DIVERSIONS between Burley Road and Wellington Road are playing havoc with the local traffic.
But as I navigate the maze of cones and roadworks, a yellow sign tells me “The Highland pub is open as usual”. This offers double re-assurance – firstly that the business hasn’t been too affected by the disruption and secondly that the rumours the pub has closed down altogether are rather premature.
The doors are open, the TV’s on and there’s a trio of real ales on the bar.
Those rumours are not without some substance, mind you. Plans are certainly afoot with a planning application lodged to flatten this lovely old pub and build a nine-storey block of flats, like we need another one.
The developers are called Depho and they’re deffo in for a fight, with objections flying in from staff, regulars and, apparently, Leeds Civic Trust too.
It might be built on tradition and idealism, but the dissenters have a strong case. This elegantly-shaped alehouse has been serving customers in this corner of inner-city Leeds since Victorian times, and now offers to the students who have moved in around here in their thousands a taste of Yorkshire culture unchanged in generations.
It was once two houses; the remainder of the terrace is long gone, leaving the Highland as a slender red-brick wedge, which viewed from further along the street rather looks a little like an ocean liner has run gracefully aground among the cobbles. The bar itself is a little gem, an elegant sideboard of curved mahogany, topped by marbled glass lanterns, which wouldn’t look out of place in the cocktail lounge of a Nile steamer in Hercule Poirot’s time.
The bar is to your left as you step inside. A long leather banquette stretches from the doorway, hugging the tapering contours of the building, dog-legging from the end window, where the building is just a couple of metres across, and back to the bar. Heavy tartan curtains play to the Highland theme.
To the right of the door is a second smaller, squarer snug. Both bear relics of the time when this was a proud feature of the Tetley empire, with signs and advertisements for the city’s much-loved brewery. Mirrors entice drinkers to try Tetley bitter “with the old-fashioned flavour”.
And though the long-term future of this pub might be in doubt, for now it’s just like that roadsign suggested, and business as usual. Live TV sport is planned for the coming season, and a poster behind the bar advertises a live music event on Bank Holiday Monday.
That old-fashioned flavour can still be enjoyed too, albeit that Tetley’s is now brewed in Wolverhampton. It competes for hand-pulled trade with Leeds Pale and one guest beer, which on this occasion was a crisp EPA from the Tyne Bank brewery in Newcastle. This choice of traditional beer, as well as the ancient layout of this pub, its lovely fixtures and fittings – and its place in the local community – make this a special asset for our city and something the planners should protect.
The would-be developers say it’s simply not viable as a pub, but they would say that, bulldozers at the ready. In any case, our city has few enough left of these unspoiled old drinking houses, and whatever the financial arguments, to my mind the Highland holds the moral high ground.
Cavendish Street, Burley, Leeds
Type: Traditional two-roomed alehouse
Opening hours: Noon-11pm Mon-Thurs and Sat; noon-11.30pm Sun; noon-10.30 Sun
Beers: Tetley Bitter (£2.80), Leeds Pale (£3), plus one guest ale (£3.20). Also John Smith Smooth (£2.80), Carlsberg (£2.80), San Miguel (£3.40), Carling (£3.20), Fosters (£2.90), Stella Artois (£3.50)
Wine: Small selection from £3.20-glass
Entertainment: Multi-screen Sky Sports TV, games machines, live music on Bank Holiday weekend
Children: No special facilities
Disabled: Welcomed, but access slightly tricky
Beer Garden: Some tables outside
Parking: On-street and pay-and-display parking is available nearby
Telephone: 0113 242 8592