YOU might expect a pub so named to be on one of our Leeds’s oldest streets.
The name, derived from Norse, simply means ‘road to the Bridge’, which is how the Leeds one got its name, leading as it does to the Aire.
But apparently Garforth’s Main Street was once called Briggate too, despite any evidence of geographical features requiring a bridge, well, unless you count the railway, which I suspect wasn’t there in Viking times.
No matter, Wetherspoons (for it is they) have revived the name for the name of their vast pub in the centre of the village, which opened to much fanfare a little over a year ago. This was my first opportunity to visit, given that recent trips in this direction have led me to the tiny but rather wonderful Quirky’s brewpub a little outside the centre.
The two could hardly be more different. Quirky’s feels full with more than a dozen people in, it serves all its own beers, it is slightly rough at the edges, it has a wonderful soulful character; the Briggate could comfortably seat hundreds, it offers a vast range of beers from around the country, it has the comfortable feel of the corporate refurbishment – and it just lacks a little soul.
It’s built on the site of the former Garforth Liberal Club. When it opened in 1886, the party was enjoying its heyday, with Gladstone starting his third term as Liberal Prime Minister. When it closed in 2014, they did have a Deputy Prime Minister, but were doomed to be virtually wiped off the map the following year.
Approaching the pub from Briggate you get no real sense of its sheer scale. But once you walk inside, it slowly reveals itself, as though you are walking into a labyrinthine underground cavern with its vast spaces opening up on every side. A broad carpeted area stretches out in each direction, its colours keyed into a subdued theme of pale greens and greys. Vast yellow lampshades hang above intimate booths along the wall; there are fascinating images of the area’s history – including a display of old mining gear beside the stairs up to the toilets – from when Garforth Colliery was a major local employer.
You realise you’re nearing the bar when the carpet gives way to bare floorboards; the long counter stretches into the distance with its huge banks of handpulls and bright chrome fonts. Whereas at most pubs, if I’m dining, I would order a drink straight away and start on that while working my way through the menu, previous visits to Wetherspoon have taught me to choose my food first. Many of the main courses come with a free drink, so you certainly get best value by ordering both at once.
The tactic paid off as my towering Empire State Burger – two slabs of beef, bacon, cheese, pickle – came with a pint of real ale.
The choice of beers changes daily, and though there are the usual mass market suspects, the likes of Abbott Ale and Greene King IPA, it’s always worth seeking out something more esoteric, which on this occasion was Hot Night At The Village, a deep red-black chocolatey porter from the Foglie D’Erba brewery between Florence and Venice. The Tuscan take on this English styles has some nice toffee aromas, real substance and character on the palate with a chewy, treacly, chocolatey nature and a palate-cleansing aftertaste.
For all Wetherspoon’s down-market reputation, it can still offer a high-end drinking experience.
Address: Main Street, Garforth
Type: Vast Wetherspoons pub
Opening times: From 8am to midnight daily
Beers: An excellent and ever-changing choice of well-priced real ales, plus Carling, Fosters, Kronenbourg, Guinness and lots more
Wine: Decent selection
Food: Huge choice of meals are served from breakfast time until evening. Themed menus, and varied offers are available on different days.
Entertainment: Games machines, TV and WiFi
Children: Welcomed, kids menu and high chairs available
Disabled: Easy access and accessible toilets
Beer Garden: Large outdoor seating areas to the front and the side
Parking: On-street parking nearby
Telephone: 0113 385 4500