Skip to main content

There Used To Be A Bar There....

Last weekend a little bar in Wesley Court in Halifax, closed its doors for the last time. But unlike the sad fate that has befallen so many pubs and bars in recent times, The Grayston Unity will be re-opening in a few weeks' time in a brand new home on the other side of town. And so this weekend was a chance for a final drink and catch-up at its original home....

It was emotional, it was fun, it was inevitable. The final weekend at the original home of the Grayston Unity occurred this weekend, the last pints being poured around 9pm on Sunday evening with the price of a pint dropping first to £2 and then they were free. The little bar had attracted large numbers over the previous few days; Grayston stalwarts, regulars on the Halifax drinking scene, a host of old faces from over the years, and plenty of bemused first-timers, many here from out of town to see the likes of Orbital, the Charlatans, and Johnny Marr playing down the road at the Piece Hall. 

Michael enjoying a quiet chat with the bard of Halifax, Keiron Higgins

I'd popped in for a drink on Thursday evening, and then again on the Friday, when on both evenings proceedings had followed the same pattern. A few people I knew were already in, then a few more, all drawn in for that "final drink before the Grayston closes", only in many cases, myself included, to be back the following day. To repeat until it could be repeated no more.... 

There were plenty of "do you remember your first time here?" conversations. Plenty of "do you remember so and so who used to come in before lockdown?", only for so and so to walk in through the door, as if they'd been stood outside listening. The ones who had moved on and who still came back when the opportunity arose. Those who had really, no really, disappeared. Absent friends, we raised a glass. All mixed in with the normal day to day chatter. What were your favourite memories? Funniest moments? Best gig? All floating around as we enjoyed our drinks, eyes flitting around the room every time the door opened. 

Enjoying a final drink....

I do remember the first time. It was a Sunday lunchtime in later May 2016, a few days after the bar had opened, in the week following Halifax Town winning for the first time ever at Wembley, which had kept me somewhat pre-occupied (and shellshocked!) so the Grayston's opening had escaped me until the day before I went. I headed for the town hall, not quite sure where this supposed micro pub was. I wandered up Crossley Street from the bus station and spotted it beside the barrier to the town hall car park in what had been a former electrical shop. I opened the bar, tripped over the step,* and walked in to a narrow room with a small bar at the far end. I ordered a pint of Chinook from Goose Eye brewery which was served to me by a guy with a beard. I seem to remember I didn't particularly enjoy it (to this day I'm not a massive fan of Chinook, but what do I know, thousands of pints of it have been sold here over the years!) but I did enjoy the pint of Reaper from long-gone Keighley brewers Ghost that followed. The guy behind the bar introduced himself as Michael Ainsworth, who had opened the bar with his wife Jess. We got chatting about music as I seem to recall whatever was playing was very much to my taste, and then I took a few photos of the main bar with its quirky decor, and the other small room, which was decorated in a kind of retro-70's style with coffee table, settee, and armchairs, with an old fireplace with a row of books on the mantlepiece and a green acoustic guitar on the wall. I headed off, having had a most enjoyable or so hour in this unusual little place.
That original retro-style lounge at the Grayston Unity

I came back a few days later. And then again. Before I knew it I was a regular. Others were doing the same. Nods gave way to conversation, friendships were formed. Old faces you'd seen for years around the town or at football, words never spoken, long silences now broken. It soon became the meeting place for a community of like-minded people who shared the Ainsworth's view of trying to do something to support the town and communities of the Halifax area. Michael, always a man of many ideas, floating a snippet of a what if here, a plan there, with a trusted customer at the bar. Ideas were hatched and brought to fruition such as the Festival of Words and later the Town Festival which reached out into the community beyond the Grayston's walls. Opportunities for those of us who wanted to get involved.

The original bar at the Grayston

Of course, music has always been a big part of the mix. Michael had been running Doghouse Promotions, and had put on plenty of artists over the years in and around Halifax prior to opening the Grayston. The plan was to stage gigs in the little room away from the bar, which with a capacity of just 18 was the smallest in the country. But the likes of Nadine Shah and the late Michael Chapman played in there, as did a host of others such as one of the now rising stars of the folk scene, Katie Spencer, who played several wonderful gigs here. 

My favourite gig though remains one that was based in the yard out the back; a magical Bank Holiday Sunday 5 years ago when a nascent Working Men's Club were trumped by a brilliant set from the Blue Orchids. I also have fond memories of one wet and dismal winter's afternoon when there were only one or two in the bar including Michael. We got talking about the legendary Richard Dawson and one of his songs which had a reference to Halifax; next thing the near 12 minutes of 'The Vile Stuff' was playing out over the pub speakers, hardly the music the unsuspecting expected to hear as they walked in from their day's toil....

Outdoors, if the weather was right, a visit to the Grayston was wonderful. Very few places in Halifax town centre have scope for outdoor drinking. So gigs in the back yard on a sunny Sunday afternoon, watching from the car park, or an early evening sat at one of the tables on the terrace suntrap beside the town hall, with the sun still high before its inevitable drop behind the mellow sandstone of the facing buildings. There were countless times that I walked through from the bus station to be greeted by familiar but reddening occupants of the assembled tables delaying my visit to the bar.

Back to the people. Lockdown brought home the fact that the Grayston had become more than just a bar. As we were forced to stay in our homes, Michael set up a Zoom channel where we used to meet for quizzes every week, with regular gigs on a Sunday afternoon from musicians who'd played at the Grayston before, which helped give some structure to our enforced routines. And funnily enough, I met people on those Zoom calls that I had not met in the bar that became good friends once we were allowed to mingle. 

And then the wall came down. Despite its lovely cosiness, the Grayston did have its limitations in the size of gigs it could put on and so the availability of lockdown funding from various bodies enabled work to take place so the building could be opened up and the gig capacity increased to 55 when they were finally allowed to take place again. Even this last weekend you could hear someone say there used to be a wall there. It wasn't to everybody's liking, of course, but it made practical and economic sense, and despite the open views it still looked like the Grayston with the fireplace, the carpet, and the armchairs, now joined by a threesome of cinema seats replacing the old settee, still there. From the walls above, Nick Cave, Tittz Magee, and a string of horses still maintained a reassuring watchful eye on proceedings, whilst the clock on the wall was right twice a day.

John Bromley playing at the Grayston earlier this year

And to work at the Grayston was to see all its quirkiness in all its glory, up close and personal. The bar, with hardly enough room for one, let alone three and a glass collector. Stuff crammed in to every available spot, the steam from the glasswasher engulfing the till every time the tray was  removed and the warm glasses were left to cool perched precariously on the sink. The sticky floor, the deadly trapdoor, the variable way each hand pump pulled the beer through.

I walked past the Grayston on Monday lunch time, on the way for a pre-football drink (our usual place no longer available), I spotted Michael in the car park. I went in for one last look. Jess was sweeping the floor. It was empty, back to the boards, as if locusts had passed through; the bottles behind the bar were gone, furniture was gone, the carpet was gone, the posters and pictures that adorned the walls had gone, moved by a group of volunteers who'd cleared the place out to the new home over the morning. And that was it; the place that had had a big impact on so many of us had finally closed. So many memories. But it is the end of a chapter, not the end of the story.

And that next chapter begins in a few weeks in the new home on Horton Street....

*This may or may not be true

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic


Popular posts from this blog

A Calder Valley Ale Trail - UPDATED December 2023

The essential guide to the pubs and bars that line the railways in the towns and villages of the beautiful Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, an area which has a lot to offer and captivate the visitor. Here's the latest, updated version.... The original Rail Ale Trail heads through the Pennines from Dewsbury through Huddersfield to Stalybridge, or vice versa, depending on your starting point. Made famous by Oz Clarke and James May on a TV drinking trip around Britain several years ago, it reached saturation point on weekends to such an extent that lager and shorts were banned by some pubs and plastic glasses introduced to the hordes of stag dos, hen parties, and fancy-dressed revellers that invaded the trans-Pennine towns and villages. There are some great pubs en route and whilst things have calmed down from a few years ago, they can still get very busy on a summer Saturday in particular. However, only a few miles away to the north, there is another trail possible which takes in s

1872 And All That....

News has broken over the past few days that Elland Brewery, famous for their 1872 Porter which was voted the Champion Beer Of Britain in 2023 have ceased trading. And with other breweries also struggling, the upheavals I wrote about last month are showing no signs of letting up.... I was out with some friends last Saturday afternoon, celebrating one of our number's birthday. With the drinks and conversation flowing as we enjoyed a most enjoyable catch up, we were joined by another friend who mentioned that he'd been out a little earlier and had heard a story from a good source in one of the local pubs that Elland Brewery who, a mere 6 months ago had won Champion Beer of Britain at the Great British Beer Festival for their flagship 1872 Porter, had gone bust. During a break in the conversation, I scoured Google for news about Elland Brewery. Nothing, apart from that win at the GBBF last year. I mentioned it to a couple of people when I was working at the Meandering Bear in Halif