I turn up at the Old Red Lion on Meadow Lane, just down from Leeds Bridge and round the corner from Asda HQ, almost by chance.
I’m on the lookout for somewhere new and different and yet this pub is neither, dating back as it does to the 18th century. What is of interest, however, is that it’s open at all, because in October last year this Sam Smith’s stalwart closed suddenly.
What’s the news?
The good news for anyone and everyone who enjoys a traditional pub atmosphere and decent prices is that since February, it has been under new management. And therein lies an even more interesting tale, because it has not been taken on by some dyed-in-the-wool landlord with years of experience under the belt but a young couple who decided to chance their arm at running a pub.
At 23, Emma Tarleton has found herself landlady of this magnificent Georgian jewel, together with her partner, 25. It really couldn’t be more chalk and cheese. She’s switched from a career in digital marketing, having gained a degree at Leeds University in history and economics. As I sip a pint of Taddy Lager (£2.30), she explains how she and her partner landed the job, first by filling out an application form and then being paid a visit in person by an area manager from the brewing empire which famously eschews anything modern and instead celebrates the hallowed traditions of the British pub.
To those more used to the ever changing bar scene across the bridge, the Old Red Lion might at first glance appear a little dowdy. It’s dimly lit, the light brown wallpaper and carpet look like they need updating but look closer and you begin to see the appeal of this place, which has preserved what has to be one of the few remaining traditional pubs in the city. It’s relatively quiet when I enter, with just a handful of customers enjoying their pints but what could have been a tumbleweed moment is turned into something far more welcoming, first by Emma and then by another customer at the bar, both of who are ready with conversation. Again, this is one of the things Sam Smith’s is keen to preserve, as a ‘no mobile phones’ sign behind the bar indicates.
“We re-opened in February,” says Emma. “And we’re starting to see people drift back. It’s not something I ever saw myself doing but I like it, I meet someone new and interesting every day.”
She tells me that as part of their offering, they will soon be doing food, which is all to the good.
In a world where people don’t flinch at paying a fiver for a pint, there’s definitely room for the Old Red Lion to catch more of the passing trade. It deserves to do well and once locals know it’s doors are open again, we’re sure it will.
The Old Red Lion, Meadow Lane, Leeds