MONDAY lunchtime visit after the end of Freshers’ Week might seem a perverse time to call in on this lively student venue, right beside the north-east corner of the University of Leeds campus.
But it was chosen deliberately. I wanted to see how the place was bearing up after the nine nights of hedonistic madness that will have kicked off the new academic session. And I have to say that the Library not only passed with flying colours – but utterly exceeded all my outmoded expectations.
It’s quite easy to get the wrong impression. The huge lettering high above the front door, the Sky TV posters and the cinema-style A-boards advertising themed nights and drinks promotions between them suggest a lively bar which is long on fun and games and short on real pub substance. But it turns out that following a major refit a year or so ago, there’s a whole lot more to the new-look Library than live sport and chicken wings.
The change is obvious from the moment you walk through the door from busy Woodhouse Lane into this bright and airy space. It’s clean and well kept without any of the tired “morning after” ambience that busy student pubs sometimes have in these lunchtime sessions.
There’s a mix of low and high furniture in this main space, and a fabulous floor of ornate patterned tiles. On one wall, a beautiful mural echoes these kaleidoscopic patterns in a celebration of the works of Sir Henry Moore. Smaller and more intimate drinking spaces open off from this room, though all seem to have well-positioned TV screens. For the big sporting events, this place can get absolutely rammed.
But on this visit university staff outnumber students roughly two to one, and most are tucking into some really enticing lunchtime fare. And when I pitch up at the bar, half-expecting some low-budget keg ale, I’m dazzled by a row of three real ale handpumps, alongside five shiny craft ale fonts offering delights like Deity from the Hallstatt brewery in Wales, Longhorn IPA from Warwickshire and – joy unconfined – wonderful Jaipur from Thornbridge in Derbyshire.
I’m tempted by the latter, but its formidable strength is better appreciated after work, so I opt instead for the less challenging Yorkshire Pale from the Great Yorkshire Brewery in Cropton (see Beer of the Week). The choice doesn’t end there. The other real ale is Tetley tribute ale Joshua Jane from Ilkley Brewery and the fridges provide interesting alternatives with bottled beers from Brewdog, Brooklyn, Innis & Gunn, Harviestoun, Goose Island and more.
The current crop of students are lucky lucky people. The time was that a pub aimed so squarely at this impressionable and hedonistic market would offer little beyond John Smith Smooth and mass market lager.
But the world of tastes which has been opened up over the past 20 years by a host of new breweries, brewpubs and wonderful imports from the Low Countries, the United States and elsewhere has now found a thirsty new constituency among the young.
And just as at some of the newer city centre outlets like The Social on Merrion Street and the nearby Belgrave, the Library is playing to this market with choice which you wouldn’t have found at any Otley Run pub a decade ago.
I skulk away slightly shamefaced. My new book the Great Leeds Pub Crawl, which is out in October, makes only passing reference to the Library, focussing more squarely on its neighbours the Eldon and the Pack Horse. On this showing, the Library is equally deserving of praise, perhaps more so.
Next edition, I promise.
Woodhouse Lane, Leeds
Telephone: 0113 244 0794
Type: Lively student venue
Opening Hours: 9.30-1am Mon-Thurs, 9.30-2am Fri, 10-2am Sat and 10-1am Sun
Beers: Three handpulled ales from £3 a pint, plus good choice of craft beers on draught and in bottle, plus Stella Artois, Amstel, Carling, Estrella and Guinness
Wine: Decent selection from £2.30-glass and £8.50 bottle
Cocktails: Good choice from £4.75
Food: Good quality choices served from early until late daily
Children: Not especially suitable
Disabled: Some split-level areas inside
Entertainment: Pool table, games machines and Sky Sports TV
Beer Garden: None
Parking: On-street areas nearby
Reviewer: Simon Jenkins