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The Year Of The Little Man....

"It was the little man that built this town..." Alan Jackson*

As 2016 starts to draw to a close, I thought I would have a look back over the past 12 months at what has been a pretty momentous year for the local pub and bar scene. A year which started with devastation for several and then over the course of the year, new venues opened and closed up and down the area, and Halifax finally became a great town for a visit again after years in the doldrums.

The year started with several of our pubs, particularly in the Upper Calder Valley trying to pick of the pieces after the devastating Boxing Day floods. We started the year with The Olde Gate, Calan's, Drink, The Railway, The White Swan, The Shoulder of Mutton, and Stubbing Wharf all shut in Hebden Bridge. Of those, The Railway is still shut. The rest had different periods before re-opening, ranging from a matter of weeks to several months. Indeed, in the midst of battling with insurance companies, Calan's 2 opened up for a few weeks at Macpelah Mill, near the railway station, and very nice it was too. 

Mytholmroyd was similarly overwhelmed by the floods, but the Shoulder of Mutton and the Dusty Miller both re-opened, although the Dusty had not-started re-selling food when I was in a month or two ago. The Libertine re-opened, but then closed for a few months before re-opening a couple of months ago, still a place I need to visit!

Other pubs in the area fared less badly, although for a time it seemed that the Barge and Barrel in Elland's future was uncertain not helped by the structural damage caused to the neighbouring bridge resulting in its closure. There were fears that trade would be lost and with rumours of being turned into a foodie place swilling around added to the uncertainty, fortunately they all seemed to die down, even though the town is still only accessible by a temporary footbridge and a minimum 4 mile detour by road.

However, there has been a lot of good news as well this year. In February, Brighouse got its first micro pub when The Market Tavern opened its doors. Run by Andrew, or 'Snap' as he is more commonly known, and Debs, it became the place to visit in Brighouse within a few weeks.The community took to the friendly, welcoming atmosphere and the superb quality of the beer like a duck to water, and it gave the centre of Brighouse a focus once again after the demise of The Olde Ship. The place has continued to go from strength to strength over the year and long may it continue to thrive.

And then, a few months later, in May, Halifax got its first 'micro' - The Grayston Unity - although owner Michael Ainsworth insisted it wasn't! By the strictest definition of playing no recorded music, yes, it doesn't tick the box, but the fact that Michael is a music nut, owns Doghouse Promotions who are responsible for bringing some great live music to Halifax, and has now got one of the best bars in the town, we can respect his views! Situated opposite the Town Hall entrance, it isn't in the most obvious location to the casual passer-by, but plenty of people have managed to track it down over the past few months.

We then had another micro open in August. The Pumproom, taking the name from a former and closed Halifax icon, joined the fray with 6 handpumps offering beers not always seen in the area, a warm welcome, and with a great strategic location just beside the bus station, it makes a great meet and greet point, or an ideal waiting room, unless, of course, like many you decide to linger! Tony, Julie, and the rest of the team have done a great job in creating another must-visit place in the town!

Thinking things were getting pretty good, and Halifax now being a viable option for a visit, we then had the opening of the Alexandra Bar in early September. This offered 2 handpumps, 2 craft beers, a massive range of gins, a superb range of bottled and canned beers that you can buy to drink at home, and a whole lot more in a what is a pretty small space, although there is another room upstairs. This joined up the dots with the nearby and excellent Victorian Craft Beer Cafe, and so means the town now has a decent contemporary circuit of independent bars. Now this isn't taking anything away from places like the Plummet Line which punch above their weight in terms of beer considering the constrictions of being beholden to big organisations! The Alexandra is another place that attracts a wide range of customers, and like all the places in Halifax that I've mentioned, it has its own style and character.

The new bars in Halifax, the Market Tavern, and Nido's In Hebden Bridge, which joined Calan's and Drink which opened in 2015, all reflect a positive trend where it is the smaller places that are really setting the pace at the moment. OK, trends do change, but they have certainly done a lot to revitalise the area's drinking options this year, at the same time supporting a lot of great small and independent breweries.

Round and about the area, the Cross Keys at Siddal was always a pleasure this year to visit for some great beer and conversation. Over in Sowerby Bridge, I enjoyed my visits to the Jubilee Refreshment Rooms beside the station, but it was sad to see two of the best pubs in the town, the Puzzle and The Works both closing during the year. In Brighouse, I have to mention The Dusty Miller, close to home in Hove Edge, as the Everards Tiger is always on form, the welcome is warm, and the Thursday night quiz is great fun, well, subject to the results! Rob runs a great pub, and whilst there is a lot of focus on the popular and good value meals, it is still essentially a friendly local! Other places in the town to mention are The Commercial/Railway, next to the station, which is another extremely friendly place with decent beer, and The Beck, where once again I have seen some great live and local music this year.

Over in Huddersfield, it was good to see Sam Smith return to the town to run Mallinson's tap house, The Corner Bar, and very nice it is too! I also enjoyed several visits to the slowly-evolving Kings Head and The Grove, and further afield, I have been a regular visitor to the Stalybridge Buffet Bar, and I also particularly enjoyed the Crown Posada in Newcastle when I stayed in the city last month.

On the beer front, my brewery of the year has to be Salopian, whose beers were frequent visitors to many of the places mentioned above and were quaffed eagerly and quickly by the area's drinkers! Not far behind were Squawk, one of the new breed of small Manchester breweries, which also gained quite a following in the area this year. Vocation, brewed near Cragg Vale, also produced some excellent beers during the year, and it is good to see a local brewery gaining recognition in other parts of the country. In general though the pubs of Halifax and Calderdale do offer an excellent range and variety of beers from a wide number of breweries.

So, after a poor start and a few bumps on the way, 2016 has been a year when there has been a lot to celebrate for local beer fans and a lot of that is down to the arrival of several fantastic new places to add to some already established great pubs. Let's hope we have as much to celebrate in 2017!

And finally, as this will be my last blog before Christmas - unless I get inspired to pen something in the next 24 hours - may I take this opportunity to thank everyone who reads these ramblings for their support and wish every one of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Calan's, Hebden Bridge
***The title for this piece was inspired by a song by country singer Alan Jackson, who describes returning to the town he grew up in and seeing how many of the small shops had closed down because of the impact of the big boys. In many ways the arrival of these smaller pubs and bars, taking over and utilising old shops and other disused spaces is a reversal of that process***


  1. Great article Chris.... Happy Christmas and here's to 2017!!

    1. Cheers, Hugh, Happy Christmas and all the best for 2017 to you and Ruth!


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