THERE was a time when railway station bars were among the last places you’d go to find a great pint of beer.
Often little more than soulless waiting rooms, they were chiefly used by those seeking shelter before catching a train, rather than being any kind of destination in their own right.
And yet the Tapped chain has turned this on its head, rediscovering unloved station buildings, restoring them to a long-lost glory and bringing back to the trackside a place to linger – whether or not you are planning to travel onward.
In London, the bar has re-invented one of the giant stone gatehouses which guard the front of Euston station; in Sheffield and York, the chain has breathed new life into Edwardian refreshment rooms.
When Harrogate Tap opened in 2013 it brought back to life, through a long period of repair and restoration, one of the original station buildings, which date back to when the North Eastern Railway first ran services from here in the summer of 1862.
From outside, the building’s plain brick frontage, standing like a bulwark between the bustle of the town bus station, and the occasional sizzle and screech of train on track, offers little clue to the pleasures awaiting inside. Yet stepping over the threshhold into this opulent hall of brass, tiles and wooden panelling, you get a sense of both the station’s original Victorian grandeur, and the painstaking effort which went into its renaissance.
From the main door, you turn to the right to arrive in the long bar, where sumptuous leather seating and tall oak panelling punctuated by traditional brass light fittings create between them an elegant, slightly exclusive feel.
The long polished oak counter is topped by fonts and handpulls which dispense a stunning selection of traditional cask and craft keg ales. Menus on each table list a fabulous choice of canned and bottled beers, predominantly from quality British breweries such as Thornbridge, Siren, Wild Beer and Magic Rock, but with further offerings from Belgium, Germany and the New World.
From this bewildering selection I opt for something rather prosaic, the clear golden 4.5% session beer X-Panda from Brew York, whose rich malty mouthfeel releases some significant citric bite to the back of the mouth.
Along the walls are lovely leather booths, while high stools at the bar give drinkers the option to browse the range of beers in elevated comfort. Above the bar, art deco lanterns and rows of gleaming wine glasses lend themselves to the feeling of a freehouse distinguished by its grandeur.
An ornate carved clock hangs from a beam above the bar, as though drawing us back to the building’s original purpose by ticking out the time between departures. The high ceiling, with its picture rail and extravagant coving, is crowned a by a row of brass chandeliers.
The vast fireplace to one end of the bar is stacked up with blazing logs which are throwing out an intense heat like the footplate of a steam engine.
Both in this splendid old room, and in the smaller snug directly inside the front door, high arched windows look out over the station platforms, while fifties-style railway posters transport drinkers back to a golden age of travel.
Station Parade, Harrogate, HG1 1TE
Type: Ancient building revived as a quality freehouse
Opening Hours: 11am-11pm Sun-Thur, 11am-midnight Fri, 10am-midnight Sun
Beers: Amazing choice of beers on draught and in bottle plus Veltins and Bernard lagers and Guinness – from around £2.80-pint
Wines: Great choice from £4.20-glass and £17-bottle
Children: Welcome, though not especially suitable
Disabled: Easy access – and disabled parking spaces outside
Entertainment: Occasional “Meet the brewer” sessions
Functions: Areas are available for private hire
Beer garden: None
Parking: Pay and display parking directly outside
Phone: 01423 501644