Beckett's Bank, Park Row review - Leeds bank turned Wetherspoon's pub keeps imposing character
“I thought when I was bringing that out from the kitchen that it looked a bit too dry,” says one of the barmen, enquiring solicitously after my progress on the ‘manager’s special’ of haggis, tattie and neeps.
He scurries back for a jug of gravy, though not before tapping me for an extra 30p for this moistening.
My belated Burns Supper comes on a day when the city’s rain-lashed streets wear their ghostly February face. Heads down, braced against the swell, shoppers and commuters dodge the buses and dash along the greasy sidewalks as Storm Ciara spits forth the last of her savagery.
Beckett’s Bank proves a reliable sanctuary, as it perhaps should given the tempestuous impact which Tim Martin has himself wrought across the whole drinking scene, since his Wetherspoon empire opened its doors in 1979. There are now nearly 900, plenty of them across Yorkshire, loved and loathed in roughly equal measure, I’d guess.
For me the chain means two things – interesting conversions of grandiose buildings, and no-nonsense, sensibly-priced fare. Both are in evidence here, one of Wetherspoon’s longest-established Leeds venues, which was set up in the former home of Britain’s largest provincial banking group.
Founded in Georgian Leeds and with 37 branches at its peak, Beckett’s even issued its own banknotes – and though the family name is further preserved through an area of Headingley, the Park Row pub does far greater homage to the dynasty than the unpleasant and unmissed Beckett’s at Meanwood ever did.
This grandiose building on Park Row was once the company’s headquarters, and was designed by legendary Victorian architect George Gilbert Scott – he of King’s College Chapel in London and St Pancras Station’s wonderful Midland Hotel.
And if you are prepared to look up from your pint, beyond the neon lights and the hectic flashing of the fruit machines, you can sense the tasteful re-use of this lovely old building. Much of Mr Scott’s detailing remains.
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Eight dramatic square columns support an ostentatious ceiling which is painted a vibrant deep green and criss-crossed by beams moulded and sculpted into a series of foliage patterns.
At each intersection, a white Yorkshire rose stands proud of its red background. One can imagine Victorian bankers and merchants conducting their business here in these grand and rather forbidding surroundings.
It’s more welcoming these days, and they’ve relaxed the dress code. Where once the wing-collared cashiers would have sat at their oak desks, a long bar stretches in both directions, topped with banks of 10 real-ale handpulls and a host of fonts dispensing all manner of big-brand lagers and craft ales.
A chalkboard details some of the breweries of the county, though the 30-something listed represent only the tip of the iceberg. Beers from a few of them, like Rudgate, Elland and Goose Eye can be found on the bar, though the choice here changes almost daily.
At £2.15 a pint, Ruddles County is Beckett’s rather bland first base, so I go a notch or two up and land on the crisp, refreshing Chinook Blonde (4.2%) from Goose Eye, which adds some much-needed refreshment to a palate jaded by my dry Scots fare. The gravy is very welcome, when it finally arrives.
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Beckett's Bank factfile
Address: 28-30 Park Row, Leeds, LS1 5HU
Type: Big brand alehouse and restaurant
Opening Hours: Sun-Wed, 8am-midnight; Thurs-Sat, 8am-1am.
Beers: Changing range of up to 10 real ales starting at £2.15 for Ruddles County, plus a choice of big-brand lagers, ciders and craft ales
Wine: Decent wine list with choices from £2.25 per glass and £10.69 per bottle
Food: Wide-ranging menu served all sessions from breakfast onwards. Additional themed menus are Chicken Club on Wednesday, Curry Club on Thursday and Fish Friday
Children: Welcomed. Kids’ meals available.
Disabled: Straightforward access to main ground floor bar