It perhaps seems churlish, given the way that a wave of wonderful new bars and pubs has utterly revitalised the Leeds drinking scene, to now bemoan the dearth of unreconstituted boozers. Yet to step in here and sample the simple pleasures of beer and conversation, is to remember just how things used to be.
The Duck and Drake provides the very simplest of pleasures – well-kept real ale, legendary pie and peas, and live music. That it continues to thrive demonstrates that this formula, which would have been recognisable 100 years ago, is just as relevant today.
Kirkgate is one of the oldest spines of the city and there has been a pub on this corner since long before the ugly railway bridge scythed across the street, slicing across the ancient graveyard and causing drinkers’ glasses to shudder as trains trundle past, carrying passengers between Leeds and all points east.
Stepping through the main door, you immediately choose between its two bare floorboarded rooms, to the right a long narrow snug, to the left a larger room which plays host to the pub’s vibrant live music scene. There are monochrome images of the city and the huge mural of Kirkgate is a trademark of the pub chain run by Simon and Sharon Colgan, which also includes Holbeck’s Grove, Knaresborough’s World’s End and Harrogate’s Blues Bar.
Whether you go left or right, you are immediately struck by the splendid choice of real ales. There are handpulls on both bars while blackboards listing the beers by strength and price show off the phenomenal range.
It was hardly a surprise when the recent Leeds CAMRA survey of all the city’s real ale pubs found that the Duck and Drake had more different beers on offer than any other, their 15 cask ales dwarfing the choice at their closest rivals Tapped (12), Whitelocks (11) and the Hop (10). Equally significantly, it showed how choice across the city continues to grow, with 211 different ales on sale on the night of the survey, 22 more than a similar census two years ago. Eighty bars were serving real ale, 118 breweries were represented, and 29 premises had six or more real ales – all an increase on the 2014 figures. Small wonder that CAMRA is now promoting Leeds as a real ale mecca – and all this in the face of the exponential growth of craft and keg ale in recent years.
Back at the Duck and Drake, I scan the blackboard and after pondering options from Roosters, Brains, Wye Valley, Theakstons, Saltaire and more, I eventually opt for a pint of a perfectly-dispensed Timothy Taylor Landlord, before settling back in a corner and eavesdropping the banter at the bar. It’s one of those places, a pub where you can fall into conversation with people you’ve never met before, joined only by a love of beer and an understanding of what makes a good time.
At one point I’m asked for a football tip by a couple of chaps keen to place a bet on the Tuesday evening fixtures. I point them towards Oxford United, confident the mighty yellows would put one over Birmingham City. I reckon those guys owe me a pint.
Congratulations to Keighley’s Timothy Taylor, whose Boltmaker ale was a gold medal winner in the bitter category at this week’s Great British Beer Festival in London. Saltaire Brewery’s excellent Triple Chocoholic was a bronze medal winner in the specialist category while Bingham’s Vanilla Stout, brewed in Berkshire, took the ultimate accolade, being named Champion Beer of Britain.
The Duck and Drake
Address: Kirkgate, Leeds
Type: Classic city alehouse
Opening Hours: From 10am Mon-Sat and 11am Sundays, open until late
Beers: Changing choice of up to 15 real ales from around £3.10, plus Amstel, Foster’s, Moretti and Guinness
Wine: Small selection, including several on tap
Food: Pie and peas (£2.95)
Children: No special facilities
Disabled: Slightly tricky access
Entertainment: Regular live acts, plus free WiFi throughout and games machines
Beer Garden: Yes
Parking: Pay and display and multi-storey areas nearby
Telephone: 0113 2455432