Generally, I’m in favour of progress, improvements, making things better. That goes for pubs and bars, as well as anything else. Having said that, I’m also a bit of a traditionalist, with the over riding caveat of all things in moderation.
The latest news about one of Leeds’ oldest public houses has got me seriously worried though. On Saturday 30th January the renowned Whitelock’s (est. 1715) is set to fully open a Cocktail, Spirit and Craft beer bar in the old function room. From what I can gather the unused top part of the pub has been redesigned as ‘The Turks Head bar’, nomenclature borrowed from the 300 year old pub’s original name and location in Turks Head Yard.
I guess now some will be saying, ‘What a hypocrite. He’s always going on about how good these new bars are!’
My retort to this would be that I’m still a big fan of traditional, well kept boozers. There’s a place for many different styles and although the pub/bar environment is changing, I don’t think that the two mix. Yeah, transform some redundant loft style space into a bar, put some decent products on and it works. I’m a bit sceptical about trying to jump on the band wagon and create something new out of an existing traditional architectural and cultural gem.
I wonder what Sir John Betjeman would have thought? The 1968 documentary A poet goes North showcases the pub (about 12 minutes in) and although it has had it’s ups and downs, and is no longer the traditional ‘dining rooms’ that it was, it still retains much of the charm that Betjeman hits on. I was last in a couple of weeks before Christmas and they had a good range of real ales on, something to suit the traditional bitter drinker, as well as several more hop forward styles. Probably something to do with the current owner being Ed Mason of Five Points brewing.
I guess that time will tell, but I’m seriously worried that Mr Mason is going a little too far and that the old and modern won’t gel? There’s no doubt they are trying hard as Lord Whitney ‘Connoisseurs of Make Believe’ are the designers of the new bar. Their tag line and web site says it all for me; trendy, quirky and cool. All really good, but not what Whitelock’s needs.
Gut feeling? I’m up for a Five Points brewing flag ship in Leeds and looking at the current city centre scene it will succeed as licensed premises, but for me it sounds like the beginning of the end for what Betjeman, and many others prized.