THEY call it The King, and it is one of the more intriguing items on the menu at the newly-opened Pit in Harrogate.
Designed as a tribute to Elvis, it combines some of his favourite foods – a giant burger topped with cheese, bacon and strawberry jam, encased in a sweet doughnut and topped with peanut butter. “It’s really popular in America,” manager Gareth Vowles tells me. At £12.25 it’s a quite pricey way to pay high-calorie homage to the bloated King of rock and roll, but actually proves an interesting collision between the savoury and the sweet. I couldn’t have one often, mind.
The American influence is something of a theme, where the menu reflects traditional cowboy cooking – dig pit, light fire, cook meat. A hand-built Oklahoma smoker in the kitchen recreates the whole backwoods experience on a menu where ribs, wings, burgers and steaks predominate.
A nice touch is 25p from their entry-level Lighthouse Burger goes towards supporting the Lighthouse School in Leeds – Britain’s first special free school for children with autism.
Opened just in time for last weekend’s cyclefest, The Pit is the latest bar in the growing Arc Inspirations chain, which specialises in single-syllable outlets: Zed, Box, Arc, Pit; but has occasionally been known to splash out with a second vowel – Napa, Trio, Banyan.
Here, Arc have sunk £1m into creating a 7,000 square foot factory of food, drink and sociable pleasure. Like the Merrion Street venue of the same name, it is partly underground, built into an old basement furniture store a short hop from Parliament Street in the redeveloped Harrogate House building, which will soon boast a Jamie’s Italian too.
From the street, you drop down a short flight of stairs into a cavernous, atmospheric bar of post-industrial chic – rough concrete pillars, aircon ducting and metal factory lights. Upstairs there is some natural light. A main room dominated by two table-tennis tables opens onto an attractive balcony giving rooftop views.
But for the main action, head down to the main bar where a raised area of comfortable red leather booths makes for a sociable place to eat and drink. The long bar which is to your left and adorned with an impressive array of shiny fonts proffering a changing selection of craft beers. Pit Canary is the house beer here, brewed specially by the wonderful Thornbridge Brewery, Derbyshire. It’s a light, gently hoppy, refreshing Kolsch-style beer, in quite a contrast to the darker ale-lager hybrid of the same name, previously produced by Wharfebank.
Thornbridge’s better-known brands – beers like Kipling and the genre-defining Jaipur – also feature here, but don’t expect to get a pint of any of them. Arc Inspirations is in the vanguard of the Schooner movement, dispensing beers into two-thirds-pint glasses. It’s quite a nice measure actually; half a pint is never enough and for some people a pint can feel rather overwhelming.
And in a bar which clearly prides itself on the quality of its beers, I’m a little surprised that there is no real ale on offer. “The trend is away from cask ale,” Arc boss Martin Wolstencroft tells me, as his staff clear away the remains of my attempts to tackle the King burger. “You’ll never satisfy the CAMRA diehards, but the craft beer range now is so broad that you can cater for all tastes – and guarantee the consistency of product which you don’t always get with cask ale.”
But I can see the Pit being a huge success in a town where people have always been prepared to pay that little bit more for quality food and drink. Its central location, its lively atmosphere, special events like beer tastings and cocktail masterclasses and some nice touches like the table football and ping-pong should keep the customers flowing in, long after Harrogate’s last piece of yellow bunting has been packed away.
Name: The Pit
Type: Lively bar and restaurant
Opening hours: Noon-12.30am Mon-Thurs; noon-1am Fri; 10am-1am Sat; 10am-12.30am Sun.
Beers: Changing range of craft beers,Coors lager, good choice of bottled beers.
Food: Sizeable range of burgers, steaks, sandwiches, sharing plates available from opening until 10pm daily. Breakfast served weekends 10am-1pm.
Children: Welcomed. No special facilities.
Disabled: Lift access to all bars
Beer Garden: Outside balcony area upstairs
Entertainment: TVs, DJs, table tennis table, table football, occasional special events
Functions: Private dining rooms available
Telephone: 01423 565668