One of the more intriguing pieces of news to have crossed my desk in the last few days was the announcement that the firm which owns the Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen has taken ownership of the True Briton pub on Stainbeck Road in Meanwood.
It’s a curious match, perhaps only to be rivalled by a leading chalk manufacturer taking over a failing cheese factory. As an outsider, it’s hard to see how they will work well together.
I’ve known the True Briton since the seventies, when the Belgrave’s owners were still in short pants and their headquarters was the excellent Tex-Mex diner Ike’s.
Both premises have felt the bewildering hand of change since then. The True Briton – once a glittering jewel in the crown of the Tetley pub empire – went through a sequence of new owners, was churned into an open-plan cavern, and has had several changes of branding, each arguably worst than the last.
In 2017 it became a part of the Milton pub brand, but even then one feared this drinkers’ paradise had been already lost forever. Back then, when the owners talked about finding “the best assets to add to our diverse £1.2 billion real estate portfolio, and to explore the right opportunities for our investors” you couldn’t help wonder if this was about creating real community pubs so much as making a swift buck.
But now “changing trading conditions” have led to several Milton pubs facing closure – including the once-great Barley Mow in Bramley.
So the news that the True Brit is being taken over by Rose Thirteen, who also run Headrow House and the Water Lane Boathouse, can only be welcomed. Boss James Stuart says: “We are delighted to have secured this well-known public house; we like drinking beer, watching footie and we will offer a great Sunday roast. Hopefully Leeds United will return to the Premiership next year and this will be the place to be.”
Even so, the businesses couldn’t be more different, as I reminded myself this week when I made a flying visit to the Belgrave.
The first thing that strikes you, well, after the tempting pizza counter beside the door, is the impressive bar with its row of six handpulls. On this visit, five are from Yorkshire – Bad Seed, Ilkley and Nomadic among them – but instead I opt for the rich and smoky, treacly Kentucky Riot stout from Beatnikz in Manchester. If none of these beers really float your boat then two impressive lines of keg fonts offer 16 more; blackboards chart the ever-changing choice.
Long benches provide utilitarian seating, though low-slung sofas offer a more comfortable option. In between is sufficient space to host the hordes of vertical drinkers who crowd this space the closer we get to the weekend. Upstairs offers live bands, comedy and cinema; beyond that is a stunning roof terrace.
How much of this will be exported to the Briton remains to be seen. The new owners may try to squeeze into Meanwood’s thriving circuit, but the excellent Terminus, Hungry Bear and Alfred are just too far away for it to ever be really part of that scene.
Headrow House, with its bierkeller vibe, and Water Lane Boathouse with its sturdy food and stunning location are far closer to everything that made the Belgrave such a success. From here the True Briton feels like it’s a million miles away; I do hope they can pull it off.
Cross Belgrave Street, Leeds
Host: Simon Stevens and Ash Kollakowski
Type: Live music, real beer, great food
Opening hours: Noon-late daily
Beers: Changing range of up to 22 cask and keg ales – plus bottled beers.
Wine: Good choice
Food: Burgers and pizzas available from streetfood-style kitchens
Entertainment: Vibrant programme of live music, DJ’s and cinema screenings
Children: Not suitable
Disabled: Straightforward access but split level areas inside – and two more upstairs levels
Beer Garden: Third floor roof terrace
Parking: On-street and multi-storey areas nearby
Telephone: 0113 2346160