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Welcome Vocation, Happy Birthday To The Vic....

A brand new bar has just opened its doors in Halifax, whilst one of the town's most popular has just celebrated its 8th birthday. I've been along to both ....

A new bar has just been opened in Halifax town centre by Vocation Brewery. For the brewery, based in Cragg Vale near Mytholmroyd, if you're local, or Hebden Bridge if you're from further afield, it is their fourth, following on from others they already operate in Hebden Bridge, Leeds, and Manchester. And ever since the news broke earlier this year that the former premises occupied by The Lantern and Alexandra had been acquired by Vocation, its opening has been eagerly awaited by many local beer fans. It is the first in the town to be opened by one of the modern breed of independent brewers.

However, months with skips based outside on the cobbles of Alexandra Street, and signs and sounds of activity from within, and then spells of seeming inactivity had led to much discussion within the local pubs and bars Vocation were looking to join as to when it would actually open. But then a few weeks ago and seemingly out of the blue, news broke out that the bar would finally be opening its doors for business. And one thing seemed certain, it would almost certainly bear scant resemblance to its previous incarnation.

As we approached one evening last week, with the lights on and seemingly open for business for the first time, not much had changed on the tiled exterior, save for the name Vocation & Co in the centre of the frontage, highlighted by the exterior lighting. But stepping inside, there are a lot of changes. The single entrance takes you into a long, split-level room, with high ceilings, white-painted walls, and wooden floorboards. A long bar which runs almost the full length of the lower level has a black painted front with Vocation branding in white, whilst a light wood topped bar and bar stools provide a touch of Scandi panache. The bar back wall is black, with the available beers chalked on a board above a bank of beer taps, whilst wooden shelves carry wines and spirits. Five hand pumps, featuring four Vocation beers and a guest (which on this occasion was from Cloudwater) and a number of fonts feature on the bar which has plenty of uncluttered space. 

On the slightly raised level, which would seem to be where the Alexandra once was, large red lettering shouts PIZZA from the white walls and announces an area through a doorway beyond where they can be bought. A proffered slice was devoured eagerly, and went down well with the Hop, Skip, and Juice we had ordered from the bar. On both levels of the room, there are light wood tables and seating, and the overall impression of this downstairs area is one of a bright, modern airy bar, with a vibe to match.

Upstairs, the previous first floor having been swept away in the re-furb, is an attractive and mood-changing cocktail lounge where the gigs used to be held. Dark decor, subdued lighting, and a more chilled soundtrack is the order of the day here. The bare bricks on the roadside wall have been retained, but seating has been added and overall it is a relaxing space compared to the downstairs bar. Somewhat different to when the likes of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, The Nightingales, and She Drew The Gun appeared in this room in its previous guise! The room also has its own bar to save any unnecessary trips downstairs.

The roof terrace that was created by the previous incumbents a few months before lockdown struck has been retained but not surprisingly on this damp and drizzly November evening it was closed, so a look around will have to wait. Back downstairs, we had another half and chatted to some friends who were also enjoying the hospitality. I have to say Vocation and Co is an impressive place, although with rumours of a half million pounds outlay you would expect it to be, and it will be interesting to see how it slots into the town's drinking scene over the coming months.

Meanwhile, a few streets away, opposite the Victorian Theatre on Powell Street, the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe has just celebrated its 8th birthday. Opened by Simon and his wife, Pang, it seems incredible but the Halifax beer drinking scene it joined was so different then to what it is now. The town centre pubs at that time were by and large traditional drinking houses and whilst there was some real ale to be found, most discerning drinkers would head a little further out to the likes of the Three Pigeons, Cross Keys, or Big Six.

The Victorian (or Vic as it is commonly known) immediately brought something different to the town centre. There was a range of cask ales sourced from a variety of different breweries, including many that had never been seen in the town before, and for the first time for the town, a range of the new-fangled keg beers much beloved by city hipster types. Not only that but the decor was cosy, with dark wood, dark walls, leather seating, dark wood tables, white tiling, with subdued lighting and candles, and loads of little nooks and crannies in each which you could hide away for a chat, or a quiet pint and a read the paper. Old books lined shelves and old photos from bygone days gave a distinct retro feel to the bar. It looked like it had been here for years. If you wanted a decent cup of coffee, you could get one, or you could snack on a pork pie if you were feeling peckish. In short, it was not what you expected to find in Halifax!

And back to the beer! Two of my all-time best pints ever have been enjoyed at the Vic: a cool, refreshing Pale Armadillo from Tempest Brewing one sunny Saturday lunchtime before football, and the delicious citrussy delights of a first-ever pint of Zero Zero from Arbor, the glorious orangey murkiness provoking much discussion in those less enlightened times when I shared a photo of my pint on social media. And whilst I certainly didn't have my first keg beer here, it is fair to say that the Vic has contributed to my appreciation of it. Dark beers have always played a big part in the overall offer; only in the last few days the bar's latest Back to Black beer festival was pulling in lovers of the dark arts. And over the years many interesting (and often very strong) beers from overseas have made an appearance, whilst all the time the Vic has maintained an unwavering commitment to featuring cask beers from a wide range of breweries.

Over the years, some changes have been made. Areas of the building have been opened up to free up more space for customers. One of those areas was where the toilets were on the ground floor; these have now been moved into the cellar downstairs, offering palatial comfort by comparison. Essentially though, the Victorian retains much of the same look and ambience it has always had, any new areas being seamlessly assimilated into the bar's overall style. 

These days, Simon and Pang divide their time between Yorkshire and her native Thailand, leaving the bar in the capable hands of Tom, who, like many of the team has worked here for several years, adding to the air of continuity and stability. Since the Vic opened in 2014, the town centre scene has changed immeasurably with several other bars opening up, each with their own distinct personality. The Grayston Unity was next to open in 2016 and is still going strong, the Pump Room and Alexandra have been and gone, as has The Lantern. Kobenhaven (also owned by Simon and Pang), Meandering Bear, Good Mood, and Dukes have come along in subsequent years. And now they have been joined by Vocation & Co. But the Vic can rightly say they were the first and be proud of what they have achieved over the past 8 years....

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic


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