THE LAST train trundled out of Scholes early in 1964 as this whole branch line to Wetherby fell victim of Beeching’s Axe.
For years it stood empty and unloved, and part of the site became a coalyard, before the waiting room, ticket office and stationmaster’s house were brought back into life as the Buffers in 1978. It gained a reputation for its food, and once a vintage Pullman carriage was installed on one side, customers flocked in for the experience of dining in these uniquely stylish surroundings.
The carriage is long gone and not so long ago the pub began a slow decline, its point of distinction lost, its reputation damaged by undesirables. Again its doors were closed, this time for 14 months, and it might have shut down altogether, were it not for the vision of local woman Dawn Burke who took on the lease in 2012, installing her brother Darren Bennett as manager.
Almost five years on, the Buffers seems to be going from strength to strength, making itself once again the focus of local community life.
The building is owned by Marston’s, and the brewery’s own EPA is joined on the bar by Wychwood Hobgoblin and Thwaites Wainwright, both now part of their giant empire. I opt for the latter, a gently refreshing pale golden ale which has become a fixture on the bar since it proved a hit at the pub’s beer festival last year.
That event is just one which Darren and his team have organised to draw the locals back to this famous old pub. Next up is a ceilidh with Irish dancers to mark St Patrick’s Day on March 17, as well as weekly events like poker on a Monday, quiz and bingo on Wednesday, disco and karaoke on Friday, to say nothing of the pool table and the popular programme of TV sport.
Sport is clearly a big part of the business here. A central room is decorated from floor to ceiling in memorabilia – chiefly related to rugby league but boxing, football and racing all get a look in too. The ceiling is covered in the old gold and blue shirts of the Leeds Rhinos, display cases show off others covered in signatures.
Placing the TV high on one wall gives all-comers a great view of the action; below it, in black and white, is the iconic image of Mohammad Ali standing over the prone frame of George Foreman sprawled across the Zaire canvas.
For kids, a new games room offers indoor play, while plans for an outdoor play area are in the pipeline too. At one end of the car park, a half-built giant teepee which will double as a kids party zone and a sensory space for children with learning difficulties, is awaiting planning permission.
There may be no Pullman dining here any more, but food remains a key part of the Buffers formula, with meals served from opening right through to the evening. The menu has most of the major bases covered – steak, fish, burgers and pies – but there are also some interesting departures from the norm, such as a butternut squash canneloni (£8.95), Malaysian chicken laska (£9.95) and the traditional Sicilian stuffed rice balls, Arancini (£8.95).
It may have been left over from Burns Night, but I’m delighted to find haggis on the specials menu (£4.95). Served in time-honoured style with tatties, neeps and lashings of gravy, it proves a perfect warmer on a grimy grey day.
Fixed priced deals, Senior Citizens’ specials, and offers such as the three-course Valentine’s week meal for two for £35, maintain good value for their money.
“It’s going well,” says former Military Policeman Darren. “I’d never run a pub before so of course I made mistakes at first. But we’re trying to make it a real family venue, and our barrelage is going up year-on-year, so we must be doing something right.”
Address: Rakehill Road, Scholes
Host: Darren Bennett
Type: Community alehouse and restaurant
Opening Hours: Noon-11pm Sun-Fri, 10am-11pm Sat.
Beers: Handpulled Marston’s EPA, Wychwood Hobgoblin and Thwaites Wainwright (all £3.10), plus Marston Smooth (£3.10), Foster’s, Carling and Carlsberg (all £3.30), Stella Artois (£3.50) and Guinness (£3.30)
Wines: Good choice from £2.70-glass
Food: Wide-ranging menu served noon-9pm Mon-Sat, with breakfast menu from 10am Sat; Sunday lunches noon-6pm
Entertainment: Sky Sports, games machines and pool table. Poker Mon, pool nights Tues and Thurs, quiz and bingo Weds, disco and karaoke Fri
Disabled: Straightforward access
Children: Welcomed – kids meals and indoor games room available
Beer garden: Some outdoor tables
Parking: Large area
Telephone: 0113 265 9000