CIVIC Hall was bathed in a kaleidoscope of light, the white Portland Stone transformed into a giant architectural cinema screen, as a large crowd, wrapped up against the autumn chill was treated to a spectacular performance in the public patio of Millennium Square.
Neon drummers stalked the streets, fire dancers lit up the sky, ice sculptures sprang up in Briggate, giant dandelions in Merrion Street.
And 115, The Headrow was perfectly placed to draw in the Light Night punters; like many city bars it will no doubt have appreciated this council-funded fillip for the night-time economy.
Despite a couple of curious name changes since, this is still recognisably the Guildford, a name which dates back to the 1920s, when this was in Guildford Street, long before the Headrow was widened and lengthened and the name of the Surrey town wiped off the city map. Further back in time, pubs on this spot have been called the Duncan and the Green Dragon, and as you step inside to find the curving panel-fronted bar and the high moulded ceilings, you sense you are in a building significantly older than some of those around it. And despite the best efforts of the designers and decorators, some ancient character remains.
A couple of steps up from the pavement brings you to a monochrome mosaic of tiles which stretch around the bar. Beyond here, an attractive area of polished floorboards is scattered with low tables and comfy chairs. In one corner, a leather banquette encloses an intimate booth, close to where a small pulpit has been re-invented as a DJ’s booth.
High tables and tall stools fringe a raised seating area where funkily-painted parquet adds an unexpected touch of psychedelia, while overhead, bare bulbs hang from dog-legged lengths of copper pipe.
In a pub where a sign declares “No Football Colours” as you walk in, it’s perhaps surprising to find that someone here is more than happy to nail their allegiance to the mast. There is traditional Irish folk music every night and strings of tricolours are draped above a display of spirits behind the bar.
There’s a Mayo County flag, illuminated signs advertising Murphy’s and Guinness and a plaque depicting the Belfast-built Titanic hangs beside the bar. The painted legend céad míle fáilte provides a distinctly Celtic welcome.
Perhaps I’m the only person arrested by the irony of a pub called the Guildford being annexed by Ireland.
Guinness of course features prominently on the bar, as do two real ales, which on my lunchtime visit this week were the amusingly-named Stairlift to Heaven from Sheffield’s White Rose Brewery, and Highway 51 from Rooster’s Brewery in Knaresborough. I’m yet to encounter a bad beer from Rooster’s so I opted for the latter and it didn’t disappoint, and though only brewed to a sessionable 3.7% ABV, had a firmly bitter, refreshing fruity nature which is the product of a whole heap of American hops which Tom and Oli Fozard and their team throw into the brew.
(BLOB) I’m reliably informed that Holbeck Working Men’s Club in Jenkinson Lawn is the oldest WMC in the country. I have my doubts, but I can more confidently assert that if you head along there tomorrow or Saturday that you will be in for a treat, as their beer festival features a whole host of beers from far and wide.
Their list is alphabetical, but I’d be tempted to start at the bottom and work up, as this would first bring you to beers from Holbeck’s Whippet Brewery and then Stanningley’s Sunbeam - which means you can try the produce from two up-and-coming Leeds breweries before heading off elsewhere.
115, The Headrow
Name: 115, The Headrow
Type: Lively Irish-themed pub
Opening Hours: 11.30am-midnight Sun-Thurs, 11.30am-3am Fri-Sat
Beers: Changing choice of two real ales, plus John Smith Smooth, Heineken, Fosters, Peroni Guinness, Strongbow.
Wine: Small selection
Food: None apparent during my visit
Children: Not really suitable
Disabled: Stepped access
Entertainment: Live traditional Irish music
Beer Garden: None
Parking: City centre car parks and on-street parking nearby
Telephone: 0113 242 0428