THE landlady has a parrot on her shoulder. I've been in plenty of pubs where the landlady has a chip on her shoulder but this is the first time I've found one with an actual parrot, like she's Long John Silver or something. And it's swearing like a trooper.
This is my first time in the Cavalier, in fact I had never heard of it until a fortnight or so ago, when a regular reader pointed me in this direction.
The Cavalier is in a fairly neglected part of town and stands alone and dimly-lit beside the rather grim Ellerby Road which cuts through Richmond Hill onto a ridge perched high above East Street and the River Aire. Its cavernous rear concert room affords views south and west towards the city centre, the Parish Church and the Royal Armouries, bright lights twinkling in the nighttime distance.
It's late on an icy Friday when I pitch up at the bar, hoping to spot a real ale handpump, but I look in vain. Perhaps that's too much to hope for. Groups of friends and couples are scattered around the pub's main room, the banter and first-name terms suggest that they're regulars all.
The juke box is playing some weird disco schlock whose only lyric seems to be "woo-hoo Barbra Streisand", and a couple are busy setting up a frightening amount of karaoke gear so I take my pint of Guinness into the comparative refuge of the smaller taproom at the side, where Sky TV is showing some rugby union game. It's not really my sport, so I flick through the channels to find some proper football, and turn the volume up a touch to drown out the juke box.
Landlord Dexter Roden soon wanders over for a chat, and of course my first question has to be about the parrot. "We found him outside.
Someone just came into the pub and said 'There's a parrot in the road', and there was. So we took him in." Much to the chagrin of Dexter's elderly, blind (and evidently flatulent) Highland Terrier Ben, who the parrot now terrorises, in friendly avian manner. They named him Reuben and he's become an essential part of the furniture at the Cavalier. "He occasionally shouts 'you're barred' or swears loudly at the customers.
I don't know where he gets that from," Dexter adds.
He and partner Elaine Roberts took over at the Cavalier two years ago.
"It had been closed for seven months and was derelict when we came in,"
said Dexter, a Leeds United-supporting former paratrooper who served in the Falklands – and whose football and military memorabilia are displayed side by side above the bar.
It's a place he knew well, from the time when it was on a well-trodden pub crawl which also took in The Railway, Smith's Arms, Waterloo, Black Dog, Fisherman's Hook, Spring Close, Yew Tree and Hampton. "All but two of them were Tetley houses, and now there are only three left – the Spring Close, the Yew Tree and us."
Since taking over, and saving the Cavalier from the same fate which has befallen so many other pubs, not just on this crawl, but across the county, the couple have worked hard to make the business work. They've fitted double glazing, installed wood-burning stoves, and renewed the furniture and the pictures.
Part of their mission has been to put the Cavalier right back at the heart of the community – no easy task when much of the local housing has gone. But it helps that the function room lends itself to all manner of events, from live music to pool tournaments, and two years on from their standing start, they are reaping the rewards of all their hard work. The pub now boasts two darts and dominoes teams, a pool team, a golf society and a lively programme of entertainment that is bringing in punters from other parts of the city whose own community pubs have done to the wall.
Even karaoke has its place, though I always prefer it when I can escape into the next room to watch the football. But it was clear the customers were enjoying it, both as the entertainers and the entertained – and provided first-hand evidence that the new regime is a successful one. "The next step will be doing food," said Elaine.
Since leaving the army, Dexter has had spells at the Travellers' Rest in Halton, driving, and running a seaside hotel. He and Elaine also had a stint selling traditional English furniture in southern Spain.
They're getting married in January. "It will be the 11th of the 1st 2011," said Elaine. The wedding takes place at St Saviour's Church up the road; the reception is back at the Cavalier, of course.
l I scarcely look old enough but my son turns 18 tomorrow and we plan to mark this occasion by doing the Otley Run – the famous pub crawl that starts at Woodies in Headingley and calls in at numerous Otley Road pubs before winding up at the Dry Dock in the city centre. I've never tried this before, and there is every chance I will not live to tell the tale. There's no Taverner next week, but be back here on New Year's Day to find out whether I did.
Hosts: Dexter Roden and Elaine Roberts
Type: Lively community local
Opening hours: Noon-midnight daily
Beers: John Smith Smooth (2.30), Tetley Smooth (2.30), Carling (2.60), Foster's (2.60), Strongbow (2.90), Guinness (2.90).
Wine: Small selection
Food: Crisps and snacks only
Entertainment: Darts and dominoes night Mon, pool night Thurs, karaoke Fri, singer Sat, bingo and quiz Sun. Sky Sports TV plus games machine and juke box
Children: Welcomed until 6pm
Disabled: Welcomed – straightforward wheelchair access
Parking: On-street space to front
Telephone: 07770 692232