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The Lights of The Grove Shine Bright....

My more regular visits to Leeds over the past few months have enabled me to re-acquaint myself with several of the city's fine old pubs. There was however one place I had kept passing that always prompted me to make a mental note to call in but it had so far been elusive. Well, guess what, I have finally made it, and here's what I found, along with a few other bits and pieces from around West Yorkshire....


The Grove is a Leeds institution.

Situated amongst the office blocks and swanky apartments in the Leeds suburb of Holbeck, and in the shadow of the ginormous 367ft-high Bridgewater Place, this solid-looking white-painted pub is somewhat at odds with its surroundings. With all the development that has taken place in Leeds over the last few years and which continues at a pace, it is remarkable that The Grove is still standing. But like the Adelphi not far way, it has managed to survive, and indeed thrive, and to step inside is to be taken back to a different time. The pub was built around 1830 and catered for both the workers from the many mills that had grown up in the area and the residents of the densely-populated streets nearby. It has a pretty traditional design, although much of it came from a re-working by then owners John Smith’s in the late 1920's, with several changes including adding the rear concert room. As a reminder of their tenure, the sign on the front of the pub still refers to John Smith's Magnet Ales & Stouts, although it is many years since they were involved here.

For many years I worked near to here, in one of the buildings operated by the Kays mail order company, although not in the Grade l listed Temple Works, a former flax mill which was modelled on an Egyptian temple, contained what at one time was the largest room in the world, and even had sheep grazing on its grassed roof! However this was not as daft as it sounds as the grass helped maintain the humidity in the mill which kept the flax in the optimum conditions. Like the Grove, the building still stands today and although at the moment, unlike the pub it is in disuse, there are plans to convert it into a site for the British Library.

Anyway, I digress. The Grove was about 10 minutes walk from work, and whilst I did call in sometimes, our normal haunt was The Commercial on Sweet Street which was literally next door to work. But I went in often enough to appreciate this honest, back-street pub which attracted a loyal band of regulars, beer lovers, students, and music fans who were drawn to the regular live music. 

I walked in on a weekday late afternoon, and entered into a drinking corridor with much tiling and wood panelling. Mirrors and a board listing the cask beers were on one wall. It was very much how I remembered it being from my last visit, which was probably about 6 years ago, and pretty much how it was when I'd first visited all those years ago. A large taproom to the left with a dartboard and with the largest extent of the bar was occupied by several people. A young guy sat at the far end of the bar looking at his paper sprung to his feet and said hello, walking around the full extent of the bar and corridor to get behind the bar to serve me. The beers on offer were mainly from Yorkshire and included Daleside Blonde, Goose Eye Bitter, one from Acorn, Ilkley Mary Jane, plus Ruddles Best. The guy did though recommend another bitter from Sheffield's Little Critters called Malty Python, and I decided I would give it a go. And it was pretty decent, full of flavour as he had promised (NBSS 3.5). 

I asked how much music they had on these days, and was told there is something on 6 days a week covering a wide range of genres. Folk music has always been a big attraction here and indeed there is a folk club based here that has been on the go since 1962, making it one of the oldest in the area. I wandered down to have a look at the amazing concert room, and it truly is a shrine to music, with a small stage, photographs and airbrushed murals of various musicians on the wall, although I doubt if some of those pictured have played here! One that did though was Mark Knopfler in his pre-Dire Straits days, whilst poignantly one image is of folk singer Norma Waterson, who sadly passed away very recently. Like the rest of the pub, the room retains a traditional look, with a large mirror on one wall and sympathetic lighting, fixtures, and fittings. Two guys were sat in there when I walked in, relaxing over a post-work pint, and were keen to talk about the musicians depicted on the walls, whose eyes seem to track your every move. The room does seem to have a special atmosphere; I could almost imagine sitting in there, closing your eyes, and hearing the jangle of a distant guitar or faint voices joined in some ghostly refrain....



A shrine to music: the concert room at The Grove, Leeds

I returned to my pint which was resting on the bar in the corridor and looked around. There are two further rooms, a tiny snug, and a larger room on the right as you go in, both traditionally furnished, whilst open fires help ward off the winter cold in this stand-alone building. A notice listing sensibly-priced pub food, the hum of conversation wafting across from within the taproom as I finished my beer. It was a most enjoyable but short visit to the Grove, and a journey back in time to the world of the inner city Leeds pubs of years ago. There was a guy stood across the bar in the taproom who looked familiar and I am sure I used to see him in at least one of the local pubs all that time ago. But maybe he was just an amalgam of those characters that used to light up pubs like the Grove and the Commercial in the Holbeck of 20 years ago. Sadly, the Commercial may be no more, but the lights in the Grove are still shining bright....

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And so to the other bits. With the Grove being such a committed music pub, I don't know if they had got involved with Independent Venue Week which took place during week commencing 31st January. This is an annual event which has been taking place - lockdowns permitting - for the past few years and which is organised to recognise the great work done by so many independently-run venues across the country. And in referring to lockdowns, for months most of them had no income coming in, threatening the very existence of places that provide so much to their local communities. Sadly, not all survived, and so the feeling was that this year's event was more important than ever. More than 200 venues signed up and hosted live music, talks, poetry, films, and more over the course of the week. One of the venues taking part was the Hebden Bridge Trades Club, who had something on virtually every night. I made it there on the Wednesday when the entertainment was provided by Soak, the musical vehicle of Derry-born Bridie Monds-Watson. The name Soak is a phonetic portmanteau of 'Soul' and 'Folk', which aptly describes the feel of their music. And like many a last-minute decision, it turned out to be a good one as I thoroughly enjoyed both the music and the couple of beers I had in the bar earlier, a Session IPA from Half Moon. Weighing in at 4.3% ABV, it was delicious with fresh citrus flavours and floral notes (NBSS 3.5).

Soak at the Trades Club, Hebden Bridge

Earlier that evening I had visited a new venue in the town which has been creating a buzz not so much for its beers but for its food. This is Coin, which opened up a couple of months ago in the town's former Lloyd's Bank which has undergone a classy makeover. Now there is no problem if you just want to just go in for a drink and chill out in the relaxing atmosphere, and with Vocation Bread and Butter on cask and several beers on tap from the likes of Deya and Vault City there is definitely something there for the beer drinker. I went in with the intention of just having a drink and ended up having a sublime meat plate comprising some mighty fine Italian charcuterie having been seduced by the constant sight of plates being delivered to a pretty decent Wednesday crowd. I was really impressed with the whole set up from the food to the decor,  the service to the drinks, and I thought my food and two halves of craft beer were good value. Reviewing food places is not really my specialist subject though, so why not check out the thoughts of Amanda Wragg at www.yorkshirepost.co.uk.


Coin, Hebden Bridge

And finally, over to Halifax and from Tuesday 15th to Sunday 20th February there is a beer festival running across the Grayston Unity, Meandering Bear, and Square Chapel featuring over 20 different beers on cask and keg from breweries in Merseyside. Amongst the breweries whose beers will be available on the bars are the excellent Neptune, Top Rope, Handyman, Carnival, Team Toxic, and Liverpool Brewing, so it should be well worth a visit to one or more of the bars to sample some of the best beers from this vibrant part of the country....

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic

And here is some Soak with Last July....





Comments

  1. Great write up as ever Chris. I love the Grove. Don't forget it's Ilkley Beer Festival on the 11th and 12th February

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