Shenanigans Leeds review - Vast city centre pub is desert for real ale fans

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It was almost as though the 50 years of Britain’s drinking revolution had never happened.

Stepping into Shenanigans on a Monday lunchtime I’m delighted to see three real ale handpulls standing proud in the centre of the bar, though less impressed to find that all of the pump clips have been turned to face inwards, a sure sign that they are out of action.

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It’s excusable, of course, particularly if the pub has taken a steady hammering over the weekend and they are waiting for supplies in the cellar to be replenished.

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Shenanigans in Great George Street, Leeds.Shenanigans in Great George Street, Leeds.
Shenanigans in Great George Street, Leeds. | other

But it turns out that this is a permanent redundancy: “We don’t get any call for real ale,” says the barmaid. “We decided to stop selling them.”

It’s a response which takes me back to my early days of writing this column, an attitude which I thought had been long ago swept away by the staggering success of the Campaign for Real Ale, the emergence of hundreds of new breweries, and an enthusiasm among the general public to try their products.

But not here it seems, where Guinness, ciders and a host of different lagers now dominate the bar.

Neither is there a single craft keg beer to soften the blow, so I part reluctantly with £4.15 and slink away with a pint of Staropramen to one of the high tables from where I can watch the previous day’s football highlights.

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There is a small irony that the hero image on the drinks section of the pub website is a perfectly pulled pint of cask Doom Bar, but there you go.

A notice just inside the doorway details the pub’s capacity as a shade over 600 – but today I’m rattling around inside this cavernous venue, quite alone, save for the barmaid who is suffering with a migraine and desperately wishing to be back at home.

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A couple of other drinkers join us but fail to lift the sleepy, melancholy humour of a pub which can be absolutely heaving for the live sport and St Patrick’s Day.

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Still, the absence of a crowd allows me to observe this lovely old building, once home to the city’s juvenile court. Huge beams vault the ornate ceiling, a mosaic of colourful patterned tiles gives way to a simple chequerboard beside the bar, chandeliers hang above the space, old lanterns fringe the windows.

I’m sure it lives up to its name during the Six Nations, but while the choice of beer is so poor, much of the everyday drinking shenanigans will happen elsewhere.

A far better choice of drinks, atmosphere and company is guaranteed at the Carriageworks a week tomorrow (Friday, March 6) when acclaimed double act The Thinking Drinkers bring their multi-award-winning show Heroes of Hooch to Leeds Lit Fest.

After several years of sell-out Edinburgh Fringe shows and national tours which have studiously avoided our city, Tom Sandham and Ben McFarland are finally bringing their unique blend of booze and banter to Leeds.

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Their show literally raises a glass to heroic men and women who used alcohol to inspire them to achieve great things – artists, adventurers, astronomers, musicians, painters, politicians and more.

And as ever, they’re giving audience members five free drinks along the way. Yes, five. The show starts at 7.30pm. Tickets, priced £12.50, can be booked at


Address: 26 Great George Street, Leeds, LS1 3DL

Type: Large Irish-themed bar

Opening times: Mon-Thur, 11am-11pm; Fri, 11am-midnight; Sat, 10am-midnight; Sun, 10am-11pm

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Beers: Carling, Staropramen, Stella and Pravha lagers, Guinness, Strongbow

Wine: Decent choice from £3.90 per glass and £11.40 per bottle

Food: Pizza menu

Entertainment: Large screen TVs, games machines, pool table, dart board

Functions: Balcony available for special events with buffet menu available

Children: Welcomed, kids menu but no special facilities

Beer Garden: None

Parking: On-street and city-centre parking nearby

Telephone: 0113 244 0810

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