Pack Horse, Woodhouse review - This old fashioned Leeds boozer is friendly and unspoiled

There is something beautifully reassuring about the Pack Horse. From the evocative glass lantern and mosaic tiles of the entrance, through the brass station clock hanging over the bar and the little nest of intimate rooms around it, and on to the selection of hand-pulled beers just waiting to be pulled, you get a sense of a real public house, friendly, unpretentious and utterly unspoiled.

By Simon Jenkins
Sunday, 26th January 2020, 11:45 am

It’s owned by Heineken, but the lease allows boss Pete Alessi to bring his own stamp to this unreconstituted edge-of-the-city boozer, where real ale, conversation and live music are rated far more highly than style or the need to pander to the whims of a changing market.

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“I needed a job or else I’d have to move back home,” says Cameron Saunders, as he pulls me a pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord that looks and tastes every bit as good as it does in the Keighley brewery’s own tasting room.

The Pack Horse in Woodhouse Lane, Leeds.

Cameron’s moment of crisis was seven months ago, and now he’s assistant manager, bringing a can-do attitude to a pub which thrives on the love and care of staff and regulars alike.

“We laid a £20,000 hardwood floor for about £2,000,” he says, proudly treading the wooden boards, reclaimed from old pallets, which he and a couple of friends installed in the stage room upstairs. The name of the pub, picked out in mahogany, reveals an artistic flourish to their labours.

This room, and another strewn with careworn leather sofas along the corridor, are host to a range of events – live music at least once a month, comedy nights, open-mic events, DJ sessions and private parties.

But aside from the special events, the Pack Horse draws an eclectic mix – the real ale lovers, students from the University across the road and those simply drawn by the pleasures of a slightly shabby, comfortable old boozer.

It’s as much a home to those who fancy a game of darts or some lively chat at the bar as it is to those seeking the sanctity of the snug for an hour with the papers or a good book.

If this were in some more fashionable location – down a narrow airless alleyway in Briggate, in an upcoming and over-priced London suburb or tucked in behind some Oxbridge college – it would be lauded, famed, and could simply use such privilege to lap up all the fortune society could muster.

Yet the downbeat, make-do-and-mend nature of the Pack Horse lends authenticity to the experience. No pretentions have made it what it is.

“I love it,” says Cameron. “It’s got character. It’s independently run, not like some faceless chain which is only there to extract money from people.”

It’s a point not lost on Phil Rochester, who runs the comedy nights here – including an event tomorrow night featuring nine different acts. That the Pack Horse doesn’t charge for the room allows him to make decent return – even at £2 a ticket – and plough some of the proceeds into the community, through donations to brain cancer research and to local community event Hyde Park Unity Day.

Phil does stand-up himself: “It’s mostly moderate political rants,” he says. “I’ve had to change some of my material since the election.”

This sounds like dangerous ground: “In terms of left and right, you can generally get a sense of where the audience lies as soon as you start. But with Brexit it’s much more difficult to tell; I can make a quick getaway if I need to!”

Factfile

Address: 208 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, LS2 9DX

Host: Pete Alessi

Type: Unspoiled real ale venue

Opening Hours: Mon-Weds, 2pm-midnight; Thur-Fri, 2pm-1am; Sat, noon-1am; Sun, noon-11pm

Beers: Six hand-pulled ales including Leeds Pale, Titanic Plum Porter and Timothy Taylor Landlord plus three guests. Also Amstel, Moretti, Fosters and Heineken lagers and Guinness

Wine: Small selection

Food: None

Children: Not especially suitable

Disabled: Straightforward access

Entertainment: Tues, quiz; Thurs, open mic; first Sat in month, live music; last Fri of month, comedy nights; dart board and games machines

Functions: Areas available for private hire

Beer Garden: Yard area to rear

Parking: Street parking nearby

Telephone: 0113 245 3980