THE threat which has hung over the Templar for years seems at last to have receded.
For those planning the clean lines, the glass and the concrete of the Eastgate shopping centre, the Templar must have seemed a mighty inconvenience, its Edwardian tiled frontage and leaded stained glass quite at odds with their blueprint for the future.
Led by brewer and branch stalwart Sam Parker, Leeds CAMRA mobilized a vociferous campaign to save this fine old pub. And though the city planners wisely listened to their protests, obliging the developer to maintain the building and secure the “continuous running of the business in its current format” it was always easy to conceive of a stray wrecking ball accidentally wiping it off the map while the Clerk of Works turned a blind eye.
But when the Templar staged its annual mildfest this week, showcasing a range of beers brewed to this famous old style, all the talk around the bar was of a pub now saved – and enjoying a new lease of life. “The developers have scaled back their plans,” Parker tells me, over a pint of a rich chocolate mild from his Whippet Brewery.
All the same, some uncertainty remains. Though giant pub company Greene King has now signed a long lease, the Templar doesn’t fit easily into one of their food-led brands. Instead long-serving landlord Ian Jolly is being encouraged to keep it operating the way it has done for generations, serving sizeable volumes of keenly-priced, well-kept real ale. But no food: “We do a roaring trade in crisps and nuts.” jokes Ian. “If Greene King decide it doesn’t fit with them, hopefully we will take over.”
Ian has been a fixture behind the bar here for 27 years, and barman Lee for 28: “I came in for a singles night,” he says. “I fell in love with the place – and within a couple of weeks I was working here. It’s like a family concern.” Along with colleagues Linda (34 years) and Joe (24) they have chalked up an aggregate service of comfortably over a century.
It is this constancy which underpins the enduring appeal of the Templar. In a city centre where few other pubs cater squarely for their needs, this old-style alehouse attracts a loyal and faithful clientele among predominantly the over-40s. They come for the beer, of course, but they also come for the friendly, convivial atmosphere and for the live sport.
Wherever you choose to sit, in this long ribbon of a pub, which stretches back from its main wood-panelled front room, along a narrow space beside the bar to a cosy rear snug, you will generally have sight of a TV screen. During the day, racing fans come here to check on their investments over a pint; often I pop in at the end of an afternoon at work to catch up with the last hour of the cricket. Amid the ornate panels and the displays detailing the history of the Knights Templar, already the flags are in place, draped across ceilings and walls, in preparation for Euro 2016.
As for the beer, at least one of the eight handpumps is dedicated to Greene King, and another to a perennial favourite here, Tetley bitter. “You’d be surprised how difficult it is to get a decent pint of Tetley’s in Leeds these days,” says Ian.
Mildfest extended the range further, with milds from Leeds brewers Sunbeam and Quirky, James and Kirkman from Pontefract and Pool’s Wharfebank. Five Towns from Outwood collaborated with Batley’s Caphouse to provide a splendid mild in a wooden cask, the first choice for many of the CAMRA diehards.
But whether you’re here for the beer, for the sport, or just the chance to enjoy a drink in a wonderful old pub, steeped in history, the Templar is always worth a visit.
THE TEMPLAR HOTEL
Address: Templar St, Leeds LS2 7NU
Host: Ian Jolly
Type: Traditional city drinking house
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 11am-11pm, Sun noon-10.30pm
Beers: Tetley Bitter (£2.25) plus selection of seven other real ales, including Greene King IPA from £2.30 to £2.71 and John Smith’s Smooth (£2.50). Also Carlsberg (£2.50) and Carling (£2.75)
Wine: Good wine list with selections from £3.59-glass and £11.49-bottle.
Children: Not especially suitable
Disabled: Straightforward access
Entertainment: Multi-screen Sky Sports TV, games machine, darts and dominoes
Beer Garden: None
Parking: City centre car parks nearby