IT’S Tuesday lunchtime at the New Inn, and I’m assaulted from all sides by big screen re-runs of the Championship Play Off Final.
Now I’m sure that the party line being peddled in the sports pages is that this was a magnificent triumph for Huddersfield Town. But in the Taverner column at least, I can reveal the truth – that this is an unmitigated disaster and a dangerous reversal of the natural order of things. Maybe like all Leeds United supporters I should grin and bear it for a while but that shouldn’t mean I have to watch it on rolling repeat.
No matter, the sound is turned down so I can escape into my newspaper, my pint, and – in due course – a cheese and bacon burger which proves to be utterly uncontaminated by bacon.
It’s a funny place this, a sort of low-rent version of its Greene King stablemate Woodies up the road. They pretty much do everything the same, but Woodies does it better, and has done for as long as I can remember.
GK has designated Woodies as a craft alehouse, which explains why they offer a wider selection of beers. Here there are just three handpulls – one out of action on my visit – and all are connected to own-brand products in the cellars. Of these I choose the seasonal beer, the golden and refreshing Summer Breeze which isn’t a bad choice and reminds me that it’s sunny outside, despite the clouds of misery surrounding that Wembley result.
Live sport is clearly front centre here. Large screens are strategically placed so you have a view of the action wherever you happen to be sitting or standing. That is, of course, if your view isn’t impaired by a host of drunken Santas, rock lookalikes or Disney characters. The Otley Run brings a relentless footfall of fancy dress customers from early afternoon through to the evening, pretty much every night of the week, to all the pubs between Far Headingley and the fleshpots of the city centre.
I always feel that the ones up here get the better end of the deal, raking in the money from thirsty and energetic pub crawlers, before they reach the cash-strapped, tired and emotional, gastronomically vulnerable state further along the route.
And perhaps it’s the fact that the business is underpinned by this reliable throughput of people that allows the New Inn to not try that hard – to not put bacon on its bacon burgers, to not sponge down the wipe-clean menus which open with a grubby little scrunch as you peel the pages apart.
There are some nice touches, like the giant double bass case stuckled up with stickers, and the little nest of cartoons and photographs celebrating the Victorian tramway which terminated here for over 80 years, and probably ended Headingley’s status as a village, drawing it into the conurbation.
And the New Inn played a big part in an impressive Greene King charity drive which has raised a whopping £3m for Macmillan Cancer Support over the past five years. During GK’s Macmillan May’ around 1,000 pubs across the country swelled the coffers with cake sales, raffles, quizzes, family fun days and more.
Which is great, and demonstrates a genuine commitment to the communities which these pubs serve. But for the New Inn that community extends beyond the students and the pub crawlers – and right now it just doesn’t feel as though they are trying hard enough to play to that audience.
Otley Road, Leeds
Type: Basic but lively community inn
Opening Hours: 11am-11pm daily
Beers: Three Greene King ales plus Coors, Strongbow, Carlsberg, Stella Artois, John Smith Smooth and Guinness
Wines: Reasonable choice
Food: Wide ranging Greene King Eat and Greet menu served daily
Disabled: Easier access from the side, and accessible toilets
Children: No special facilities
Entertainment: Games machines, Tuesday quiz, dart board, pool table, lots of large-screen TVs showing sports channels
Beer garden: Outdoor tables at the front
Parking: On-street areas nearby
Telephone: 0113 2249131