Drug deals, closure orders, rank bad management – the once-genteel Myrtle has had its share of troubles in recent years.
As its trade drifted away to Chapel Allerton and the resurgent heart of Meanwood – a pub which in its day had drawn customers from right across Leeds was slowly brought to its knees.
It might never have recovered, but for a change of ownership and the arrival of an enthusiastic young manager with sufficient local knowledge to understand the potential rewards in turning the place around. “It was absolutely filthy when we came in,” said Scott Westlake, who has set about the job of bringing the drinkers back and re-establishing the Myrtle’s reputation as a safe and welcoming haven for all.
When I used to come here, years ago, Parkside Road was a handy rat-run between Meanwood and the outer ring road – though a little hair-raising as the switchback-style road plunged down through the dark woods. Its location guaranteed a deal of passing trade, and made it handy as a meeting place for the after-work crowd. Two things changed that – one end of the road was diverted to force drivers through a tortuous chicane and over some speed bumps; the other end was simply closed.
The through traffic was forced to go some other route, and rather than being ready stopping-off points for passing motorists the Myrtle and its near neighbour the Bay Horse were suddenly off the beaten track.
“Back then we used to be able to put a board outside and people driving past would know what we were doing,” said Scott, who is back in Meanwood after some years away. “But we can’t moan about that, or about the fact that Alfred and East of Arcadia have opened up and are doing really well.
“We just have to do more to compete and to remind people that we’re here.”
The arrival of those two great bars have certainly upped the ante, and from being pretty much a John Smith’s tap for years, the Myrtle now stocks three further real ales, including the excellent Doom Bar which has won over sufficient of Scott’s customers to secure a permanent place on the bar, some 350 miles from its Cornish home.
Pale Wharfebank ale Tether Blonde is there too, alongside dark and wintry Hobgoblin – though these two are liable to change from time to time.
Ah yes, I mentioned customers, because the Myrtle does now have some.
“At first we were doing about a grand a week,” said Scott. He’s up to around £8,000 a week now, and rising, helped no doubt by the fact that he and a couple of mates have mucked in and spruced the place up, working through several nights to minimise closure time at the bar. The drug dealers and those who helped the Myrtle turn turtle have been firmly shown the door.
Scott has done plenty more – barbecues and bouncy castles in the huge beer garden, a fun day for the Royal Wedding, a new Monday quiz, sports TV, and a big fundraising drive for St Gemma’s hospice. He has also appointed a new chef, so that a pub which was once known for its quality grub, is back serving decent lunches.
And in a splendid feat of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, Scott has tackled the misgivings of the neighbours head on. The word on the leafy suburban streets nearby was to steer clear; residents’ group The Meanwood Valley Partnership was amongst the pub’s most vocal critics. So Scott found himself a seat on the committee and by turning up at meetings, making himself visible and engaging with the locals he’s winning finally people round. “Instead of them being negative, we are working together now.”
From outside, the Myrtle certainly looks every inch the traditional country pub. Its imposing stone frontage is at right angles to the main road, alongside a pocket handkerchief cricket ground. The boundary is quite short, meaning that vehicles in the car park must be vulnerable to a powerful six-hitter. A high mesh fence protects the road – and the small row of stone cottages opposite.
Stepping inside the pub, you enter a raised area before dropping down a couple of steps to the bar, passing through the series of impressive stone arches which divide the main room in two. We took our drinks to one corner where a giant fireplace, topped by a mighty oak lintel, has been converted into two cosy little seat, either side of a utilitarian stove. We could almost be in a lovely old dales pub, miles from anywhere.
Set on the edge of the picturesque valley, and a stone’s throw from the walker-friendly woods, this used to be a rather exclusive place to drink. It wasn’t exactly labradors and cravats, but it was probably the closest thing that Leeds had to that slightly forbidding country pub feel.
Those days probably aren’t coming back, but Scott at the helm and the ink now drying on a five-year lease with 20-strong chain Ash Pubs and Taverns, its long-term future at last seems secure.
Name: The Myrtle Tavern
Hosts: Scott Westlake
Type: Renascent community alehouse
Opening Hours: 4.30-11pm Mon-Tues, noon-11pm Wed-Sun
Beers: John Smith’s Bitter (£2.75), Doom Bar (£2.75), Wychwood Hobgoblin (£3.10), Tether Blonde (£3.10), Foster’s (£3.10), Carling (£3.10), Stella Artois (£3.30), Kronenbourg (£3.30), Guinness (£3.20), Strongbow (£3.20).
Wines: Reasonable selection from £2.85-glass and £10.50-bottle
Food: Lunches served noon-2pm Wed-Sat, noon-5pm Sun
Entertainment: Sports TV, quiz Mon, games machine, summer barbecues
Disabled: Slightly difficult access and split level areas inside. No special facilities
Children: Welcomed, no special facilities. Occasional bouncy castles and special events in summer Beer garden: Large woodside area to rear
Parking: Large area to front
Telephone: 0113 275 2101
Beer of the week
Durham is one of Britain’s cradles of Christianity; its brewery plays to the ecclesiastical theme.
The gold letters, the Celtic script, the mysterious curved and angular patterns are redolent of some illustrated manuscript, lovingly worked on by silent, faithful friars.
If I were in a blind tasting, I might have initially placed this beer some 300 miles east to Bruges or Ghent, as there is something of the subtle beauty and potency of a Belgian beer to this lovely, pale cloudy amber ale from Wearside.
I wouldn’t be totally misplaced either, as this is – unlike most traditional British ales – bottom fermented, like many lagers, pilsners and other European beers. In top-fermented beers, you can watch the yeast at work in the surface, creating a foamy, frothy activity as it does that devilishly clever job of breaking down sugars and turning them into alcohol. In bottom-fermented beers, the yeast sinks and this whole gloriously erotic process happens deep below the surface, hidden from view.
This is also a bottle-conditioned beer, and it is no doubt the remaining yeast which gives this beer its heady, bready, yeasty aroma, and even when poured carefully it has a slight haze to the colour. The taste is glorious though, a big floral, citric, bitter splash with some welcome effervescence. It’s like turning from a page of closely written Latin prose to the vibrant, magnificent colours that mark the start of a new chapter. And biblically good.