Schneider Weiss and refreshing Lindeboom, and for those seeking something a little different there’s Bacchus Framboise too, if you’re happy to pay £3.55 for a half. None of this is cheap, far from it, but each of the bars in the chain seem targeted at those happy to pay a little extra for their quality pleasures.
What they get is good service, well-kept beer, and a bar which looks every inch the sixties transport cafe, with its formica-topped tables, oil-cloth flooring, wipe-clean chairs and array of kitsch lampshades.
“You can’t buy a glass lampshade in Leeds this week,” said Duncan, his colleagues having snapped up the lot in a last blitz on the decor.
There’s Hilda Ogden’s flying ducks, a bakelite radiogram while the bar shelving, salvaged from eBay, was evidently designed to hold stacks of 12-inch LPs, a technology rendered obsolete some time before Duncan was born.
He only joined the company at New Year, and says this has been a whirlwind few weeks. “Obviously we got builders in to do the refit, but some of the stuff we’ve done ourselves to keep the costs down. I was doing some of the painting wearing a head torch one night. There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears gone into this place.”
He admits that on opening day they were still clearing up, right until the doors opened: “We had a couple in here about half past three on the Saturday asking when we’d be open. When I said 5pm, they just laughed.”
But it was, and it remains his baby. “It becomes personal. If someone scratches the paint, I think ‘Oi! I did that’”
Host: Duncan Smith
Type: Quality suburban bar
Opening Times: 5-11pm Mon-Fri, 1-11pm Sat, 1-11pm Sun
Beers: Changing selection of real ales (all £3.10-pint); Lindeboom lager (£4), Brooklyn (£4.60), Schneider Weisse (£4.10), Bacchus Framboise (£3.55)
Wine: Decent choice from £3.85-glass and £15.40-bottle
Food: Cheese, meat and bread platters (£3.50)
Children: Welcomed. Baby changing facilities
Disabled: One step access. Disabled toilets
Entertainment: Background music only
Beer Garden: None
Parking: Some on-street areas nearby
Telephone: 0113 2780779