I stumbled upon this bar by accident, it never used to be there, and I might have walked right past it if Mrs C hadn’t pointed it out. Usually, I don’t like making my mind up about a new place, especially when it’s only been open for four days. However good you are there’s always teething problems that need sorting out.
My first criticism would be, it’s not apparent this is a bar selling beer. The logo in the window reads ‘Starling Independent Beer and Coffee House’ and my eye was drawn to the visually, to me anyway, more prominent wording saying ‘Coffee House’. Peering through the windows, I could see some hand pulls atop the bar, and it was case of nothing ventured nothing gained, so we walked in for a look see.
I’d never been to Jakes Cafe or The Walrus and Carpenter, which were previous incarnations of the premises on Oxford St, but the first impression is, someone’s put a lot of money in here. The entire fit out, modern, simple, woody, light and airy, is tasteful and of high quality.
The second impression is the word ‘Beer’ on the logo needs to be much bolder to reflect what is on offer inside. Long term, I don’t think there’s a problem here, word of mouth will ensure people soon get to know there are ten keg lines and six cask lines on. Okay, the keg lines include a cider and three decent lagers, and one of the cask lines is Black Sheep Bitter, but the rest of them … pretty cool, I thought.
Joking apart, there’s something for everyone here. The cask lines had a Yorkshire dominated line up, including local brewers Roosters Little Bird, and Harrogate Pinewoods Pale, Voodoo Mild from Great Heck, the Bad Seed Cascade that I went for, plus the offcomed, but usually excellent, Hawkshead Windermere Pale.
The nice lady behind the bar was very careful to draw quite a bit of ale through the line before she served my drink. I was a little perplexed, but she explained they were experiencing a plasticky newness in the beer from where it had been sat in the brand new lines. She offered me the jug and I could just about smell it. This is one of the reasons I like to wait a while until a new place gets going. Having said that, the care and attention shown to this was very reassuring. Not only did the staff know and realise there was a QC issue, they were open about it, going out of their way to resolve it, and making sure I got a nice drink. I rated my cask ale as Good/Very Good.
Cask prices ranged from £3.20 to £4.05 for the Bad Seed beer I had, but there were three beers under £3.40 a pint which I thought was reasonable. However, Mrs C went for broke with the Atom/Northern Alchemy collaboration Kombucha Soured Yuzu & Himalayan Pink Sea Salt Gose at the equivalent of £7.20 a pint. Worth it? For a funky, seasidey ozoney, amongst many other tastes, bit sharp, slightly sour and very different (if you only normally drink Black Sheep!) beer? I’d say it was well worth the experience. The other keg lines were equally interesting, including Black Sheep Pathfinder at £5.30 a pint! They even had my old favourite, Roosters Baby Faced Assassin, priced at 10p short of a sick squid. This may have been responsible pricing for this very easy drinking 6.1% beer as Harrogate can get a bit lairy at weekends. Personally, I thought it was all the money.
As well as the beers, there’s a similar quality focus on the Coffee House side of things. All the beans are from Huddersfield based coffee roasters, Dark Woods, and there was an interesting ‘Coffee of the day’, a theme which presumably changes daily. In terms of food there are fresh pizzas, platters and other light options available. I would have liked to speak to the very helpful and pleasant staff to learn a little bit more, but they were really busy when we popped in on Saturday afternoon, so I didn’t really get chance to chat to them.
If you decide to call in, don’t be put off by the press of people around the bar, there is plenty of seating upstairs; it’s a bit like the Tardis. I really liked the existence of a family friendly room, appropriately and brightly decorated with child specific bits and pieces like toys, smaller chairs and baby seats. If this room isn’t for you then there’s a totally separate, more sombre, grown up room, at the front of the building. Again, just like the beer list, a bit of something for everyone, and they do table service upstairs. The acid test for me here would be how long does it take to get a drink?
Overall, this is an excellent example of a modern Café style bar. It would be though, the man behind it all is Simon Midgley, ex director at Market Town Taverns and Ossett Brewery, two companies who know how to do things properly, and MTT long ago nailed the ‘pub/bar for everyone’ concept to my mind. If you’re wondering why there’s a photo of a flock of swirling starlings stencilled onto the bare brick wall of the bar area, the collective noun is the name of Mr Midgley’s company.
I know a lot of people are precious about the good old fashioned ‘rub a dub’, I include myself here. Thing is, if I were putting my money into the hospitality trade then it would be going into some sort of, nearly a pub, more than a coffee bar, with food, that’s not quite a restaurant, serving quality cask, keg ales and everything else, that has something for everyone, at all times and different times of the day; especially in the middle of Harrogate.
Verdict: Places like this that have just opened up are always busy with nosey folk; they’re compelled just got to go and have a look. Long term, I reckon this venue will continue to thrive and attract all sorts of discerning people, long after the novelty has worn off.