“We call it the Beer Quarter.” Assistant manager Josh Quantrill says that rather than be worried by the crop of new bars which has sprung up within a few feet of its front door, the Brewery Tap has welcomed these local rivals, which have between them created a vibrant new scene in this once-neglected part of town.
If you haven’t wandered around this little route in recent times you’ll be in for a serious surprise. Where once just Yates’s thrived, this corner of the city centre now boasts a Tapp’d brewpub, real ale bars the Griffin and the Black Prince – and the latest in the rail-themed Head of Steam bars. The longer-established Prince of Wales and Scarbrough Taps are close by too.
Which is all to say nothing of the highly-renowned and much-expanded Friends of Ham, which doesn’t seem to be struggling under the yoke of being named Britain’s best place to drink by Observer Food Monthly. It’s a prestigious accolade, and a significant one for the city’s drinking scene as a whole.
“Mind you, we were here first,” says Josh – and when Leeds Brewery opened the Tap about six years ago it was very much a calculated gamble that this unprepossessing little street, whose only purpose is to connect busy Boar Lane with the busy station concourse, could support a pub of its own. Its arrival heralded the start of this quiet revolution, which has shifted the centre of gravity of the city’s drinking scene, a quarter mile south, a quarter mile west.
Despite the change all around, the Brewery Tap continues to do the simple things which kick-started this little renaissance. Leeds Brewery products dominate on the bar; as you walk through the front door, you are faced with a line of handpumps dispensing their flagship ales: crisp and fruity Leeds Pale, sessionable Leeds Best, light and citric Yorkshire Gold and – my personal favourite – the dark and malty Midnight Bell.
True, the Tap also serves four guest ales, but they’re not in your immediate eyeline as you cross the threshold as though the house beers have occupied the strategically advantageous spot – and won’t be letting go.
By the time this place opened Leeds Brewery had already made its mark on a city whose traditional beer of choice was on a downward curve.
And while lots of pubs served Tetley and perhaps one or two Leeds ales side by side, the Tap gave them a real opportunity to showcase all their products.
The formula proved such a success here, that it has been rolled out to a growing little estate of Leeds pubs, the best of which is the wonderful old Garden Gate at Hunslet. And it demonstrates a certain confidence that they have now expanded into York too.
As luck would have it, the brewery’s arrival was perfectly timed; Tetley’s decline and the explosion in the public’s awareness and understanding of real ale, and latterly craft beer, has created the perfect environment for them to thrive.
“The time was when you could go in a pub, find a couple of real ales and maybe a bottle of Vedett in the fridge and you’d think ‘happy days’,” says Josh, warming to his theme.
“Now the kind of choice we offer has become the norm. People expect real ales, craft beers, interesting lagers, and they care about it more.”
The Tap plays perfectly to this market.
Its wooden floors, clean lines, light and airy interior and comfortable leather furniture create a welcoming, chic environment for beer’s new in-crowd.
Real ale used to be drunk by guys with beards.
Now it’s drunk by, oh yeah, guys with beards, guys who care about the fact that there’s also a microbrewery upstairs where they can look in, and see the alchemic process in action.
But this is also a female-friendly revolution – women are turning on to beer in a way unimagined ten or fifteen years ago, and places like the Tap have made this not only possible but inevitable.
The fact it is so close to the station makes it ideal for the first drink of a pub crawl, the last one before getting a late train, a swift one after work. This once-neglected street is now Position-A.
“We get the best of all worlds here,” says Josh.
Name: The Brewery Tap
Type: Brewpub and beer paradise
Manager: Ed Sunter
Opening Hours: noon-10.30pm Sun, noon-11pm Mon-Tue, noon-midnight Weds-Thur, 11am-1am Fri-Sat
Beers: Leeds Pale (£3.20), Yorkshire Gold (£3.30), Leeds Best (£3.40), Midnight Bell (£3.50) plus four guest ales and good choice of craft keg and bottled beers. Also Leodis lager (£3.90), Amstel (£3.60), Heineken (£4), Budvar (£4), Pilsner Urquell (£4.10)
Wine: good wine list with choices from £4.60-glass and £16.95-bottle
Food: Quality pub meals served noon-9pm Mon-Sat, noon-6pm Sun
Children: not especially suitable
Entertainment: Occasional live music
Functions: Areas available for private hire
Contact: 0113 2434 414, www.brewerytapleeds.co.uk; email: firstname.lastname@example.org