Review: Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen, Cross Belgrave Street, Leeds

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I HAVE seen the future. Possibly. It’s Monday when I finally make it to the Belgrave, some six months after it opened and almost as long since certain trusted beer-loving friends started insisting it was well worth a visit.

They’re right, of course.

Perhaps it was the “Music Hall and Canteen” thing, the live music and the street food, which were putting me off, the subliminal power of suggestion telling me this was all about bands and burgers, DJs and daiquiris.

Yet to walk through a lazy sunlit afternoon, to close off the working day in this scruffy cavern of pleasures was as near to Monday heaven as I could reasonably demand.

For years people have been telling me I’m slow on the uptake. I’m beginning to realise they might just be right.

Stepping inside this barn of a main room, you reach a long bar whose counter offers a choice of great Yorkshire ales. Elland are here, Theakstons and Saltaire, amongst others. It’s a sight to gladden the heart.

And for all the posters advertising live acts in the concert room upstairs, right now the music’s as soft and comforting as the sunshine pouring through the heavy steel-framed windows. These must have been here long before I was last a customer – sometime in the eighties when this was Ike’s diner, burritos and Budweiser. It’s been a few things since and plenty others before.

The latest refit has seen it stripped back to its barest essentials, this old building’s ancient commercial heritage celebrated in utilitarian industrial design. Those old windows may have been slapped up in battleship enamel, but there are hints of rust on the tables’ heavy-forged ironwork, white glazed tiles like you’d get in factory toilets and benches fashioned from oak slabs heavy as railway sleepers.

Badly pointed brickwork is interrupted by a small patch of breeze blocks, lathered with emulsion and stuckled up with flyers for the latest gigs. In an era where style is too often prized higher than content, all this, the cheap particle boarding of the bar front, the old school chairs, the tatty mismatched sofas each speak of a bar happy to be just how it is.

Which says nothing of the beer. The six handpulls change regularly, but all are from Yorkshire. Of the current list, most are seasonably pale, dry, and bitter – though further diversions are available by way of Belhaven Black, Vienna-style Brooklyn lager, craft keg ales and a host of bottled beers.

This eclectic choice comes as the single biggest surprise in an afternoon of little epiphanies, my outdated prejudice still telling me that those coming to watch live music don’t much care what they’re drinking so long as it’s cold and wet. Worse actually. I assumed a bar focussed on these things could do without the labour-intensive hassles of nurturing great British beers. But our drinking culture has moved on so much these past 10 years and it’s now incumbent on everyone to keep up. The Belgrave looks just like a model for how it might be done.

“People are much more knowledgeable these days,” barman Cody Barton tells me. “Instead of them going into a really swanky bar and getting rubbish beer, we give them a whole experience.”

I start on the fulsome, deeply refreshing Yankee from the Roosters Brewery at Knaresborough. American-influenced pale ales are all the rage with breweries across Britain, but under renowned brewer Sean Franklin, Roosters were doing it before most of them. The company may have changed hands, but the quality of the product is as reliable as ever.

Next up is Withens Pale from the Little Valley brewery in Hebden Bridge, a perfectly respectable thirst-quenching session beer, but it rather fades into “insignificance after that lovely Roosters.

I take it through the double doors at the back, and up a string of claustrophobic stairways, heavy in gothic black. Three storeys up, on a broad roof terrace decked out in a garage sale of garden furniture, drinkers are making the most of some unexpected late April sunshine high above the traffic.

Perhaps this is what the summer will look like. I hope so, anyhow.


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