Beckett's Bank, Park Row, Leeds

THE ever-expanding JD Wetherspoon chain has got its claws into another prime city centre location.<b>*This is what Taverner thinks, but what do <i>you</i> think?</b><A HREF="mailto:Joanne.Waye@ypn.co.uk" target="_blank"> Email us your comments.</A>

Beckett's Bank follows their stylish bar on the new railway station concourse and the cavernous Stick Or Twist opposite the Merrion Centre, as well as some of their longer-established suburban outlets like The Moon Under Water in Burmantofts and the Three Hulats in Chapel Allerton.

The Wetherspoon ethos is a no-nonsense approach which offers decent beer, with predominantly hand-pulled ales served at down-to-earth prices. Their food is sturdy, wholesome but unfussy and unpretentious.

The "buy big and sell cheap" approach is fine, just so long as it doesn't lead to their pubs declining into heavy-session drinking dens populated by people whose sole purpose on a night out is to get utterly smashed as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

That prospect is unlikely to blight the Beckett's Bank, which is in the heart of the city's business district and is aimed at the office workers, the lunchtime diners, the swift-one-after-work crowd and the high disposable incomes of boomtown Leeds.

It is precisely the same market as the one already exploited by The Firehouse, Henry's, All Bar One - and a dozen other bars crammed into this highly-competitive square quarter mile. Each of them has its advantages, its merits and demerits, but given the choice between all of these, the real ale lover would surely opt for Wetherspoon's. If you ask for real ale in some of these other places the barman will look at you as if you have suggested he should boil his bottom in a vat of John Smith's Smooth.

The range of beers here is likely to change virtually from day to day, but on my visit this week there was Shepherd Neame's Spitfire from Kent alongside three of Yorkshire's finest - Courage Directors, Theakston's and Timothy Taylor. All of these have received praise from this column before, but I decided to stay loyal to West Yorkshire by opting for a pint of the ever-reliable Taylor's, and I can report the Keighley ale to be in fine fettle.

Most of the hand-pulled beers cost a sensible 1.49, and the lagers are competitively priced too - 1.65 for Carlsberg and Fosters, 1.99 for Stella and Kronenbourg. And I doubt you can beat the 1.60 for a pint of Murphy's anywhere in the city centre.

From busy Park Row you step into a spacious bar area, an interior designer's vision in blue, white and cream, which is dominated by a long gleaming counter, bristling with hand-pulls and beer fonts. Its front shimmers like twinkling stars, and behind it, glasses and wine bottles glint in an ever-changing array of coloured lights like some stylish modern art installation. Wetherspoon's have clearly spent a small fortune on creating the new look.

The room is punctuated by a row of majestic square columns which support an ornate ceiling which betrays (if the name hadn't give it away already) that this building was once a bank, from the days when the financial institutions funded significant architectural projects as a form of self-aggrandising one-upmanship. Nowadays, of course, every bank looks the same - with their interiors mass-produced and shopfitted to some company pattern.

A broad staircase sweeps up to a broad curved balcony with views over the bustling bar area below.

Barclay's moved out some time ago - though they still use some of the office space above the bar. Its new name is doubtless a reference to the Beckett family, once wealthy landowners in the city. I suppose it's a better name than the Banker's Draft along the road, a subterranean bar I knew as simply The Bank in the long years ago of my youth.

The Beckett's Bank goes big on food, which is served daily from opening right up until one hour before closing time. The menu is fairly unsurprising stuff - sandwiches from 2.50, salads from 2.99, burgers from 4.59 and jackets from 2.90 - though it is a menu to which Egon Ronay is apparently happy to lend his distinguished name.

From 2pm onwards they specialise in grills like a 10oz rump for 5.99 and a decent value mixed grill for 5.49. They also do a two-meals-for-a fiver deal, though I imagine certain conditions apply, as in most banking premises.

<b>Factfile</b><br><b>Hosts:</b>Phil and Paula Buckley<br><b>Type:</b>City centre style at out-of-town prices<br><b>Beers:</b>Changing range of handpulled beers - mostly priced at 1.49. Carlsberg lager 1.65, Foster's 1.65, Kronenbourg 1.99, Stella Artois 1.99, Murphy's 1.60.<br><b>Wine:</b>Reasonable wine list<br><b>Opening Hours:</b>11am-11pm Mon-Sat, 12noon-10.30pm Sun<br>

<b>Food:</b>Available until one hour before closing daily. Grills from 2pm onwards.<br><b>Disabled:</b>Easy access<br><b>Children:</b>Not suitable<br><b>Entertainment:</b>Games machines. Curry nights on Thursdays.<br><b>Beer Garden:</b>None<br><b>Parking:</b>On street parking nearby - if you can find a space<br><b>Telephone:</b>0113 3945900<br>

Yorkshire Evening Post 27/01/01

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