Bars and Pubs and Clubs

Dada bar in Sheffield.

Last week, we interviewed the founders and owners of North Bar in Leeds, arguably the first ‘craft beer bar’ in the UK, and, in the course of our conversation, asked: ‘So, what makes this a bar rather than a pub?’ After much head-scratching, they had to admit defeat: they didn’t know. ‘But we know a bar when we see one.’

Here’s a quiz, then: are the following bars, or pubs, or something else?

  1. Dada, Sheffield
  2. Craft Beer Company, Islington, London
  3. Craft Beer Company, Clerkenwell, London
  4. The Parcel Yard, Kings Cross, London
  5. any branch of All Bar One.

A pub has to sell beer, but then so do most bars. A bar is more likely to sell cocktails, but some don’t, and some pubs do. Pubs are more likely to be brown, while bars will have white/cream/grey walls, but white-painted pubs and brown bars do exist… no, this isn’t getting us anywhere.

In the introduction to her 2002 book Bar and Club Design, Bethan Ryder defines bars as follows:

They are modern, spectacular forums, underpinned by the ideas of display and performance, rather than utilitarian, more casual places in which people meet, drink and gossip — such as the pub…

We’re not sure that works — North felt pretty casual, for example, but is definitely a bar. She also, however, says this in attempting to define the nightclub: ‘…to a certain extent they have always been whatever a… pub is not.’ Now that, vague as it is, might work as a definition of a bar.

As, perhaps, might this: a pub should always feel as if it is in the British Isles; whereas a bar should feel as if it is in Manhattan, Stockholm, Moscow or Paris.

If you think you’ve got it cracked, let us know in the comments below.

Our answers would be 1) bar; 2) pub; 3) bar; 4) something else; and 5) chain pub with pretensions.

Beer history pubs real ale

A Pub from a David Peace Novel

As more than one commentator has pointed out, the news in the UK at the moment — police corruption at the time of Hillsborough and during the Miners’ Strike, the Jimmy Savile abuse scandal — is straight out of the work of Yorkshire-born crime novelist David Peace. On the blogging and writing front, too, we have our heads firmly buried in the 1970s, which only adds to the strangeness.

Peace popped into our heads in particular as we found ourselves researching early post-CAMRA ‘real ale pubs’. (That is, a new type of multi-tap freehouse that emerged to capitalise on the ‘real ale craze’ of the mid-to-late seventies.) An early example, from c.1976, seems to have been the Brahms & Liszt on East Parade in Leeds which was at least part-owned by a consortium of Leeds United players — presumably some of the very same players depicted in Peace’s The Damned United. It was in the basement of Devereux House, the upstairs floors being occupied by a chicken-in-a-basket nightclub with the same owners and the splendidly period name ‘The Nouveau’.

The B&L is in the 1978 Good Beer Guide with (we think) an offer of ten real ales and one ‘real cider’. Former barman Chris Martin, who worked there in 1976, told us that ”There were other pubs in Leeds that sold real ale but this was the first time I had seen a long bar filled with so many strange ones.’ We also know that, from around 1977, Martin Sykes and the Selby Brewery produced a special bottled pale ale for them.

The B&L closed in the 1980s and Devereux House was demolished in around 1990.

When we read lists of famous mid-70s real ale pubs, we hear about the Barley Mow near St Albans, the Hole in the Wall at Waterloo and maybe Becky’s Dive Bar, but never this place. Are there any other pubs like this from beyond London and the Home Counties, from 1976 or earlier, that we should know about?

This seemed like another good opportunity to share the Ian Nairn clip above...

beer reviews pubs

A swift one in Leeds

We had a bit of time to kill Leeds between trains on our way back from Haworth and so found ourselves at The Pin on Dock Street. It’s one of the outlets for the relatively new Leeds Brewery and a loungy, brunchy cafe-bar. It isn’t a pub and, if we hadn’t been hungry and stopped to look at the menu in the window, we wouldn’t have noticed it especially.

The food was posh pub grub and excellent value for money at that, with a special mention for the best battered fish we’ve had in ages.

We tried one each of the Leeds Best Bitter (biscuity, brown and likeable) and Pale (a cracker — spicy, flowery with a lingering hop aftertaste).

There were Some interesting bottles (Brooklyn, Liefmans Kriek) but also a lot of pretentious ‘world lager’ like Cusquena and Pacifico.

We think it’s really great to see a different, more European model of boozer working in the UK — not everything has to be a pub or even a compromised pub.

We also stumbled upon their brewery tap on the way to catch our train and popped in there, too. This is more like a pub, albeit a would-be trendy one, and with a lot more beer on offer, including Midnight Bell, Leeds’ “premium dark mild”. It was OK but by no means a competitor to Timothy Taylor’s mild. Leodis, their lager, was off — shame.