“WE’LL have Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker on tomorrow,” says barman Matt Valentine, looking rather apologetically across his line of four handpulls, three of them with the labels turned inward.
It feels a bit like when Jim Bowen used to tell Bullseye contestants “look what you could have won” when they’re going home with a teasmaid instead of a Caribbean holiday and a speedboat.
What I could be drinking tomorrow is really of no great consequence, is it Matt? It could be dancing girls, free pork pies and tequila all round tomorrow, for all that it matters right now.
I don’t say any of this of course, I just process it quietly while ordering a pint of the only hand-pulled ale which is still doing business on this midweek evening. This turns out to be Sunset, from the Crossbay Brewery in Morecambe, which is a decent choice, a soft, refreshing blonde ale that is already so much a firm favourite with the Highwood regulars that it’s now a permanent fixture on the bar. The other real ales rotate, though Matt is hoping that he will get a steady supply of Timothy Taylor Landlord, another big favourite with his customers.
Though Matt has himself been a fixture here for more than five years, he’s been in charge for just two weeks following the departure of long-serving host Kevin Witter and partner Bev. The pub closed for a week or so, but is now very much back in business and Matt is determined to make his mark by making this a home to live entertainment.
This is certainly what it always was. Years ago, a group of us used to come here on Sunday nights when the vast conccert room to the rear was home to a lively quiz, and the bar did a roaring trade. Family parties were held here, and I remember one very drunken New Year event at the Highwood too.
For some years the concert room stood empty and unused, but a refit about six years ago brought this versatile space back into use. At the same time, the pub’s taproom and lounge were knocked into one open plan space, served by a long central bar.
The bar is dead ahead as you step in from the Brackenwood Drive entrance. To the left are the juke box, pool table and games machines; to the right is a more elaborately furnished area, with carpets, comfortable leather sofas and floral prints. Two large chandeliers provide some rather surprising illumination.
“There was a bit of a transition period when we were closed,” says Matt, joining me for a drink. “But we’re getting the younger crowd back in and it’s going better than I could ever have expected.”
He’s keen to make more of the concert room: “It’s available for hire for parties and weddings, and I’m trying to get more bands to play there. If there are any local bands who are looking for somewhere to play, they should get in touch. I want to make it a real venue.”
A ukulele group plays here on Wednesdays, rockers Smokestack both rehearse and perform here - and with pool nights, poker nights, charity events and a summer beer festival all planned, Matt is striving to put the Highwood back where it belongs, right at the heart of the Brackenwood community.
“It’s like an adult youth club,” he says.
Finally, a shout out to the Mustard Pot in Chapel Allerton whose Sunday night quiz is always worth a visit. My team was well off the pace last week, mostly because we were clueless about Stephen King, who was the focus of the specialist subject round. This Sunday it’s Eighties Pop Music, so we’re assembling a team packed with 80s disco knowledge to hopefully give us more of a chance.
The New Highwood
Address: Brackenwood Drive, Leeds
Type: Community local
Host: Matt Valentine
Opening Hours: Noon-11.30pm daily
Beers: Crossbay Sunset (£2.50) plus three other regularly-changing real ales. Also Tetley Smooth, Coors, Carling, Grolsch, Caffrey’s and Guinness
Wine: Basic wine list.
Food: Sandwiches served at weekends
Children: No special facilities
Disabled: Ramp access and disabled toilet facilities
Entertainment: Pool table, juke box, games machine - plus changing programme of events in the concert room to the rear
Functions: Concert room with own bar available for private parties
Beer Garden: Some tables to front
Parking: Large area to side and rear
Telephone: 0113 393 0444