AT ONE end of the bar at the Horse And Trumpet is an old black and white photograph of the Tetley shire horses beside a dray delivering barrels of beer outside.
Dating back to before Joshua Tetley brewed his first ale down Hunslet Road, the Horse and Trumpet has been a part of the city’s drinking scene since George III was on the throne. The current building was completed in the mid-1870s.
In the formative years of my own drinking career, this was a proud part of the Tetley empire, and at one time a Festival Ale House where the city’s favourite beer was just one of a host of real ales lined up along the bar.
Times have changed. The brewery is long closed and the pub empire disbanded, its assets divested to a rash of pub companies for whom a pride in the serving locally-brewed ale in top-quality condition is no longer so powerful a motive.
So it is with a slight feeling of trepidation that I return to this famous Headrow boozer for the first time in a few years to see how much of that remarkable heritage has been lost. And yet, on the strength of this single lunchtime visit, I’d have to say that the Horse and Trumpet does seem to be in good hands.
Stepping inside from the busy Headrow, rooms open to either side of the bar. The decor is deep green and a dusty burgundy; the walls are scattered with etched mirrors and pictures of old Leeds. The pub is lively, busy, friendly.
And there is still Tetley Bitter on the bar. It pulls clear and bright as a polished brass bell, and when the barman takes the time and care to let it settle, before topping it up just a touch and leaving me with a few millimetres of perfect creamy head, I sense that this place is doing the important things well.
Having visited their brewery in Wolverhampton, I have seen at close quarters the efforts which Banks’s are making to ensure that Tetley’s is delivered in the condition demanded by Leeds drinkers of a product which they still see as uniquely their own. Even so, its quality depends on the careful stewardship of the pubs selling it – and here it has that beautiful copper colour, that familiar crunchy toffee-caramel flavour with just a suggestion of bitterness. And it laces the glass attractively as it’s downed. I think Joshua might just approve.
It shares the counter at the Horse and Trumpet with five other real ales – choices from Salamander, Shepherd Neame, Charles Wells and Three Brothers among them. A blackboard chronicles this changing choice. Tiny kilner jars beside each pump and labels describing their flavour and character might seem a sop to the new age craft ale hipsters, but it also proves that the Horse and Trumpet is open to all-comers. Whether it’s harassed blokes seeing a refuge from the Christmas shopping, older chaps looking for somewhere to enjoy a quiet pint while reading the paper or checking their racing tips – or those drawn by the quiz night, the darts or the Sky Sport – all are welcome.
In a city whose bars increasingly cater for those exploring the ever-changing world of craft beer – and who are willing to pay a fair but more for the experience – places like the Horse and Trumpet and the nearby Templar are increasingly rare, but still play a crucial role.
They should be valued, treasured and supported.
Type: Straightforward town centre alehouse
Opening Hours: 10am-11pm Mon-Thur; 10am-midnight Fri; 9am-midnight Sat; 11am-10.30pm Sun
Beers: Changing choice of six real ales plus Carlsberg, Fosters, San Miguel, Strongbow, Guinness and John Smith’s Smooth
Wines: Good selection
Food: Pies, sausage rolls and bar snacks
Disabled: Wheelchair access relatively straightforward
Children: Not particularly suitable
Entertainment: Quiz Tues, darts Thurs, plus games machines and big screen Sky TV
Beer garden: None
Parking: Town centre car parks nearby
Telephone: 0113 243 0338