A BOLD black advertising sign, painted onto the gnarled brickwork in Preston, declares it has been “dispensing the finest libations since 2013.”
Yet one of the products on the bar has its roots precisely 500 years ago in a law passed in Germany which still governs the quality of beer today. The Reinheitsgebot of 1516 – the ‘German Purity Law’ – demands that only the purest water, barley and hops can be used in the production of beer. Its aim was to maintain the quality of the beers and prevent their adulteration with plants, seeds or other ingredients.
Founded nearly 200 years ago, family firm Veltins still brews beers according to these ancient laws. Now the third largest producer of premium Pilsner in Germany, Veltins use water from a mountain spring beside their brewery some 20 miles east of Leeds’ twin town Dortmund. Kirkstall importer Vertical Drinks is the prime reason that you’ll find Veltins on the bar at all the North Bar outlets (See beer of the week, right).
At Preston, my crisp, cold, dry and bitter pint of this most traditional product proves a keen refresher after a busy day. The dimly lit bar, with its bare floorboards and jumble sale of furniture feels like a blessed relief from the warmth outside, though a handful of drinkers are choosing to take their pints to a little scattering of pavement tables between the picture windows and the traffic.
During these three years, North Bar’s Oakwood venue has gradually gained a foothold in this commuter suburb, bringing the same potent formula of great beer and relaxed atmosphere which its sister bars have brought to Holbeck, Chapel Allerton and Meanwood. Three years on, it seems well-established.
A hundred-year-old map shows actually how little has changed in the local topography since Edwardian times with Princess Avenue cutting through the vast preserve of Roundhay Park, the huge expanse of Waterloo Lake and the golf courses beyond. It is to the credit of the planners that in the century since, this has remained a vital ‘green lung’ for the city.
When it was drawn, the shops across the road had yet to be built, but Preston was already here. Mr Preston was a chemist, with an old-fashioned store of polished wooden drawers and glass cabinets stocked with worts, poultices, tinctures and remedies. It had other uses since, and was empty for some time before North Bar came along but his name remains in the beautiful mosaic tiling in the doorway.
The bar tastefully reuses the shapely carved woodwork of the shopfront and the amber and black floortiles where customers will once have waited for the dispenser to work his alchemy with mortar and pestle. In doing so, Preston shames some of its neighbours, whose garish illuminated frontages and thoughtless refits have stripped out any vestige of their lost and lovely past.
Where the tiles end – and presumably where Mr Preston’s counter began – bare floorboards stretch back to the small corner bar and real ale handpumps. A rack of polished tankards beside the bar honours those regulars so valued they each have their own personalised drinkware.
Don’t forget - Leeds International Beer festival starts today. There’s an astonishing array of beers on offer in Leeds Town Hall - though if you’re planning to go along, I’d advise you get online and book tickets for one of the sessions, as they are going fast. Some of the best craft brewers are represented - from Thornbridge to Northern Monk, Roosters to Beavertown, as well as a host of diverse tastes from right across the world. Veltins will be there, naturally.
Name: Preston, Oakwood
Type: Atmospheric suburban alehouse
Beers: Prototype (£3) plus changing choice of two other real ales plus Veltins lager (£4) and interesting selection of craft beers
Wine: Good choice from £3.80-glass and £15.70-bottle
Food: Bar snacks
Children: Not especially suitable
Disabled: Straightforward access to ground floor bar; disabled toilets
Beer Garden: Some tables on broad pavement to front
Parking: On-street areas and public car-parks nearby
Telephone: 0113 249 4709