TODAY’s column was sparked by a comment I read on social media this week which basically claimed there was no such thing as a good Wetherspoons.
It’s perhaps a commonly-held belief, but one that simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
Though the chain is sometimes derided for its cheerful, cut-price, drinking den culture, Wetherspoons has also done plenty to ensure that their customers have ready access to proper, well-kept hand-pulled beer. And while there are some of their pubs which I might choose to avoid, the Yorkshire Evening Post heartland is dotted with some particularly fine examples, like the quirky Percy Shaw in Halifax, the sumptuous Winter Gardens in Harrogate, and Leeds’s own Cuthbert Brodrick, set on the edge of Millennium Square.
Born in 1831, Cuthbert hailed from a well-off family in Hull. After soaking up continental influences during the “grand tour” of classical Europe, he opened his own architecture practice back in his home town.
There he might have stayed, had he listened to his old mum, who tried to dissuade young Cuthbert from entering the contest to design Leeds Town Hall, saying he had no chance. He ignored her – and designed his own place in the history of Leeds.
Brodrick’s grandiose Town Hall, completed in 1858, is a statement of pride, of wealth, of power from a community made newly prosperous through textiles. Its tall columns, its broad steps, its elegant dome, ooze the confidence of the Victorian age.
His contribution to the city skyline did not end there, the Town Hall’s grandeur reflected in his later works such as the Corn Exchange and Mechanics Institute, now the city museum and the closest of Brodrick’s great buildings to the pub that now bears his name.
The pub’s long, broad patio stands over Millennium Square, where a compendium of city architecture frames the people’s piazza. In summer, this south-facing terrace is a perfect sun trap, ideal for people watching or catching sports events on the giant screen.
But a chill wind was blowing as I crossed the square on Tuesday, hurrying inside for a welcome after-work pint.
The bar is dead ahead and stretches away towards both ends of the pub, where staircases lead to a vast balcony area. Picture windows make great use of the views; an App gives users table service, for beer and all.
Because the choice of cut-price, well-kept cask beer is what gave this chain its original selling point, and its commitment to this principle remains as strong as ever. And though there are some mass market choices here like Doom Bar and Greene King IPA, the central bank of three handpumps offers a changing range with plenty to surprise.
Of these I go for Robinson’s Freddy Brewger, a deep russet red best bitter, packed with malt and served in a dimpled glass tankard, as in days of yore. A couple of decades ago, a pub like this, selling great beer, £2-a-pint cheaper than many of its local rivals, would have been lauded for championing traditional British beer.
No good Wetherspoon’s? Rubbish, there are plenty – simple, unpretentious and filling a gaping hole in the market.
Portland Crescent, Leeds, LS2 3AD
Type: A ’spoons with a view
Opening Hours: 8am-midnight Mon-Wed; 8am-1am Thur-Sat; 8am-11pm Sun
Beers: Great choice of real ales from £2.15-pint, plus a host of lagers, Guinness and John Smith Smooth.
Wines: Decent list of wines from £2.15-glass, £10.79-bottle
Food: Good selection of keenly-priced pub meals available all day, every day, with a themed menu changing daily
Children: Welcomed. Kids’ meals available
Entertainment: Games machines and regular drinks promotions
Beer garden: Large terraced area to front overlooking Millennium Square
Parking: On-street and multi-storey areas nearby
Phone: 0113 204 8570