THE White Swan may no longer be owned by Leeds Brewery, but it would be interesting to know how many of its customers actually realise.
At either end of the long bar, two rows of four handpulls dispense beers from across the Leeds Brewery range – and there’s another on the central bank, amid the guest beers, as well as Leodis lager and Gathering Storm stout on tap. It’s owned by Cameron’s, but it’s a Leeds pub by any other definition. It even features on the brewery website – as do all the others in its former empire – as though they don’t really want people to know that they have been passed to the Hartlepool giant.
“We still have a big tie-up with Leeds Brewery,” says manager Sophie Green, joining me for a drink. Sophie has worked here for over three years, taking over as manager last July. “We’ve not seen much of a change, apart from the occasional Cameron’s beer coming in. It’s precisely the same experience for the customers now as it was before. So unless they’ve read about the change of ownership somewhere, they probably don’t know.”
What hasn’t changed is the White Swan’s relationship with Leeds City Varieties upstairs. The symbiotic relationship between pub and theatre is even closer than that between The Wrens and The Grand. There you have to cross a busy junction to get from one to the other; here you don’t even have to go outside.
And in some ways the White Swan acts as though it were a theatre bar, pure and simple. “We get lots of trade from the theatre,” says Sophie. “Before the shows it can get really packed in here – and people come back for their interval drinks. We’ll serve drinks in plastic cups too, so they can take them into the auditorium. Cinderella has been on for the past few weeks, so we’ve had lots of children and families coming in.”
Theatrical lights and historic playbills play to the theatrical theme. “It’s a natural place to come, whether you are going to the Varieties, the Grand or even the Playhouse, if you want to start your evening in that way.” Though the White Swan can suddenly feel deserted in the minutes before curtain up, thankfully, the phenomenal choice of beers – ensures there’s a good footfall all day long.
Being of a rather perverse frame of mind during this flying lunchtime visit I avoid the Leeds Brewery beers altogether and go instead for Dreams of Cascadia (4.9%), my half pint served in an old-fashioned dimpled glass. This big tasting golden ale comes from the Wilde Child Brewery in Armley, and its earthy aromas and concentrated citric tastes showcase the Cascade hop used in the brew.
The food’s good too, and is served from lunchtime into the evening every day. The menu offers up-market twists on some pub favourites such as the haddock and chips (£11.95) with Leeds Best exerting its influence on the batter, and the sausage and mash (£10.95) featuring hearty bangers from the Yorkshire Dales. Four roasts are added on Sundays.
“We get a lot of tourists in,” says Sophie. “If you go on line and look for the best pub in Leeds, we come up third, so people like to come in and drink beers which were brewed just ten minutes down the road.”
Originally from Leicester, Sophie now seems settled in the north: “I love my job,” she adds. “I ran the Midnight Bell for a while but this one feels like home.”
Swan Street, Leeds, LS1 6LG
Type: Quality ale house and theatre bar
Manager: Sophie Green
Opening hours: 11am-11pm Mon-Thur; 11am-midnight Fri-Sat; noon-10.30pm Sun
Beers: Great choice of up to 12 cask ales including Leeds Pale (£3.75) & Leeds Best (£3.95) plus Leodis Lager (£4.55), Amstel (£4.05), Symonds Cider (£4.55) – and more
Wine: Good selection from £5.15-glass and £19.65-bottle
Food: Quality pub meals noon-9pm Mon-Sat and noon-7pm Sun
Disabled: Disabled toilets
Beer Garden: Tables in the alleyway to the front
Entertainment: Quiz Thurs, live piano on Sunday afternoon, occasional special events.
Parking: City centre car parks
Telephone: 0113 242 0187