Garden Gate, Leeds
There’s no indication that we have to, but if we did, we should fight tooth and nail for the life of this extraordinary Leeds landmark pub. It’s 30 years since I set foot inside the place and I’m ashamed it’s taken so long for me to rediscover its charms. Previous (or for all I know, current) customers include poet Tony Harrison and painter Norman Ackroyd. Mark Knopfler (pre-Dire Straits) allegedly led the local campaign in the 70’s to save it. It’s subsequently been awarded a Grade 11* listing which pretty much secures it for the nation, so we won’t have to march with placards after all.
It’s not easy to find this handsome, glazed russet-tiled Victorian ‘gin palace’, stuck as it is in the middle of the mundane Whitfield estate at the back of the Penny Hill Shopping Centre in downtown Hunslet. It was surrounded by back to backs last time I clapped eyes on it, which suited its demeanour better, but hey, that’s progress for you. Reading the pub’s colourful history on the website, we’re told that previous owners include, in 1878, Jabez Schofield and Jasper Boswell, Wine & Spirit Merchants, presumably moonlighting from a Gilbert & Sullivan production.
The Holbeck-based Leeds Brewery took control in 2010, and as you step in to the tiled hall and glimpse the etched glass panelled rooms, you realise it’s in a very safe pair of hands. The interior is astonishing. The ornate tiles, mosaic floors and moulded ceilings take your breath away. In the words of English Heritage ‘the level of intactness throughout is unusually high and nationally very rare’.
The taciturn barman raises an eyebrow as I prowl around. ‘Lost your way, have you?’ ‘Er, no, but it took me a while to find you’. ‘Where’ve you come from?’ ‘Halifax’. ‘Nothing much goes on in Halifax, does it’ he deadpans. A local tells me to not take any notice; he’s the same with everyone. He throws me a chummy wink.
Cheerful manager Michelle tells me the folk nights (Wednesdays) are busy, with sessions spilling into several rooms, and the Friday quiz is gaining popularity. It’s darts & doms on Mondays, if that’s your bag.
But to the beer. There’s a terrific choice, including Marstons King of Swing (named after cricketer James Anderson), Leeds Brewery Pale Ale and Best, Yorkshire Blonde from Ossett Brewery and Bombadier Glorious English, with Rudgate Ruby Mild bringing up the rear. It’s beautifully kept and goes down a treat with a homemade steak and ale pie (a snip at £6.40). Also on the menu (everything’s made from scratch in the tiny kitchen) you’ll find the likes of cottage pie, chicken curry, Yorkshire puds filled with corned beef hash (mmm) and gammon and eggs. The prices are ungrasping and the portions generous.
It’s essential to preserve and support historic pubs like the Garden Gate. Turn a blind eye to the incongruous setting and bathe in the warm glow of ‘lavish tiling, faience and etched glass with art nouveau motifs, ornate mahogany fitments’ – oh and great beer and good grub.