The chap who plonked himself down next to me at Whitelock’s Ale House in Leeds looked like he’d had his fill of the city’s shops.
His Primark plastic bag, full of cheap clobber, looked distinctly out of place in a pub with such a rich history. The forlorn expression on his face and the lengthy sigh he exhaled, said it all.
I had no doubt his missus was out there somewhere, gawping at the delights on offer at The Body Shop, Poundland and Claire’s Accessories. But it was clear that this poor chap barely had enough energy left to walk to the bar. He needed to take time out, and what a pub to do it in.
Whitelock’s is slap-bang in the centre of Leeds and is the perfect antidote to the modern hustle and bustle of the city.
With its charm, history, ornate mirrors, colourful stained glass windows and unmissable gleaming copper-plated bar, Whitelock’s is literally a shining example of what a good pub should look like. This 300-year-old boozer hits all those who step through its doors with more POW! THWACK! and BAMM! than a Batman episode.
Among the cornucopia of decorative delights, the wonderfully tiled frontage of the bar and the cosy fireplace are just two of the stand-out features.
The bright colours are complemented perfectly by the dark wooden panels and beams, a prerequisite for any historic old English pub.
I’d be a fool to fault it and that’s despite almost falling arse over tit coming down the steep staircase while looking at the pictures and clippings lining the walls.
This boozer, originally opened as the Turk’s Head in 1715, was the first public house in Leeds.
In 1867 John Lupton Whitelock became the licensee and he was instrumental in adding many of the pub’s aforementioned fixtures and fittings giving it a distinctly Victorian feel. By 1890 the pub became better known as Whitelock’s First Luncheon Bar.
The much-lauded poet, Sir John Betjeman visited the pub in 1968 and compared it to the Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street, London and described it as ‘the very heart of Leeds.’
Today, Whitelock’s broad appeal makes it a treasured part of the Leeds social scene, whether it’s popping in for a quick beer before hitting another nightspot, some special time with the missus or a post-Primark pint to escape the missus.
It also has an impressive arsenal of ales with handpumps featuring local breweries such as Rooster’s, Elland, Ilkley and Saltaire.
I had to squint as I approached the gleaming copper-plated bar to assess the beer situation.
I surveyed all before me before plumping for the light and refreshing Saltaire Rya Ale (4.4%). Made with New Zealand and US hops, it’s a real thirst quencher.
For all its history, Whitelock’s Ale House is not a venue that just stays rooted in the past. In January 2016 it opened a sister venue, just a minute’s walk away. Doffing it’s cap to its origins, the aptly-name Turk’s Head offers a regular turnover of 14 beers from the UK’s vibrant craft brewing scene.
It had been 20 years since my last visit to Leeds and, as you would expect, the city has changed an awful lot in that time.
New bars have sprung up to appeal to modern tastes, but those looking for a more traditional experience should make a beeline for this place. If the missus suggest a shopping trip, then bear Whitelock’s in mind.
THE INNSPECTRE’S SUMMARY
ADDRESS: Whitelock’s Ale House, Turks Head Yard, Leeds LS1 6HB. Call 0113 2453950. Visit whitelocksleeds.com
ATMOSPHERE: *** Busy on a Saturday afternoon with those keen to avoid the chaos of the shops.
SERVICE: ** Efficient. No time for chit-chat.
DECOR: ***** Hard to fault.
SELECTION: ***** Can’t argue with ten ale pumps. If you’re looking for some great Yorkshire ales then you won’t be disappointed.
PRICE: **** £3.15 for a pint of Saltaire Rye Ale represents decent value.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS: Warning: Beware of the steep staircase. On the plus side, this pub has an annual beer festival during the summer and narrow drinking area outside with tables and benches.