We love the fact Leeds’ bar scene has been transformed over the last decade, but on a winter’s day sometimes only and a pint and a snug will do. Sarah Freeman takes a look at the city’s best old school boozers.
When it comes to historic Leeds pubs, Whitelocks is the mothership. Celebrating its 300th anniversary this year, as its website neatly points out that makes the Briggate boozer older than America. Originally known as the Turks Head, it was John Lupton Whitelock who was responsible for much of the ornate decor. A bit of a forward thinker, it was he who also brought electricity to the dimly lit alleyway and when the pub was sold to a brewery in 1944, an institution had already been created. Plus we can’t think of many Leeds pub that have the endorsement of a Poet Laureate. It was John Betjeman who described Whitelock’s as “the Leeds equivalent of Fleet Street’s Old Cheshire Cheese and far less self-conscious. It is the very heart of Leeds.” Praise indeed.
THE GROVE INN, BACK ROW
The Grove Inn now stands in the shadow of the uber modern Bridgewater Place development, but this is one Leeds pub which is definitely not for changing. There’s nothing wrong with defiantly sticking to what you know and while some might describe its appearance as a little shabby, we prefer to call it charming and traditional. As the skyline of the city changed and Leeds changed from an industrial to financial centre, some doubted there was a place for pubs like the Grove. There is. A great range of beer, this is one of the city’s finest and oldest drinking establishments. Add in live music, a folk night which has been going since 1962 and it has pretty much everything you need from a good pub - the homemade scotch eggs are a bonus.
THE WRENS, NEW BRIGGATE
Theatre pubs generally have character in spades and The Wrens is no different. Opened in 1913, the pub has always had strong ties with the nearby Grand Theatre and was once regularly packed with luvvies who often reflected the interior’s faded glamour. Truth be told, the pub was in danger of becoming a bit of a museum piece until a refit a couple of years ago brought The Wrens kicking and screaming into the 21st century. However, those wanting to wallow in a little greasepaint nostalgia should head to the Theatre Bar. In times gone by when pubs were filled with smoke this room was a designated no smoking room so that the singers, actors and actresses could come for a refreshment without the smoke damaging their voices.
Whitelocks may be the undoubted gem of the city’s historic pubs, but it’s not in fact the oldest. That honour goes to the Packhorse in the next alley. Trading since 1615, it’s been known as various names over the years from the Knag’s Head to the Slip Inn. The building itself dates back even further. Its Elizabethan past was revealed during a renovation in 1982 and the old wooden beams can still be seen in the lower ground floor. It’s fair to say the 1990s weren’t particularly kind to the Packhorse, when it was a magnet for 20-somethings getting drunk on Blastaways, but it’s a more mellow place these days. The Packhorse still has a certain rugged charm, but that’s what you expect from an old school boozer. Long may it continue.
THE ADELPHI, HUNSLET ROAD
Tetley Brewery’s original flagship pub. Need we say more. Just on the outskirts of the city centre, even on a Saturday night, The Adelphi is a welcome refuge from the crowds of Call Lane and Briggate. Built as a pub and hotel in 1901, it was designed by architect Thomas Winn, who was also responsible for the Cardigan Arms and the Rising Sun. Fads have come and gone, but The Adelphi is not a place to be swayed by fashion. The interior has been largely untouched by the intervening decades and its ornate snugs, original glasswork and tiles oozes Victorian charm and whatever your intention, once inside hours are likely to slip by. Great beer, decent food and perhaps best of all a monthly cupcake competition.
THE VICTORIA, GREAT GEORGE STREET
A testament to people power, had town planners had their way in the early 1970s we would probably be looking at anonymous office block. Developers were set on levelling the Victoria, but its regulars had other ideas and after a sustained campaign, they prevented it from being consigned to history. Built in 1865, the ‘Vic’ was where those attending the Assizes Court at Leeds Town Hall came to drown their sorrows or celebrate a reprieve and so the stories go, judges wanting to remain aloof from those packed into the public gallery made use of an underground tunnel to take them direct to the courts. It’s still an unfussy kind of place, just the way the regulars like it.