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A Few York Classics....

In which I venture on a whistle-stop tour around some of the finest pubs that are to be found in this beautiful and historic North Yorkshire city....

I have visited York twice in the past month. First time was on a day out from Halifax with the team from the Grayston Unity/Meandering Bear on a beautiful winter's day with bright sunshine, blue skies, and bitterly cold temperatures; the second was an overnight stop to see one of the country's top up and coming indie bands, with grey skies on the first day and heavy rain on the second. Whilst due to the number in our party we were only able to visit two or three pubs on that visit, the second did give me the opportunity to do a trawl of several of the city's finest pubs, although it has to be said that because of the number of pubs there are in the city it can only be a snapshot view of  some of them. And as I was reminded, whilst there are several great pubs in the city centre, it is important to bear in mind that it is in the suburbs where some of the city's best pubs are located.

The opening picture shows the interior of the Maltings in an unusually quiet moment, its attractive decor with bare brick walls, dark wood, warm coloured painted walls, and retro signage usually at least part obscured by the many visitors who call in this popular free house with its distinctive black painted exterior on Tanners Moat, just beside the Lendal Bridge. Not surprisingly, they come here for its wide range of cask ales, real cider, and good quality food. In fact before the York Tap opened this was often the first or final stop for a decent pint on a day out to York with the station only a few minutes' walk away. From a choice on this visit of 7 cask ales, most of which were from Yorkshire, I went for one that wasn't, opting instead for a pint of Cheer from the Handsome Brewery, from near Kendal in Cumbria. On a wet and miserable day, this 3.8% dark amber winter warmer with a hint of zesty orange really hit the spot (NBSS 3.5). Going back over the years, the pub was originally called the Railway Tavern, then the Lendal Bridge Inn, with this former Bass house becoming the Maltings when it was bought by the current landlord's mother in 1992. There is currently, however, some uncertainty over the pub's future as the current owner decided last year it was time to let someone have a go as the family have spent over 30 years at the pub. Initially listed with an asking price of £1.5 million, it has recently been reduced to £1.35 million and it is to be hoped that the Maltings' future is resolved positively and it remains one of the city's fine real ale outlets.

I was staying at the Travelodge in Micklegate, which meant I was handily placed for many of the city's classic pubs. The Maltings was one of them, but the nearest was actually the Ackhorne, tucked away down a quiet walkway off Micklegate, beside one of the main places of worship that are dotted about the city centre. The last time I had been here was in that weird interregnum between the two lockdowns we had in 2020, when it was social distancing and sitting down at separate tables. This time the pub was very busy, a complete contrast to last time, with all the tables in sight occupied, with a few stragglers finishing off plates of a Sunday roast. A pint of Jorvik was ordered from a choice of 6 beers on hand pump and I found a seat in a corridor-like space to the rear of the bar. The Ackhorne (an old English word for acorn, which is depicted on the hanging sign outside) is an attractive traditional pub with an open plan interior and a warm, friendly atmosphere which is well worth seeking out. The beer was in good form (NBSS 3), and as I am sure you will know, Jorvik is a 3.8% blonde session ale from the Rudgate brewery, who are based nearby in the Vale of York.

The Ackhorne; a warm welcome awaits

I moved on to a pub I had never visited before, although I had walked past it on a previous visit to the city when it was closed. Situated on a quiet suburban street corner, in the midst of terraced houses that were built for the many in the city who were employed by the railways, the Golden Ball is a Grade II listed community local with an attractive exterior and several different rooms inside which retain many traditional features including open fires. A former Jo#n $m!ths house, this Victorian pub is now of free of tie, and offers a range of up to 7 beers on hand pump. The pub was fairly busy with a wide mix of customers of all ages as I walked through in to the bar where I ordered a pint of the 4.6% Winter Warmer from Great Newsome, which I drunk in a quiet room away from the bar with only a few other customers as companions. The beer was a pleasant, well-balanced amber beer (NBSS 3), and I enjoyed drinking it whilst taking in the ambience of this lovely suburban pub. The Golden Ball is well worth seeking out for its warm welcome and its beer.

The Golden Ball; well worth seeking out

It was a few minutes' walk from the Golden Ball to another pub I had never visited before, although it has been one of the city's top-rated real ale pubs for many a year. The Slip on Clementhorpe is another attractive pub situated in a quiet area of the city where ships were once built alongside the River Ouse. I walked in to a small front room where the bar was situated, and noticed a larger room beyond the bar. There were 8 hand pumps on the bar, and once it was my turn to get served, I went for a pint of the Ruby Mild from Rudgate, which at 4.4% is somewhat stronger than your average mild. It was in fine form, well-balanced, rich, and delicious (NBSS 3.5), and as I enjoyed it I watched Newport County come back from 2-0 down to make if 2-2 against the mighty Manchester United in the FA Cup on a TV screen in the larger room. Another top pub, the Slip has the feel of a friendly local but from this visit it seems that it attracts a wide range of different people. A lovely pub with many interesting features and photos from years gone by on display, it is well worth the short detour to get there. 

The Slip Inn

At the corner of the same road as the Slip is another classic pub. I had visited the Swan previously, and whilst time was moving on and I had a gig to go to, after a little deliberation with myself, I decided to have a quick stop off here since I was in the area, remembering how good it had been when I had been before. And I am glad that I did. I walked in to a cracking atmosphere, the pub was busy with an eclectic mix of people whilst the bar had 8 beers on hand pump. The pub has another classic interior with several rooms leading off the lobby entrance and like the Golden Ball is Grade II listed. I decided to go for a pint of Summer Lightning from Hop Back which I hadn't seen for ages and I was not disappointed. This is an easy-drinking well-balanced refreshing pale golden ale which hides its 5% ABV well (although I'm sure it was once 5.3%), and it was in fantastic form worthy, I thought, of a 4 rating on the NBSS scale. As the pub was busy I ended up sitting at one of a few tables in the lobby opposite the bar to enjoy my pint and the ambience of yet another great pub. The Swan proved to be a very welcome diversion.

The Swan; a classic suburban York pub

I had time for a quick pint at a pub nearer to the Crescent, where the gig was taking place, but with time moving on I decided to get an Uber to take me to the Volunteer Arms. It was probably about a mile and a half away, tucked away down a quiet side street. Another first time visit for me, and another traditional street corner pub that was rescued following the threat of closure. There were 7 hand pumps on the bar (they give you plenty of choice in York!), and I opted for a half of a beer from a brewery I had not come across before, Knee High, a 3.5% pale ale from a new brewery in Derbyshire called Grasshopper. It was pleasant enough (NBSS 3), but to be fair it couldn't really compete with the last two beers I'd had. The Volunteers though was a friendly and welcoming traditional pub and it being a Sunday night, they were all gearing up for the regular quiz they hold here. From there it was around 10 minutes' walk to the gig where highly-rated indie band English Teacher played a brilliant set to a highly-appreciative crowd.

The Volunteer Arms; another great pub

Next day, it was rain, rain, and more rain. The day though did start with an excellent breakfast of scrambled eggs with chorizo on sourdough toast at Partisan, a lovely cafe/restaurant and art gallery with a great vibe, and which I can highly recommend. Back to the hotel, and it was a case of working out what options I had. As is the norm on a Monday, many museums and galleries are shut, with one that was supposedly open, the Railway Museum, presumably affected by flooding on the road where it is situated. So it was a case of wandering around, a pot of tea here, stick your head in there. Even the Shambles and the streets around the Minster were quiet.

I had earmarked the Minster Inn on Marygate, somewhere I had never visited before and a short walk from Bootham Bar, as the first pub to call in. However, despite the Good Beer Guide app saying it would be open, when I arrived on this soggy Monday lunchtime I was greeted by a handwritten note in the window saying Open 4pm Mondays. Cold rain dripped off the hood of my jacket on to the side of my face....

House of The Trembling Madness on Lendal was open (on the previous trip when we were on our staff do I had thought it a good option to call in, but it had ironically been closed for a staff party!), and was very welcoming as well. And to show the gods hadn't entirely stopped smiling on this godforsaken wet day, there was the welcome sight of a Two By Two beer on cask. And whilst not quite matching the beer of theirs I'd enjoyed in the Mean Eyed Cat in Newcastle a few weeks earlier, this 4.5% Sabro Citra was a cracking beer in great condition (NBSS 4) and I debated long and hard with myself as to whether I should get another. In the end, I didn't, but once again I'd enjoyed visiting this great modern bar which as well as selling cask beer has a great range on the taps. There is another HOTTM btw, the original one, located across the city on Stonegate.

Please note: photo taken on a previous visit

I headed off then to the Market Cat, which is a collaboration between Thornbridge and York-based drinks distribution company Pivovar, situated beside the Shambles Market. It is a fine pub which has been attractively fitted out and offers a large range of Thornbridge beers plus a few guests. It had gone down well on our staff visit, the large seating area around the area to the front of the bar being able to accommodate our large number and we consequently stayed for a few drinks. Today it was much quieter, a few Monday early afternoon drinkers enjoying the atmosphere of this friendly pub. My pint of Green Mountain, a 4.3% hazy pale from Thornbridge was a pretty enjoyable NBSS 3.

It was then a short walk to one of the city's finest and best-known pubs. The Blue Bell on Fossgate is also one of the smallest, with two small rooms to the front and rear of the bar off a long drinking corridor. It feels intimate, there is a charming, timeless clutter about the place which apparently hasn't been decorated since 1903! It is recognised as having an interior of national importance and is another of York's Grade II listed pubs. CAMRA citations cover the walls as befits a serial award winner. There are 7 beers on hand pump which are generally from within Yorkshire with a house ale from Brass Castle. It is a place for quiet and civilised conversation; the tightly-packed tables and lack of piped music encourage you to strike up conversation with your neighbouring table. There is a sign on the door saying groups aren't allowed (needless to say we didn't attempt to come here on our staff visit!) and the Blue Bell remains all the better for it; a quiet oasis away from the bustle of the streets outside. I ordered a pint of Wold Top Bitter, and as has been the case whenever I have visited before, the beer was in excellent condition (NBSS 3.5). I resisted the temptation of the pork pies that were staring out seductively from within their glass container, but I can confirm from previous visits they are excellent. The Blue Bell is an absolute cracker and one you shouldn't miss when you are in the city.

The Blue Bell: a must-visit when you are in the city

And before I knew it, it was time to head back through the rain towards the station to catch my train home. The station is though home to the York Tap and no visit to the city is complete without stopping off here. As you would expect being located where it is, it welcomes an ever-changing clientele who either have just arrived in the city or are just about to leave. So it can get quite busy at times, and has long opening hours, lifting the latch at 10am every day except Sunday when it is 11am, and stays open until 11 every night. It is based in a former Victorian tearoom, opened as a bar in 2010, and has many attractive features including stained glass ceiling domes and a terrazzo floor. The large central bar serves a range of 18 cask beers, plus a large selection of keg and bottled beers. Many of the beers are from Yorkshire, such as Taylors and their own Tapped brewery in Sheffield, but other beers come from further away, from such as Arbor and Bristol Beer Factory from Bristol, Anarchy from Newcastle, and Thornbridge (Derbyshire). On this occasion I enjoyed a pint of the 3.9% New Zealand Pale from another Derbyshire brewer, Shiny (NBSS 3).

The York Tap; it all starts and ends here

And then it was back on the train to Halifax. I had visited some excellent pubs in this beautiful and historic city, but there were plenty of others where I hadn't made it, which will no doubt prompt some of you to come up with your own suggestions. Which of course gives me a great excuse to return to York in the not too distant future....

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  1. Brilliant pics and commentary, Chris, and the sort of NBSS scores I'd expect, without a dud there. Two by Two can do no wrong, can they ?

    You refer to the "mighty" Manchester United, I see irony is not dead ;-)

    1. Thanks, Martin! Two by Two are making some wonderful beers at the moment and it is good to see them cropping up in more places. And yes, irony is certainly alive and well in these parts!


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