IT’S TWILIGHT; the bright bay windows and floodlit red brick of the Eagle Tavern are once again beckoning drinkers inside.
This has been a familiar sight since Victorian times when this grand private home became the Builder’s Arms, later the Ordnance Arms in a nod to the nearby cavalry barracks and then the Golden Eagle, which was in time shortened to the Eagle Tavern.
There were once 11 pubs in North Street, serving folk who lived in the tightly-packed rows of terraced housing nearby. Gradually the houses went, and so did the pubs, until at this end of the street only the Eagle remained.
It’s appropriately named, given that years of gradual neglect and decline left this pub highly endangered. Through the twists of history and geography it became a sad relic of the city’s past, hemmed in by factories, warehouses and five lanes of traffic.
A while ago, driving past, I saw it blighted by shuttered windows and ensnared in scaffolding and feared it was going the same way as its former neighbours the Regent and the White Stag, once fine pubs and now demolished. Yet Samuel Smith’s had other plans, spending 18 painstaking months on its beautiful resurrection, utterly transforming a business whose existence was held together by good wishes and grime.
If there is a pub more patently deserving of such love so long withheld, then I have yet to find it. And, simply stepping inside, from the relentless traffic of North Street into the welcome sanctuary of the bar, it is immediately evident that it has been given an entirely new start.
Listed building status protected the outside walls, but allowed its complete evisceration. Its two large rooms have been replaced by five intimate spaces, one of them dominated by a long mahogany-panelled bar topped with a row of fonts offering the whole of the Sam Smith’s range. Prices start at an astonishing £1.34 a pint.
The giant gilt sculpted golden eagle which guarded the lobby between taproom and snug now dominates the corridor where these five rooms meet, and where stairs lead to the 15 lavishly-furnished bedrooms which have turned this simple drinkers’ house into a high-quality hotel. A subdued new colour and lighting scheme is wholly respectful of this stately building’s age and heritage.
In charge here is Sarah Goodchild who I last met a year ago when she was running the Red Lion in Meadow Lane. By the time my review appeared, the Boxing Day floods had knocked the pub out of action for six weeks.
It was during this hiatus that Sarah and husband Mark gained some experience of running a hotel, when Sam Smith’s gave them a stint at the Harewood Arms. And though she admits they hadn’t been looking to move, the chance to take on this flagship development was irresistible.
“We all need a new challenge from time to time and this is a brilliant opportunity. Everything has been done to such a high standard. It’s basically been re-built it from the cellar walls upwards. People are getting wowed by it.”
Two months from opening and the Eagle has begun to soar once more, making a name for its hearty home-cooked food, quality accommodation – and providing a new destination for those who simply fancy a pint of well-priced Yorkshire beer beside a roaring fire.
Way back, the Eagle garnered a host of real ale awards. Its current concentration on keg beer makes a return to those days rather unlikely, but even the most diehard CAMRA member should celebrate the fact that a once-threatened pub has been brought spectacularly back into life.
The Eagle Tavern
Address: North Street, Leeds
Hosts: Mark and Sarah Goodchild
Type: Traditional city inn
Opening Hours: Noon-11pm Mon-Sat and noon-10.30pm Sun
Beers: Sam Smith’s Bitter (£1.90), Dark Mild (£1.34), India Ale (£3), Alpine Lager (£1.40), Double Four Lager (£2) plus other Sam Smith’s products
Wine: Small selection
Food: Up-market pub meals served noon-3pm and 6-9pm Mon-Sat plus noon-4pm Sun
Disabled: One-step access but all one one level inside
Entertainment: Games room with pool table, dart board and fruit machine
Accommodation: 15 newly-opened ensuite bedrooms
Functions: Areas available for private hire
Beer garden: Courtyard area to the rear
Parking: On-street parking nearby
Telephone: 0113 245 7146