Although part of a provincial mainline railway station, York Tap looks almost like it should be sat at the end of a Victorian seaside pier. A sort of wood panelled, beigey-pink pavilion, complete with lead covered domes and fancy gilded finials. Alighting from a train on platform 4, this ‘out of place’ feeling becomes magnified. Okay, a Beer House on a station platform isn’t that unusual, there’s one at Sheffield, Harrogate, Dewsbury has a good ‘un and Huddersfield’s got two, not forgetting Stalybridge. There’s probably lots of others I’ve never been to, and lots of bars at stations that aren’t actually quite on the platform.
York tap is part of the Pivovar group, a York based company who coincidentally run several of the station boozers named above: York, Harrogate, Sheffield and the, just outside the station, sentinels at Euston, even Tapped Leeds is only a short crawl from City Station. I’m a big fan of their bars, not just for the iconic locations, more for the beer; quality, range and diversity.
I only visited York tap to meet up with Mark Stredwick of Brewtown Brewery Tours. His York brewery tours all start and end at York Tap, which is as good a place as I can think of to start a brewery tour! I wasn’t getting picked up until 12.30pm, so I made sure I got there in enough time to enjoy a nice half. There were only four or five other folk in when I walked up to the bar. Both of the staff were busying themselves cleaning shelves and bottling up, they’d only been open an hour and obviously hadn’t had many people in, on what was a damp May Tuesday morning. York CAMRA members had obviously enjoyed their afternoon out with Brewtown Brewery Tours, judging by the several pages in their Ouse Boozer magazine, which I’d picked up from amongst the various beer mags display.
Anticipating a long afternoon I decided a half of Roosters Weakender (3%) was appropriate, a surprisingly tasty beer for the ABV. With thirty two draught beers on, including eighteen cask ales and a hand pulled cider, I reckoned I was probably the first person that morning to go for the Roosters. Whether I was, or not, the beer was spot on, no evidence of being stood in the neck end of the line all night. I rated it as 3.5 on WhatPub app, and if there was a 3.5 + I would have gone for that. Thinking about it, I’ve never had anything other than well kept ales in any of the Tap(ped) pubs.
In terms of the range then expect anything and everything; cutting edge brews from renowned brewers, traditional solid beers from quality brewers, decent european style draught beers, fridges full of interesting things and thankfully nothing at all from Marston’s PLC, or Greene King, or anything else of that ilk. And of course their own Tapped Brewing beers, quite a few of which have recently received a bit of a tweak by Dave Sanders who now oversees the brewing operation. Prices varied from £3.10 for their own Golden ale (3.9%), rising to £4.10 for Hardknott Intergalactic Space Hopper (5.2%), having said that half of the cask beers on when I was there were under £3.50.
Sitting in a quiet pub gives you time to mull things over, work things out: Did I get the right day for the brewery tour will it stop raining doesn’t matter Mark’s got a smart little mini bus wonder who she is nice to see single women can be confident in a pub which is the best Tap pub (on a station platform/concourse) then?
Out of all of them, this has got to be my favourite. A lot of people will remember the building being the York Model Railway exhibition for many years. The tasteful renovation remembers the original purpose as a Victorian tea rooms. They’ve really done it very well, and despite it being open six years or so now, it’s stood the test of time and they’ve kept it well maintained.
I know the other branches have the marbled floors, the stained glass and the beer; the stained glass here is exceptional, just look up at the skylights. There’s just something about York Tap that sets it apart: The island bar. The soft rumble of the London train pulling into the station. The light falling through the expansive windows. The feeling of expectation, even if you’ve just popped in for a quick pint, something that’s enhanced by being able to walk in off the street, sink a swift one, then out the back door onto the platform to board the next train to wherever. Thinking about it, it’s actually got two front doors, both entering into some liminal space occupied by transient people from one side or the other, who are neither stable, nor temporary, and often both.
Visitors from the landside should be encouraged to step out onto the platform of the grand Victorian station, which sits half way between London and Edinburgh, where the East Coast Mainline crosses the East-West Trans Pennine line. The magnificent curved glass and iron arched roof is the equal of any, and quite fitting for an important railway city like York. There’s also been a similar, interesting conversion of the old signal box at the end of the footbridge, which is now a Costa coffee shop.
If you’re ever on a train travelling North to South, or East to West, and got a bit of time on your hands, then York Tap is a really good excuse to break your journey for an hour. If you’re visiting the National railway museum you can cut through the station and call in. If you’re visiting York specifically to sample it’s varied selection of very good pubs and bars then it’s a must and you’ll see many groups of beer tourists calling in. Of course, a lot of people don’t need a specific excuse, locals with newspapers, travellers cursively glancing at watches whilst pretending to do some urgent work on their lap top, beer lovers enjoying a decent pint. The only caveat is steer clear of York on Friday or Saturday nights and any day there’s a race meeting on. York’s a lovely place, full of history and character, but sadly, at the times specified, it can get a bit leery. I’m not saying that as a grumpy fifty something year old neither, it’s been like that as long as I can remember.
Verdict: York Tap, best station bar in the Pivovar portfolio by a mile and just a good place to be.