A Saturday afternoon visit to the Merrie City, as Wakefield has traditionally been known. And with its large number of pubs and bars, there certainly are some absolute belters to choose from. Here's where I went that afternoon....
Tall trees flickered by the window as the train gathered speed on its way to Leeds. Above, a steely grey sky was threatening more rain. The weather fitted my mood, a kind of numb neutrality after we'd had my mum's funeral the day before. No doubt the occasion and several pints of Salopian Lemon Dream in the Hollins Mill in Sowerby Bridge in the ensuing wake had something to do with it, but it had led me to seeking out somewhere busy but where I could be anonymous, the comfort of humanity without explanation.
I had decided to go to Wakefield, its many pubs making it a fine place to disappear. After a quick transfer in Leeds, I was soon alighting at Westgate Station, complete with recent makeover and shiny new entrance. It does make it a slightly longer walk to Henry Boons, situated next to Clarks' Brewery and offices. The brewery has ceased brewing these days, with beers contract-brewed elsewhere. But from a bank of 6 handpumps featuring White Rat, Boltmaker, and Landlord, I noticed two from the somewhat elusive Tiger Tops brewery, a 10% Barley Wine (a bit early for that!) and a more approachable 4.6% pale called Tasman. I ordered a half of the latter, and retreated to a table opposite a couple of TV screens showing Manchester United v Southampton. Tiger Tops was set up in Wakefield in 1995 by Stuart and Linda Johnson, and with them both retired, the brewing is continued by brewer Barry Smith. Incidentally, Stuart and Linda also ran the legendary Prince Of Wales in Foxfield, Cumbria. Smack opposite the station, this brewpub a couple of miles out of Broughton-in-Furness was for many years a place of pilgrimage, although I believe it is currently closed. The Tasman was in fine condition, full-bodied and flavoursome (NBSS 3.5), but the TV volume and occasional beeps and clatters from a flashing fruit machine made the overall experience a little uncomfortable. Which is a shame, as Boons is normally well worth a visit.
|Henry Boon's, Wakefield|
I left and stepped out on to a wet Westgate. There used to be a well-known pub crawl here called the Westgate Mile, featuring at one point about a dozen traditional pubs, most of them selling Tetleys, and whilst a number of them such as the Redoubt, Waterloo, and White Hart are still around, the numbers have inevitably diminished over the years. I went back under the railway bridge, and waited to get across the busy road, finally doing so and then turning into a car park and crossing to the Old Printworks, which is situated on a path that also leads to Harry's Bar, which frustratingly wasn't opening today until 4pm.
|The Old Printworks, Wakefield|
The Old Printworks was in the Good Beer Guide last time I visited about 4 years ago, and whilst it isn't in the current edition, there was certainly nothing lacking in the quality of the beer and the warmth of the welcome. The place was pretty busy, with a mixed crowd, many watching one or other of the TV screens, with one showing Leeds v Warrington rugby league and the other showing Man Utd/Southampton followed by rugby union. The atmosphere was friendly, convivial with the pint of Oakham Citra I'd ordered in fine form (NBSS 3.5). The girl from behind the bar asked those whose glasses were nearly empty if we wanted a pint pulling before she went out on her cig break, which was a nice touch. I declined as I had places to visit, but I had thoroughly enjoyed my half hour here and my erstwhile gloomy mood had lightened considerably, and I thanked her as I passed her and a customer who were sheltering in the doorway trying to enjoy a smoke out of the rain.
It was into the city centre next, and fortunately it wasn't too far to my next port of call, the famous Black Rock. This is a classic, a must-visit if you have the time. It is a narrow building, with a striking tiled facade, and entrances from both Westgate and the passageway at the back. I walked in to a sea of bodies and the sound of lively chatter. Most tables in the L-shaped room were taken, and much of the standing area was occupied too, but I managed to find a slot at the bar. From a choice of 6 cask ales which always include Tetley Bitter and Oakham Citra, I ordered a pint of Stainless Bitter from Sheffield's Stancill Brewery, which was in excellent form, and just about the best beer of the day (NBSS 4). The Black Rock is a former Tetleys house, and when I used to visit the city regularly during my days of living in Leeds it was always busy and the Tetley's Bitter was unfailingly spot on. And it was good to see that it continues to maintain that fine tradition.
|A classic: Wakefield's Black Rock|
I finished my pint, and set off in search of my next destination. A few minutes' walk later I arrived at the Jolly Tap, a new bar to me although it has been around for a year or two. It serves as a taproom for the Jolly Boys Brewery based near Barnsley, which was set up in 2016 by four friends, who have subsequently opened another bar in Barnsley. Like the Old Printworks, it doesn't appear in this year's Good Beer Guide, but I have heard that it was on the list of pubs included submitted by the local branch, but it never made it into the book. It is situated on a corner a little way up Northgate, and appears to have been a shop unit in a previous life. Incidentally, close by I passed the first place I have seen hiring out VHS's for many a year - maybe like vinyl they are on their way back!
|The Jolly Tap, Northgate, Wakefield|
I followed a group of people in and had to wait a few minutes to get served as the girl behind the bar was on her own. When it came to my turn, I ordered a pint of Jollys Blonde which maintained the high level of beer I had enjoyed thus far (NBSS 3.5). I plonked myself in one of several stools at the bar as there was someone sat at each one of the tall tables or one of several long tables that ran along the front of the windows. The place was light and airy, the atmosphere was convivial, and a decent soundtrack was playing. As well as several Jollys beers on handpump, they also had one on tap, a 4.2% Citra, and so when I had finished my pint of Blonde, I ordered a half which was pleasant enough. I finished my beer, sorted my stuff, and said my goodbyes. Well worth seeking out when visiting the city.
I headed back down Northgate, crossed the Bull Ring, and made my way down Westmorland Street in search of my next port of call. The cathedral was over to the right as fast food places seemed to take over from shops. I turned off to the left along Vicarage Street and came across the bulk of the newer of Wakefield's shopping centres, Trinity Walk, in whose shadow lies the Wakefield Labour Club, aka The Red Shed.
|The Red Shed, Wakefield|
I walked into the former army hut that it is the Labour Club. It was quiet, with two guys sat at a table near the bar engaged in conversation over their pints. A lady who had been sat to the side of the bar got up to serve me, and I opted for a pint of Rudgate Triple Hop, one of five beers on hand pump. The place was bigger than I remembered from my previous visit, in fact tardis-like, with a carpeted area beyond the bar to the left, and beyond there a larger area with wooden flooring, trophy cabinet, bookcase, seating, and a large TV which was showing rugby union. I took my pint to the far area where I grabbed a table and sipped on my pint, which was extremely pale with a fruitiness underpinned by a sharp bitterness, and again was good enough to merit a NBSS rating of 3.5.
I decided to get another half, and this time went for the Mandarina from Durham Brewery. This was probably a mistake, as I realised too late that the Mandarina hop with its bitter orange notes isn't my favourite hop, but I still rated the beer NBSS 3. The lady who had served me came to say hello and and chat, which was nice, and I told her I was having a tour round a few of the city's pubs and that this was my first visit for a few years to the club, which is home to many union and community groups, and with CAMRA awards a-plenty above the bar as well as numerous union plates, it is evident that beer is a key priority as well. I enjoyed my visit and is another must-visit stop on any visit to the Merrie City.
The light was fading as I emerged into the evening air. People were scurrying by or waiting at bus stops, their business in the city done for the day. It was a few minutes walk to my final pub to conclude my day's work, situated just off Kirkgate, a few minutes walk from the eponymous station from where I was catching the train back to Brighouse. I had been in the place several times over the years under its previous guise as Fernandes, but since having a significant investment from owners Ossett, the bar has been re-furbished and re-opened as Luis Bar. Its name comes from a Portuguese immigrant, Luis Fernandes, who built the three-story building on Avison Yard in the 1800's. I walked in and up the stairs to find the bar busy, but when I got through there was a large bank of handpumps, many featuring beers brewed at the onsite Fernandes Brewery, but with others from mainly small local breweries. One of those was Tiger Tops and having started the day with one of theirs, I thought it would add a touch of symmetry to the day to finish with one. It was another pale, a 4.0% IPA called Van Life. And to round off a day of good beer, it was another 3.5 rating. Despite the place being pretty rammed, I found an empty table near the door near a couple with a large dog and another couple at a nearby table with about a dozen halves which they were studiously sipping and then writing notes about.
I'd been in Luis Bar a few months earlier between trains en route to Pontefract. It wasn't quite as busy, but it was earlier in the day. One of the people we saw there looked familiar to both me and one of the lads, and it turned out it was Liz who ran the Travellers at Hipperholme, near Halifax several years ago. With her husband Howard and and his business partner Gerald, they are running the bar, having signed Ossett's first ever tenancy agreement, and I wish them well as on both visits it has really impressed.
I had to dash as it was getting nearer to the time for the train. I needn't have worried, I made Kirkgate Station with a few minutes to spare, and as I stood waiting on that draughty platform for the Grand Central to come into view, I realised an afternoon in Wakefield had cheered me up considerably....
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