Thursday, February 15, 2007

North Bar, Leeds: From Hell to Heaven via Pink Floyd

It’s Sunday, just after one o’clock, on a typical may day in Leeds. Outside, rain is battering the pavement, and inside I’m draining a bottle of Anchor Porter. There are few places I would rather be than North Bar.

Fact: North Bar is one of the best places to drink in Leeds. It’s easily my favourite, anyway, at least in the ‘city bar’ stakes, anyway. However, I didn’t always feel this way; in fact, the first three or four times I visited it I hated it. ‘It’s full of pretentious idiots’ I would moan, ‘…and I only like about two of the fifty or so beers they have there’. In those days (many, many moons ago) , all I knew about ‘World Beers’ was that they were all weird, cloudy beverages with enough alcohol in them to strip paint. ‘Too strong to drink all night…’ I would complain, as my friends got more and more smashed as the prospect of yet another early night due to the alcoholic horrors of North Bar loomed.

This was my opinion of North Bar circa the turn of the century. For a couple of years I stayed clear, and then, inevitably, I got into food, wine and beer -I mean really got into food, wine and beer. I discovered a whole world of boozing that didn’t even acknowledge the horrors of ‘Generic Beers’ and ‘Alcopops’; a world where taste and pleasure were the main reasons for drinking, and getting drunk was a happy side-effect of this. The world of fast-food drinking and chain-bars was one I had left behind, and I was never going to look back.

I found a small, yet highly trained crack team of aficionados to share this epiphany with. I became enamoured with American craft breweries in particular, and slowly, but surely, decided to go back to North.

Home, Home Again...
Rediscovering North was like that third or fourth spin of Dark Side of the Moon – where it al clicks into place. You realise that what you have is a masterpiece, not because of individual performances, but al the little things added up. North is the drinking equivalent of DSOTM; mysterious and pretentious to the uninitiated, adored by the regulars and the people who hold it as a benchmark for modern drinking. I was wrong, but now I am right.

I wonder if Bigfoot listens Pink Floyd?
Ok, the reasons why North is great;

Rotation. Every time I go (on average once a week), there is an element of surprise – a new beer on tap, two new bottles in the fridges, ones I haven’t yet tried. Given the amount of beer I have tried/know about, this is some achievement.

They have their own beer – North Bar Ale. It’s brewed by the Outlaw Brewing Co, and comes in an old-school glass tankard with those square knobbly bits on. It’s great – smooth and too drinkable for its own good. Tastes like Tim Taylor Landlord but fruitier. Lovely, although seasonal.

Staff. Always happy, always ready to help you out with your choice of tipple should you come unstuck. Down to earth too – there are a couple of bars in Leeds that must recruit staff on a ‘must be pretentious’ policy. I don’t need my pint of Jever spun around like a top, please.

The Bar itself – come on! No contest. Loads of bottles, at least ten pumps, filled with distinct world beers. All the time. No generic beers ever. Local beers. Fruits, Lambics, and SIERRA NEVADA ON TAP. (Also worth a try is the Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale – at 9% abv it doesn’t hide the alcohol in silk like, say, Duvel, - it kicks you straight in the face with a big, hairy claw.)

Music – never thumping, always tasteful. A few nights ago we had Hendrix tunes played by some jazz band. Folk, World, Jazz, Blues - all the great drinking albums. (Imagine if they played DSOTM - i'd just about lose my mind!)

A great selection of spirits; Hendricks gin, about 6 different rums, I could go on…add to that an Observer Food Monthly “Best Place to drink in Britain” award, along with the other accolades North has garnered throughout the last few years.. Not that I’m all about awards, but it’s not often the press get it so right. If it’s good enough for Nigel Slater, then it’s good enough for me.
Top Five; North Bar

Any Roosters ale - fast becoming a staple, Roosters brew simply fine beers. not tasted a bad one from thier brewhouse yet. light and ultimately quaffable.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap. One of the finest brews to come out of the States, tastes even better on tap.
Anchor Porter: want the taste of stout but none of the heaviness? Then try this. Second only to Sierra Nevada Porter.
Goose Island Honkers’ Ale – always good, wherever. Tastes of caramel and one is never enough.
Little Creatures Pale Ale: Wonderful Aussie brew – clean, crisp, but still manages to pack in a lot of flavour.

Today i am a total beer nerd and i owe it all to North.

24 New Briggate


Anonymous said...

An excellent review of one of the best and longest-living bars in Leeds!

Matt and I were talking the other day about trying to drink every one of the 60+ beers the North Bar have written on their back wall. We reckon that between us, it would take 10 or so visits... ?

It's been too long since we visited. I think it needs a return.

Leigh said...

This sounds like a great idea...!!