Something very odd is happening down at the Victoria.
It’s not long since I would have listed this lovely old gin palace among my favourite three pubs in the city, but a visit this week confirmed a rumour which reached me via social media: it’s not what it used to be.
The building itself dates back to the 1860s, when as the very grand Victoria Family and Commercial Hotel it served those who had business at the new Town Hall, and those visiting Leeds General Infirmary nearby.
At first sight, little has changed since the last time I was here. Its Sunday name remains in beautiful gilt lettering above the front door, and from Great George Street you enter a magnificent high-ceilinged lobby from where doorways lead to the Vic’s three distinct drinking areas. The wooden panelling, gilt mirrors and ornate light fittings which have long marked this place out as different are all still there; Bridget’s Bar to the left with its sumptuous décor and comfortable furnishing feels as welcoming as ever.
Across the hallway is the main bar, whose etched glass and cosy booths offer that same familiar feel.
And yet when you find a much diminished choice of ales, the first alarm bells begin to sound. During its time in the Nicholson’s chain, there would be a seemingly endless choice, and though there are still a few, it does seem as though these have been pared back to the essentials – Tetley’s, Sharps, Greene King – though I’m pleased that popular Christmas beer Rosey Nosey from those nice people at Batemans in Lincolnshire has made the cut.
There are some other warning signs. A poster in the lobby trumpets cut-price meals, but there are no menus on the tables; a Christmas tree has been installed next to the fireplace but left untroubled by any baubles, lights, or even a single string of tinsel. It stands bare and forgotten.
The Victoria is now owned by the vast Milton Pub Company, which also has Irish-themed Shenanigans next door, as well as the True Briton in Meanwood. While these two are fine in their own way, the Victoria is an absolute gem which must be preserved.
The battle is not yet lost. The Victoria is showing signs of neglect, but is not fatally wounded – and the pubco needs to take action to protect it. I hope Milton knows drinkers in Leeds will not bear to see this paradise lost.
lThe Otley Run has long been immortalised into legend. The antics of its drinkers, drunkards and fancy dressers are recalled in thousands of rite-of-passage stories and millions of smartphone images.
But now writer Joe Williams has added to this sum of knowledge by publishing a book of verse which captures the spirit of this marathon pub crawl along the Otley Road. “When I moved to Leeds in the 1990s, the Otley Run was something only students did,” he says. “Since then I’ve seen it grow into a huge event with more pubs, and a lot more people coming from all over the country for stag and hen parties, all kinds of celebrations, every weekend.”
Williams follows some of these diverse participants along this journey – there are lustful stags, flirty hens, jokes, pizza, vomit and violence – like he’s some modern day Chaucer recounting the bawdy stories of pilgrims. It gets messy, inevitably.
‘An Otley Run - A Verse Novella’ is published by www.halfmoonbooks.co.uk, priced £8.
28 Great George Street, Leeds, LS1 3DL
Type: Ornate city alehouse
Opening hours: 11am-11.30pm Mon-Thur; noon-midnight Fri-Sat; noon-10pm Sun
Beers: Handpulled Tetley Bitter, and a changing choice of other real ales plus Amstel, Peroni, Hophouse 13, Stella and Carling lagers.
Wine: Decent choice
Food: Pub lunches served daily, if you can find a menu
Children: Welcomed – kids’ meals and high chairs are available
Disabled: Stepped access to the front
Beer Garden: None
Entertainment: Games machine and free WiFi
Functions: Areas are available for private hire
Parking: Pay and display areas nearby
Telephone: 01132 451386