“I’VE never worked anywhere that had such an emphasis on the glassware,” supervisor Jenny Robson tells me, as I watch two customers nursing their delicate fish-bowl shaped glasses of Delirium Red at the Head of Steam.
“It’s about giving people the perfect serve – and that means the branded glasses and the right amount of head.”
It’s inevitable that she and her staff take this kind of care. The clientele which this new alehouse is attracting are precisely the kind of people who will have drunk these beers in the hipster bars of the city centre or the backstreet brewpubs of Belgium.
And in a suburb already more than well-served by its licensed premises, the Head of Steam has managed to find a real niche, providing great beer and food, for knowledgeable, intelligent customers who will probably stay for a night of dinner and conversation – rather than arrive in fancy dress, throw a beer down and head off for the rest of the Otley Run.
“Mind you, we do have to make sure they don’t walk off with the lovely glassware,” says Jenny.
The Head of Steam is a chain very much on the up. Though it has been around since 1995 – Huddersfield boasted one of the very early ones – it is only since north-eastern giants Camerons took over the brand in 2013 that a new period of expansion really began in earnest, and in doing so gently diluted the founding concept that these should always be close to railway stations.
So for drinkers who have enjoyed their excellent one-room bar in Mill Hill, a stone’s throw from the City Station concourse, the North Lane branch expands the concept to the suburbs with a much larger venue and a real emphasis on food. Headingley station is a brisk walk away, mind.
The decor is minimalist chic – bare brick, stripped floors, and tall windows looking out over the busy traffic of North Lane. It’s Monday afternoon when I call in, and the big screens are showing Wimbledon, though just as at the Pit in Chapel Allerton, the commentary has been turned down to make way for the bar’s eclectic music playlist. So I watch Andy Murray’s fourth round match soundtracked by the first Adam and the Ants album.
To be fair, the Head of Steam does stand and deliver everything which you might expect, with a phenomenal choice of beers and a hearty American dining experience. The bar counter is essentially divided in two. At one end is an impressive chrome frame supporting ten craft ale taps, at the other is a row of eight real ale handpumps. In between are some heavy-duty branded beer fonts, like one for the high-octane Delirium, topped with their trademark pink elephant.
On each table, menus set out the great choice of bottled beers in the fridges. The Belgians take up four full pages; London’s Beavertown and Huddersfield’s Magic Rock are among those flying the flag for Britain.
Jenny joined the Mill Hill branch after a stint at Wetherspoons: “When I arrived I didn’t know anything about beer. To work here you really have to be knowledgeable about beer and they took a chance on me. Here you get customers asking for recommendations; at Wetherspoon’s 70 per cent of the time I was just serving John Smith’s Smooth.”
Jenny moved to Headingley when the new branch opened two months ago. “I miss the city centre because the staff are amazing, but there’s a completely different vibe here, it’s a much younger crowd and a livelier feel.”
And learning about the delights of wonderful world of beer has expanded Jenny’s own horizons: “I used just ask for a pint of lager. Now I’ll walk in to a bar and think, ‘They don’t even have Le Trappe!’
The Head of Steam
Address: North Lane, Headingley
Host: Jenny Robson
Type: Cosmopolitan food and ale venue
Opening Hours: 11am-midnight daily
Beers: Changing choice of eight real ales, including one from Camerons (£3.30), one from Timothy Taylor (£3.90) and great selection of alternatives. Changing selection of craft beers and great choice of bottled beers. Also Tuborg (£3.40), San Miguel (£4), Heineken (£4.30), Stowford Press (£3.40), Rekorderlig (£4.40), Delirium Red (£3.75-half pint)
Wine: Good wine list from £3.50-glass adnd £13.95-bottle
Food: American-themed Longhorn Barbecue Smokehouse menu served until 9pm daily http://longhornsbbq.co.uk
Entertainment: TV, live music
Disabled: Straightforward access
Children: No special facilities
Beer garden: Open air area to the side
Parking: On-street parking nearby