THE magnificent red-brick Crispin Lofts building is home to the newest addition to the Brewdog empire.
The Scottish brewery has won admirers for its wonderful, hop-centric craft beers and detractors for its snarling, sneering punk attitude in roughly equal measure – and these elements to a controversial business model are both in evidence here.
The curve-fronted dome-topped Crispin Lofts sits on the corner of North Street and New York Road, high above the inner ring road. It had stood unused and unloved for some years before being converted into 82 city living apartments; Shuffledog occupies the ground floor and basement.
Stepping in from the rush hour traffic, you enter a bar of concrete and angular steel, its industrial furnishing and stark stylings seemingly at odds with this lovely old building. Bright fluorescent lights hang at random oblique angles beneath giant aircon ducts; delicate mouldings of grapevines creeping up each of the building’s ancient pillars have been covered up in cream emulsion, as if this attractive frippery were an embarrassing reminder of an age best forgotten.
The dazzle of a neon sign declares ‘Craft Beer Spoken Here’ and the simple grey-fronted bar is dead ahead, its marble top dominated by more than 30 beer fonts. Above it, an illuminated sign rather like you’d find at a multiplex cinema, shows the current listings.
On my visit this week, there are no less than 14 from Brewdog itself, a good choice of guest beers including from Stone and Firestone Walker breweries, two of the leading lights of the American craft scene. London hipsters Camden and Five Points are also represented, and for those whose choice has to be a local one, there is Ilkley’s Mary Jane, as well as nine beers from the Summer Wine Brewery at Holmfirth, who have mounted a “tap takeover”, giving them a chance to showcase their American-influenced wares.
Wooden paddles give drinker the option of three third-pints and an opportunity to browse the range.
We take our drinks to one of the window booths and reflect on how much nicer it is to be sitting here with a beer than outside in the traffic, jostling for position at this busy junction.
We’ve gone for Brewdog choices. My partner has the golden, refreshing, Punk IPA (5.4% ABV), which – if you temporarily overlook their ultra-strong headline grabbing beers like Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32%) – is perhaps the best known of the range, dominated by big-tasting mango and passion fruit, like Lilt for grown ups. I opt for the deep red Five AM (5%), whose five hops and malts create a gentle, warming ale, all toffee, biscuit and caramel.
From the main bar, grimy iron steps lead down through a stairwell splattered angrily with paint, as though one were descending into the very pit of hell. New York Road may simply be the new road to York, but for a moment one could almost be in a crackhouse in the Bronx.
Down here are – aside from the beer – the bar’s only three things of real beauty, and the feature after which it is named. The cellar is dominated by three shuffleboard tables where drinkers can compete at a game which has its roots in Tudor England, but has latterly been revived as a pub sport. Friends of Ham has one, so it must be all right.
Having said that, I’m sure the ornate, polished, 22-foot long tables at Shuffledog are bigger, their long polished wooden tops liberally sprinkled with the salt-like beads of silicone which allow the steel pucks to glide across the surface with barely a touch, creating a game of great skill and precision.
New York Road, Leeds, LS2 7PF
Telephone: 0113 391 2950
Type: Post-apocalyptic bierkeller
Opening Hours: Noon-11pm Mon-Thurs, noon-12.30am Fri-Sat, noon-11pm Sun
Beers: Amazing choice of craft ales with Brewdog beers including Punk IPA (£4.65), Dead Pony Club (£4.25), Vagabond (£4.65) and Five AM (£4.65) also lots of guest beers including stouts and lagers plus Sandford Devon Red cider (£4.40)
Wine: Small choice from £3-glass and ££16.50-bottle
Food: Meat and cheese platters from £6, sandwiches from £6.95 plus burger and hotdog choices
Children: Not suitable
Disabled: Straighforward access to ground floor
Entertainment: Shuffleboards and pinball tables are in the basement
Beer Garden: None
Parking: City centre car parks nearby
Reviewer: Simon Jenkins