I think his wife was quite glad to see the back of it,” says Matty Logan, showing off the array of brewery memorabilia on display at the new-look Cardigan Arms.
Most of it came from Steve Holt’s garage, the Kirkstall Brewery boss being a long-time collector of all things drink-related. The recent takeover of this famous old pub has provided an opportunity to put the collection on show, so a wander around this little warren of rooms reveals advertisements for long-forgotten brands such as Charlton Pale Ale, Truman Hanbury and Buxton Imperial Stout, Clan Ivor Whisky, Lochside and Drybrough ales.
Each lends an appropriately nostalgic feel to a pub built at the end of the Victorian era and whose name harks back still further, to the Cardigan family who owned much of the land west of the city centre. Their most famous – or notorious – son was the Seventh Earl of Cardigan who led the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava in 1854. The ducal name and the family surname of Brudenell survive in street names nearby.
The takeover is timely after years of careless stewardship had neglected this remarkable legacy. “We had to give it a good clean,” says Matty, who moved here from the brewery’s other pub, the nearby Old Bridge, and becomes co-manager this weekend. This deep clean has brought new colour to the carpets and upholstery, it feels comfortable, welcoming and well-kept, while the removal of the pool table, juke box and satellite TVs have changed the Cardigan’s whole direction.
This is perhaps most evident when you pitch up at the bar and find that the lowest common denominator beers once served here have been replaced by a plethora of quality products which are drawing in a whole new clientele. Kirkstall’s own products have a permanent place on the bar, of course, and I’m immediately drawn to the uber-pale and softly bitter Three Swords. Their sharp and tangy Framboise and the classic bitter IPA Dissolution are others worth trying.
But there are eight handpulls on the beautiful, curving central bar, giving drinkers the chance to try a host of quality beers not produced in the LS postcodes. “Generally we’ll have hand-pulled beers from breweries which we admire around the UK,” says Matty. “The keg beers will include British craft ales and others from the US and Europe. There’s a blossoming beer scene right now and we want to be a part of that.”
The Cardigan’s renaissance has changed the demographic of its customers virtually overnight: “We’re getting a much younger crowd in now, including students and young professionals.” Even so, the change is doubtless less welcome to some former punters; many have drifted away, though some have switched allegiance to Kirkstall Pale.
A popular food menu, including “Taco Tuesdays” and an all-day brunch at weekends, have given a fresh dimension to the offer here, while live jazz on Sundays and a Tuesday evening quiz draw their own eager following. While several rooms are already available for private hire, renovation work continues on the large function room upstairs which will allow the Cardigan to cater for bigger events, just as it did in its post-war heyday.
Matty is eagerly anticipating taking the reins with co-manager Dan Burrows: “It doesn’t quite feel real yet. We’re really looking forward to it.”
Kirkstall Road, Leeds
Type: Community alehouse reborn
Host: Matty Logan and Dan Burrows
Opening Hours: 11am-11pm daily
Beers: Kirkstall Pale (£3.10), Three Swords (£3.20), Dissolution (£3.40), plus five other cask ales, Framboise (£5.10) plus seven other changing keg lines and Veltins lager (£4)
Food: New menu served noon-9pm Mon-Fri, with brunch 11am-6pm Sat and 11am-7pm Sun
Entertainment: Live jazz Sunday, quiz Tues
Children: Not particularly suitable
Functions: Rooms available for private hire
Disabled: Slightly tricky access and no special facilities
Parking: On-street and off-street areas nearby
Phone: 0113 898 0288