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Return to the Merrie City....

"a very quick market town and meately large; well served of fish and flesh both from sea and by rivers ... so that all vitaile is very good and chepe there. A right honest man shall fare well for 2d. a meal. ... There be plenti of se coal in the quarters about Wakefield"  John Leland, 1538

I used to spend a lot of time in Wakefield or 'Wakey', back in the days when I worked at nearby Tingley, and then lived in Morley and Leeds. Several friends lived in and around the town, and regularly we would head there for a tour of some of the town's hostelries, with maybe the odd club thrown in for good measure. Wakefield was a lively night out, pulling the punters in from neighbouring towns and villages. Back in the Middle Ages it acquired the sobriquet The Merrie City, allegedly because of its large number of inns. Even today there seems to be a pub or bar everywhere you look, down an alley here, on a corner there, although the forlorn sight of the closed Wakefield Arms as you emerge from Kirkgate Station does not bode well.

It had been a few years though since I had last visited the city when a gang of us visited the other day on the annual Good Friday day trip. Fuelled by an excellent breakfast from The Station Stop Cafe, around 15 of us had caught the Grand Central train over from Brighouse. It only took 23 minutes, and with us arriving before most pubs were open, we made for the local Wetherspoons, The Six Chimneys. It was heaving. 11.20 and the City was already Merrie.

We hung around there until midday, and then wandered around the corner to the Wakefield Labour Club aka The Red Shed. We had optimistically hoped it would be open with it being a bank holiday, but it appeared to be sticking resolutely to its standard hours of not opening before 7 on any day except Saturday. A place of principles. The Red Shed is must-visit when it is open, for excellent inexpensive beer and its friendly atmosphere, and is very cosy for what is a basically second-hand army hut.

Next up was the Wakefield Beer Exchange, situated on the Bull Ring. This was a new one on me, having been opened a couple of years ago by Revolutions Brewery. It is fairly unassuming from the outside, but on walking in you are greeted by bare boards, simple furnishings, and a friendly relaxed vibe. The beer here was excellent, most of us opting for the Great Heck Hapi, packed with tropical fruit overtones. The consensus was that this was one of the best places we visited with some of the best beer of the day.

Across the road by way of a contrast is one of the city's best traditional pubs, The Black Rock. A narrow pub with a part arched tiled exterior, it is a Wakefield institution with its interior featuring photos of old Wakefield. When I originally used to visit it was a Tetley's house and it used to dispense pint after pint of bitter which was always in excellent condition. The place was always packed, and had the happy buzz of conversation and laughter. It also marked the start of the infamous Westgate mile, which was originally the home of dozens of pubs and clubs, finishing at the Redoubt, another fine Tetleys pub. This time, the pub was quiet, only our party and a couple sat at the bar. Tetleys is still served, but today the Black Rock has different beers on another 5 hand pumps. I opted for the Oakham Citra, which was in fine form.

We headed off down Westgate to another new bar, the Old Printworks, situated down an alleyway. This former Indian restaurant consists of a large fairly open room, which didn't seem to have much atmosphere, but then again it was still pretty early in the day. The beer though was fine, I opted for the 6% Cream from Beer Ink, a delicious pale beer with hints of vanilla. Very nice. A splinter group decided to go for a game of pool at the Inns of Court.

Back on Westgate, the rest of us popped our heads into the Elephant and Castle, which features a stunning tiled facade from Warwick's Ales and Stouts, Boroughbridge. Sadly though, despite a recent refurbishment inside, the beer choice was limited to a solitary hand pump featuring the ubiquitous Sharps Doom Bar, although we were told by the girl behind the bar that a delivery was due later. We made our excuses and left, opting instead for Henry Boon's across the road after the railway bridge.

Henry Boon's appears to be another venerable Wakefield institution, sitting proudly on a corner in front of the Clarks Brewery. Although it had originally been a pub called the Green Dragon, when I first visited Wakefield in the 1980's it was, like the Old Printworks, an Indian restaurant, called the Shalimar, but not long after Clark's started brewing again in 1982 after a gap of several years, it was re-opened as a pub and named after Henry Boon Clark who had opened the brewery in 1905. Recently, though, Clarks stopped brewing once again, and their beers are apparently brewed now at Castle Eden, leaving them to concentrate on their wholesale drinks distribution business, to which I had once applied without success for a job as buyer. The pub is a lovely traditional building, with much wood-panelling, huge mirrors, with old hogsheads acting as tables. The beer was pleasant, and we spent an enjoyable time at the pool table playing killer, although yours truly didn't fare so well!

Henry Boon's, Wakefield
We retraced our steps up Westgate, turning off down Bank Street to visit the Hop. This attractive Georgian building is smaller than some of the other Hops that Ossett run, but still has the same mix of bare floorboards, a choice of Ossett ales and guests on the bar, and regular live music. I opted for a pint of one of the guests, a Nethergate beer. Sadly, it was decidedly end of barrel, but I had no problem getting it exchanged for a pint of Horbury JFB Citra, which was most pleasant. Horbury Ales are brewed behind the Brewer's Pride in Ossett, using kit from the sadly now-defunct Bob's Brewing. We were re-joined by the rest of the gang, and having checked that it would be open, we headed back down Westgate to Harry's Bar, situated next door to the Old Printworks.

Harry's Bar is a wonderful place, a micro pub from long before anyone had ever come up with the term. It is a comfortable one room bar with an open fire and bare brick walls, with plenty of sporting photos. The beer was always excellent, and after a gap of a few years in there, I am happy to report that the North Riding Citra was not only in tip top condition, but the best beer I had all day. A few of us managed to get a seat. Sadly it was time to leave, as we had one more place to visit before we headed back to Brighouse.

After ten minutes or so walk, we arrived at the Fernandes Brewery Tap and Bier Keller tucked away down Avison Yard. The upstairs bar was busy as we entered. There were several Fernandes beers on as you would expect. It is a friendly, comfortable place, but unfortunately we didn't have time to linger for more than one drink as the train back home was due.

We'd had a great day out, and now I have realised that a direct train only takes 23 minutes, I will make sure it isn't too long before I return again. After all, we didn't have time to visit the Jolly Boys tap. Nor did we go in the Red Shed. I just need to make sure it's a Saturday....

The Red Shed, Wakefield

Let's go to the Hop....

A game of killer pool....


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