“YOU see that dartboard?” says Paul McIntyre, pointing out one of the newer features of this ancient pub on the northern fringe of Leeds University. “That was my response to a £300,000 refurbishment at the Library.”
The Library – that’s the pub, rather than the scholarly facility – with its Scream! branding, live TV sports, open-plan design and expansive, expensive refit, lies just across the busy Clarendon Road junction.
It is almost the antithesis of the down-at-heel Pack Horse, with its distressed wood, tiling, old leather banquettes and interesting old images of Woodhouse in ages past.
One shows the Pack Horse in the mid-19th century, with working men, top-hatted gents and girls in pretty dresses arranged outside. A sign over the door names Benjamin Jubb as landlord and proclaims his licence to brew and sell his own beers and wines on the premises.
The pub is essentially in the same place, but back then was at right angles to the main road. It’s the oldest pub in the area, and dated back to sometime around 1770, but it was rebuilt and re-orientated around 100 years ago.
Mr Jubb may be long gone, but the pub still sells its own beer, as Paul also runs the Fox and Newt, across the other side of campus on Burley Road, which has its own brewhouse underground. So Fox beers dominate at the Pack Horse too. Sessionable Brickyard Ale is the entry-level pint, and keenly priced at £2.25 – and they knock off another 30p on weekday afternoons too. Slightly stronger Philip Island Blonde is the home-brewed alternative – and the range is fleshed out with guest beers from Punch Taverns.
The Pack Horse is also well known for music, with a concert room upstairs available for hire. “We only charge £25 for the room, a PA and a sound engineer,” says Paul. “Whatever the bands can charge on the door, they get to keep, and of course we do good business on the bar.” . This Sunday it’s Joyhaus, the Xlerators and the Lost Souls, if that’s your thing.
Inclusion on the events roster for the live@leeds programme has been good news for the Pack Horse too.
The music theme is echoed on the menu, with burgers each given their own music genre. Being a seventies kind of guy, I say Yes to Prog Rock, a spiky combination of smoked bacon, pastrami and blue cheese. The burgers start at £3.95 while the Sunday carvery is a good-value £3.95 a head.
The return of students this week has been good news for Paul. “Christmas is the worst time of the year for us. Most pubs see their business going up, but we go the other way.”
For though this is a locals’ pub, with its folk nights and real ale, the students remain the backbone of trade. During the New Year vacation, opening time was put back to late afternoon, though it’s back to an all-day footing now.
Paul has been in the Pack Horse for 15 years, meaning he has probably served more Otley Run participants than anyone. By the time the fancy dress pub crawlers reach the Pack Horse, they are fairly well-oiled, having started the rite-of-passage trek at Woodies in Far Headingley some hours earlier.
“It used to be all students when I first started, but that’s changed now, you get office trips, birthday groups, anyone. People look up online ‘what to do in Leeds’ and it’s on there. It’s become an all-year thing now; summer Saturdays can be really busy.”
The cheap shots and the good value carvery are just two examples of how Paul is keeping up with the competition.
“The scene has definitely changed over the past 15 years,” he tells me. “It’s a different beast.”
He added: “We just have to try a bit harder, really.”
Hence, I suppose, the dartboard.
Type: Alehouse and music venue
Manager: Paul McIntyre
Opening Hours: Noon-midnight Sun-Thurs, noon-1am Fri-Sat
Beers: Brickyard Ale (£2.25), Philip Island Blonde (£2.60) plus changing range of guest ales at around £3.30. Also Fosters (£3.00), Carling (£3.20), Coors (£3.40), Staropramen (£3.65), Guinness (£3.50), Somersby Cider (£3.10), Thatchers Gold (£3.50)
Wine: From £3-glass
Food: Music-themed burger menu available noon-7pm daily, carvery on Sunday
Children: No special facilities
Disabled: Slightly tricky access, split level areas inside
Beer garden: None
Entertainment: Lively programme of bands in upstairs function room. Dartboard.
Functions: Rooms available for private hire – rear room for music acts, front room for societies and meetings
Parking: None. On street areas nearby, mostly pay-and-display
Telephone: 0113 2453980