Pub review: The Wrens, New Briggate, Leeds

PINK'ˆFloyd is playing on the juke box and there's a beer dedicated to Monty Python on the bar.

It’s almost as though someone knows that I am coming to the Wrens and has lined up some favourite cultural references, just for me.

I’ve been coming to the Wrens for longer than I care to remember. I’m an occasional visitor rather than a regular, but I’ve called in often enough to have charted its changing fortunes over many years.

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It sits on the corner of Merrion Street and New Briggate and those fortunes have long been tied to those of the Grand Theatre, which is diagonally opposite, across the busy junction. Plenty of pubs in cities and towns around the country have relied on the trade of thespians and theatricals, producers and the paying public. The Wrens has long been a favourite of members of the Opera North company, and of the audience.

Beside the attractive copper fireplace, in the cosy high-ceilinged snug to the left of the front door, which seems to be always where I end up, traditional masks and the legend “The original theatre bar” celebrate this symbiotic relationship.

The Wrens remains popular with theatre-goers who find this the ideal pre- and post-performance watering hole. It’s actually close enough to nip out here in the interval, throw down a pint, and be back in time for curtain up on the second half. Or just stay, if the performance is really bad.

The decor is a simple clean pattern of black and white to match the chequerboard squares of the tiles which run through the hallway. In this snug, the black extends to the wooden panelling which stretches around the walls while the white reaches up to a ceiling dominated by a modern chandelier. There are black tables, leather-backed chairs and a long comfortable banquette. An arrangement of photographs maintain this monochrome theme, celebrating the drama of the city’s urban architecture in stunning black and white.

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The look is slightly spoiled by a television showing rotating a series of slides of the booze-related bon-mots of the stars, interwoven with the Wrens’ latest food offers – coffee, cakes and pizzas.

Even so, this is all a great improvement. On a previous visit I reported how the genuine character of the building had been lost in successive refurbishments, and how a colour scheme of green and magnolia rendered it bland and charmless.

While that history cannot be restored, the current look at least lends some personality of its own, and it’s quite clear that under its current management, the pub is being very well maintained. A passageway leads through to a rear cocktail bar, which is also available for private hire. A winding staircase leads up to the bedrooms, which now include a apartment which sleeps four.

The pub is named after founder Alfred Wren, just as some several of the city’s older pubs – like Scarbrough and Whitelock’s – were. For many years this was a Tetley house, but now the five handpulls offer a changing choice of real ales, their quality underpinned by Cask Marque status.

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I’m naturally drawn to the Holy Grail, a beer brewed by Yorkshire’s own Black Sheep in conjunction with the Monty Python boys. At 4% ABV its essentially a refreshing session ale, but it has plenty of zesty fruit character too.


New Briggate, Leeds

Type: Famous old pub and hotel

Opening hours: Noon-midnight weekdays, noon-2am weekends

Beers: Five handpulls – and choice changes regularly. Plus Amstel, Strongbow, Coors and Moretti

Wine: Good selection

Food: Pizzas and afternoon tea only

Beer Garden: None

Disabled: Slightly tricky access and split level inside

Children: No special facilities

Accommodation: Nine guest bedrooms available from £49.50 for B&B

Functions: Rear cocktail bar available for private hire

Parking: City centre car parks nearby

Telephone: 0113 245 8888