Simon Richardson rounds up his twelve favourite boozers. Good beer, lots of character, no bullshit.
SOME stereotypes would have you believe that Britain is all about drinking tea, eating fish‘n’chips and perhaps, more recently, hating on foreigners. However, I believe that Britishness is best summed up by misappropriating religious festivals as an opportunity to get spannered for a period of several consecutive days, which is why, this Christmas, I've collected together twelve of my favourite pubs.
We're talking boozers here, proper drinking pubs with excellent cask ale, historical interest and no bullshit. And because it's cold out there the maximum walking time between these pubs is ten minutes – but most are more like five. We've also placed the start and finish points bang next to the train station because we're good like that.
Right, off we go...
The Midnight Bell
Located in the centre of the industrial heart of Leeds city centre, the Midnight Bell is all about comfort. Think exposed brick and beams and a roaring fire. It’s the perfect start to a pub crawl – just a stone’s throw from the back exit to the train station. As the Leeds brewery’s flagship pub, it’d be rude not to start with a pint of the pub’s namesake.101 Water Lane, LS11 5QN
Bridgewater Place has certainly annexed the Grove a bit, but this just makes sure it remains a bit of a hidden gem. Since 1832, it has been serving proper ale to its punters, along with a slice of live music that dates back over half a century itself. If you’re pacing yourself for 10 more pubs, then a pint of Moorhouse’s Black Cat at 3.4% might be a good idea. The fact that it’s delicious is a bonus. Back Row, LS11 5PL
Now you’re warmed up, it’s time to hit the city centre proper. This stunning Victorian building is a labyrinth of cosy drinking rooms, soft furnishings and curious artwork. It’s also a marriage of new and old, with cask and keg – CAMRA and craft - living alongside each other in glorious harmony. The rotating cask menu is very well-kept; the only downside is that it’s hard to keep your discipline and just stay for one. 1-3 Hunslet Road, LS10 1JQ
The Lamb and Flag
From one 19th century establishment to another, the Lamb and Flag stands in the shadow of Leeds Minster – a church with a clock tower high enough to impress all manner of incidental Russian visitor. The courtyard garden is one of the city centre’s best, but now is no time to sit in it. Get yourself warm and sup a pint of Leeds Pale. 1 Church Row, LS2 7HD
The Duck and Drake
From the marble doorway to the light fittings, the Duck and Drake surrounds you with its history. Back during the Second World War, it was a place where young ladies would go to meet American GIs. Now, it’s a slightly different crowd – think real ale aficionados and old blues fans. This is not a pub for modern times; it’s a true throwback to a bygone era, which is where the magic really comes from. Well, that and the excellent ale. 43 Kirkgate, LS2 7DR
No single building can be more “Leeds” than Whitelock’s. The pub itself is older than America and it’s been in the Good Beer Guide 34 times. Expect a Yorkshire rotation on cask – Ossett, Leeds, Saltaire, Rooster’s and more, all at very reasonable prices. And like several of the other pubs in this list, it does some cracking scran. Six pints in and this may be as necessary as it is wanted. Turks Head Yard, LS1 6HB
For ginnel hoppers, these two pubs go together like Rama lama lama ka, dinga da dinga dong. The Angel is a belter of a boozer, not least of all because it is one of the best people-watching spots in the city. Students and locals mix together seamlessly with a common aim: getting drunk as cheaply as possible. Thankfully, Sam Smith’s will never change on that front – and they’re also the oldest brewery in Yorkshire, having been founder in Tadcaster in 1758. 1 Angel Inn Yard, LS1 6LN
Foleys Tap House
How fitting that a pub with twelve ale taps should be on this list. Representing York brewery, Mr Foleys is located in the Grade II listed Pearl Chambers, built as the head office of the company founded by Patrick Foley in 1911. His statue still gazes down from above, watching you, judging... 159 The Headrow, LS1 5RG
The Victoria Hotel
Rescued from demolition in the 70s, The Vic was once a 19th century hotel, serving people attending court at the Town Hall. As far as pubs go, it is surely one of the most beautiful in Leeds, with brass, wood, stained glass and chandeliers everywhere you look. The ale that features on the endlessly long bar is fantastic too, with favourites from around Yorkshire and beyond. You’ll have to fight for a seat on a weekend, mind. It gets rammed. 28 Great George Street, LS1 3DL
Town Hall Tavern
If I was pushed, I would say that this is the pub to eat at on the list. It’s getting on for gastropub territory; hearty and infallibly delicious. The quality of the real ale here is second to none, with the full Timothy Taylors range, including the magnificent Ram Tam – my all-time favourite winter pint – always available. Of course, Timmy Taylors is a Keighley brewery that has been running since the 1850s and has been family-run ever since. The atmosphere perfectly matches those values.17 Westgate, LS1 2RA
Head of Steam
Ten minutes from the last, this is the only walk of any real distance on our crawl, and it might end up taking about three hours if you’ve kept up with a pint in each pub to this point. While the Camerons-owned Head of Steam group have done a lot of work to refurbish the old Spencers, the beautiful “in-the-round” bar and overlooking balcony remain and the ale selection has improved no end from its rough, Leeds United pub days. We’re nearly home and hosed now – just… one… more… 12 Mill Hill, LS1 5DQ
The Scarbrough Hotel
When Henry Scarbrough took on ownership of the site back in 1826, it was a hotel called the Kings Arms. After the opening of the Queens hotel some 40 years later its popularity waned until it was taken over by the owner of the City Varieties in 1890 and renamed the Scarbrough Hotel Public House. One of the city’s favourite post-work ale haunts, it’s loud, lively and chock full of quality ale. They’re used to very drunk people too, which is rather fortunate...
Best get a train or cab home sharpish, eh? Nothing to be gained by ending up in the Rum Room above MOJO at 4am, dancing on a chair with your t-shirt tied round your waist....
Total distance between pubs: 2.45 miles
Average total walking time: 47.5 minutes