THEY call it the Experimental Fluids Laboratory.
The Fenton has become such a part of life of the University of Leeds – and particularly its Department of Physics – that sometimes it seems almost an extension of the campus itself.
“It’s the closest pub to the department,” says regular Tom Hartquist, Professor of Astrophysics, who first discovered the pub on his arrival at the University more than 20 years ago. He meets colleagues here to discuss departmental business – and has even been known to use his short journey between his office and the bar to illustrate to undergraduates a complex concept in the Theory of Relativity.
“It’s comfortable and unpretentious,” says Tom. “You always seem to get a good mix of academics and students and non-uni people.”
Tom only discovered pubs during two summer placements in Cambridge: “I grew up in the US where the beer was rubbish, so I’ve always drunk wine.”
Over the years he has seen this lovely old pub, perched on the edge of campus beside busy Woodhouse Lane, endure some significant ups and downs. “It has gone through phases,” he says, diplomatically, adding that under current licensees Jonny Steeples and Siobhan Thew, things have taken a significant turn for the better.
“What was particularly nice was that when they came in, they took the time and trouble to ask what people wanted in terms of drinks and bar snacks. I wanted a decent selection of wine; a colleague wanted some good malt whiskies. Jonny made the final choices himself, but he had made the effort to ask – and that’s great for customer satisfaction.”
Though Tom isn’t one of them, beer lovers are equally well served, with the Fenton offering an ever-changing selection of real ales and craft keg beers. Its panel-fronted island bar faces into both the lounge bar and smaller taproom, but the best place to start is the corridor, where a row of handpulls provides a choice entirely in keeping with that customer satisfaction theme.
On my visit this week there were hand-pulls from Geeves in Barnsley and from a BrewYork-Abbeydale collaboration as well as keg beers from Brooklyn, Kirkstall, Northern Monk and plenty more, as well as a host of draught ciders. Instead I am drawn to the crazily-named Papa Jangles Voodoo Plum Stout from Totally Brewed in Nottingham. It proves a wise choice – soft and rich, dark and gentle, with a smoky backdrop to the moreish sweetness of plum and raisin.
I take my pint into the largest of the pub’s rooms, where the chequerboard tiles give way to wooden floorboards, black tiles and carved wood frame the fireplace, an ornate chandelier hangs overhead and a heap of board games is stacked in a chaotic pile on one windowsill.
A detailed screen of frosted glass and care-worn oak separates this room from the central corridor, again tiled, and broad enough to be a sociable drinking space in its own right. Across from here is a smaller snug with a colourful old-style juke box, and banquettes surrounding a pool table.
Since long before Tom arrived, the Fenton has been a place of academic debate. In the fifties and sixties some of the great poets and writers held court here; even now it hosts life drawing classes - not many pubs can say that.
Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, LS2 3ED
Host: Jonny Steeples and Siobhan Thew
Type: Unspoiled alehouse and music venue
Opening hours: Noon-midnight Mon-Wed; noon-1am Thur; noon-2am Fri-Sat; 3-11pm Sun
Beers: Changing choice of real ales, craft ales and cider - plus Carlsberg, Staropramen, Coors and Tetley Smooth
Wine: Decent choice from £3.50-glass and £11.95-bottle
Entertainment: Live music upstairs, TVs, games machine, pool table and juke box, ‘Bare Canvas’ life drawing class Tues, pub quiz Thurs
Children: Not particularly suitable
Disabled: Slightly tricky access
Beer Garden: Yard area to the rear
Parking: Multi-storey nearby
Phone: 0113 2431382