IT SOUNDS like a quiet rural paradise, a bucolic idyll offering a place of refuge for a weary gardener, where he can potter with the plants or laze with a single malt and a good book.
What the name doesn’t tell you, doesn’t even hint at, is that the Potting Shed has ripped up the rule book for pubs. In doing so it has not just raised the bar but shifted it out of sight, making sufficient profit to pay off a £600,000 investment and create a formula which works so well here that it looks certain to be repeated elsewhere.
All this in comfortably less than a year. It was in mid-March last year that Leeds-born best mates Nick Merrick and Benjamin Comstive opened the doors on a pub whose re-design was a major leap of faith for their financial backers. It took the run-down edge-of-town-centre Fleece Hotel and extended it backwards, doubling the floor area while creating a spectacular beer garden out back.
It’s the sheer size that comes as the first surprise as you step from busy Main Street and through the front door. A long bar on your right serves a broad drinking and dining space where long tables and high booth-style seating maximise the use of the area. Even so, on Friday and Saturday nights, this place is frequently rammed.
There was much here which put me in mind of the Belgrave, for me the yardstick for new city centre bars. The mismatched furniture and lighting, the upcycled design touches, the bare brick and scaffolding poles and the steel ducting each echo the post-industrial stylings of that trend-setting Leeds venue.
There is much here that plays to the gardening theme, whether it’s the corrugated iron roof, the gnomes standing guard beside the fireplace or the earthenware plantpots holding cutlery and menus on each table. Overhead, twinkling fairylights are woven through giant sheets of trellis.
But it’s in the garden that the Potting Shed concept really kicks in. Around a central lawn is an arc of multi-coloured garden sheds, each kitted out with a picnic table, offering a new twist on private drinking. It’s a psychedelic allotment with alcohol.
Overlooking this space, a stylish first floor balcony with an artificial grass surface offers a further dimension to the outdoor drinking experience here, while “the largest retractable roof in Europe” keeps it covered during these squally winter nights. The hyperbole is Nick’s; I can only assume he’s overlooked Wembley Stadium.
Great beer is a mainstay of the modern food and drink business of course and here there are four handpumps on the bar, offering a changing selection of real ales. The time was when any self-respecting Bingley pub would serve at least one beer from the Timmy Taylor’s brewery just up the road in Keighley, but there is no such favouritism here. Taylor’s have featured, but so have have plenty of others, primarily sourced from brewers across the county and many suggested by customers.
The menu is all about burgers and pizzas but generous portion.
This is a Monday February night, usually one of the quietest times in the trade, but business here is brisk, whether it’s the old chaps at the next table debating football and cricket or the younger ones who are browsing the cocktail menu.
The formula clearly works. And it seems this Potting Shed will prove a seedbed for something much bigger, with four more planned in different towns during the next 18 months, the first in Beverley. I dare to suggest to Nick that he should take a look at the impressive Manor premises in Chapel Allerton which closed a short while ago, but it turns out they’ve already taken a look...
THE POTTING SHED
Address: Main St, Bingley, BD16 2JH
Type: Trendsetting alehouse
Hosts: Nick Merrick and Benjamin Comstive
Opening Hours: Noon-11pm Sun-Wed, noon-midnight Thurs, noon-1am Fri-Sat
Beers: Changing selection of four real ales from £2.80, plus Blue Moon (£3.90), Carlsberg (£2.80), Amstel (£2.80), Tuborg (£2.50), Peroni (£3.80). Beer prices increase at the weekend.
Wine: Great selection from £3.60-glass and £14.95-bottle
Food: Burgers and pizzas served noon-8pm daily
Disabled: Straightforward access but some split-level areas inside
Entertainment: Sky Sports TV, programme of live music Thur-Sun, pool table and dart board, free WiFi.
Functions: Areas are available for private events
Beer Garden: Huge area to the rear
Parking: On-street and pay-and-display areas nearby
Telephone: 01274 512635