Pub review: The Chemic Tavern, Leeds

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THAT Woodhouse is a true community was again demonstrated this week, after a sharp increase in business rates put the local pub under serious threat.

Residents flocked to a hastily-arranged public meeting; within hours many had contributed to a crowdfunding bid to keep the pub afloat and packed its diary with events to keep people coming through the door.

For the past two years The Chemic has been run by Robert Wood, Kate Riley and Charlotte Stanley, who took over when long-serving licensee Dawn Edwards called it a day. All had a long association with the pub and owners Punch Taverns were glad to hand it on to familiar faces.

Even so, the Chemic operates on a shoestring: “There’s no great cushion of money,” says Robert. “Once all the bills and wages have been paid, we have about £60 a week profit to put back into the pub.” Which was manageable, until their council rates bill went up by £2,500.

And while they intend to fight the increase, the trio’s first step was use social media to spread the word about their plight: “The response was insane. The public meeting was packed, people started adding events to our calendar, and almost £1,000 was raised in 48 hours.

“We had people turn up who had never been in the pub before. One chap said that if we closed, he would have to move.”

This is all a measure both of the pub and of the community it serves. Woodhouse once had several pubs, but the Beer Exchange, the Swan With Two Necks and the wonderful old Bricklayers Arms have all been converted for housing, leaving the distinctive, stone-fronted Chemic as last one standing.

It is a little way back from the main road in an elevated position which might suggest an air of superiority over its surroundings; it might even seem a little aloof and forbidding. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. This is a pub which stands absolutely at the centre of Woodhouse life, the focus for events and music as well as being the day-to-day meeting place for this inner-city community.

Dating back to the early 1800s, both pub and street take their names from the Johnston Chemical Works whose chief product was Vitriol – sulphuric acid – which would have been used by the tanneries and dyeworks of the Meanwood Valley.

The hashtag #onlyatthechemic celebrates that all of human life can be glimpsed here. Where else could you stumble upon a chap entertaining drinkers with his home-made clarinet, or a Breton music group, or a lipsync contest, which is essentially karaoke but without the singing?

“The dogs are all very friendly too,” says my old friend and former YEP columnist Oliver Cross, who is more of a permanent fixture than a regular here.

The bar sits between the pub’s two drinking spaces. The airy front room, with its part-carpeted, part-flagged floor, has long tartan banquettes, attractive etched mirrors and a very grand golden bell beside the bar, presumably used to call time. The darker and more spartan back room is used for the array of functions and events.

Once a Tetley pub, the Chemic now serves a range of six real ales. Cumberland Ale from Jennings is a regular, as is Wychwood Hobgoblin, though the others rotate regularly: “Leeds Pale absolutely flies out when we put that on,” says Robert. Cask Marque status underlines the quality of the beer.

If you fancy a game of Scrabble, or somewhere to sit with a book, or watch a band, or just enjoy a great beer, the Chemic really has the formula.


Type: Popular community pub

Host: Robert Wood, Kate Riley and Charlotte Stanley

Opening hours: 2pm-midnight Mon-Thur, noon-1am Fri-Sat, noon-11.30pm Sun

Beers: Jennings Cumberland Ale (£3.40), Hobgoblin (£3.40) plus changing choice of four other real ales, also a rotating craft keg ale (£4.20) plus San Miguel (£3.65), Becks Vier (£3.40), Carlsberg (£3.30), Stowford Press Cider (£3.35), Guinness (£3.60)

Wines: Decent choice

Food: None - but customers are welcome to bring in takeaways from Arkwrights fish and chips next door, or other local restaurants

Disabled: Easier access from the rear door. No special facilities.

Children: Welcomed, no special facilities

Beer garden: Outdoor tables to the front and side

Entertainment: Regular programme of events including quiz (Mon), blues (Tues), Irish folk (Weds), Breton folk (first Thurs in the month), open mic (alternate Thurs), plus poetry nights, lipsync events and lots more. Board games available.

Parking: Large area to the rear

Telephone: 0113 2457670