I went to have a look at what’s been done with the Cardigan Arms, LS4 in advance of the public opening on Saturday 6th October. If I said they’ve done nothing to the place I’d be lying, but that’s sort of what’s happened. Yes it’s had a lick of paint, lots of TLC, some routine maintenance, and plenty of interesting breweriana put up. But, apart from that it’s been totally left alone!
All the Victorian etched glass and screens have been preserved, the various little rooms and the heavy wooden bar, and everything else that makes it such a wonderful place. I think they’d call it a sympathetic makeover in interior designer speak, and I reckon Buffalo Bill will still recognise it as the hotel he (reputedly) stayed in when he visited Leeds. Either way, it’s very impressive and a worthy update to this CAMRA National Inventory listed Heritage Pub.
When I first heard a campaign group was setting up to save Grade two listed pub, I became a bit worried. Sound bites like ‘Greene King’, ‘selling’, ‘flats’ and ‘developers’ were flying round. Public meetings were organised and although local papers stopped short of ‘Save The Cardigan Arms’ headlines, they reported that seventy five people held a meeting back in January where they decided to pursue a community buyout.
I’ve nothing against community run pubs, in principle it sounds like a good idea. They’d got a commercial partner backing them on a 50/50 funding basis, and a crowdfunding project to raise £150K; the communities half of the reported £295K asking price. The commercial partner, Moody Pubs, are an existing small pub company who own the excellent Wapentake’s premises on Kirkgate, LS2.
If I’m honest, I think there was a bit of ‘cry wolf’ going on, because when it all came out there were three viable bids on the table; the community group, an unnamed bidder and Kirkstall Brewery.
In the end everything turned out well, as Greene King decided to sell to Kirkstall Brewery who have a proven track record with three times LeedsCAMRA Pub of The Year Winner, the Kirkstall Bridge, LS5 (POTY 2014, 15 & 16 – runners up in 2017). There is an ‘aside’ here; why did Greene King ever let this magnificent gem of a pub get so run down in the first place? It says so much to me about the attitudes of GK, and all the big players in the pub and brewing game.
‘Mr Kirkstall Brewery’, Steve Hoult, was busy greeting people at the soft launch on the Thursday evening. He said he was really pleased with the acquisition and was looking forward to the full opening. The beers were spot on, as expected, and the curries from the Sheesh Mahal Restaurant, which is about 50yds further down the road, were superb.
Everyone I spoke to thought the make over had been done really well. The only complaint I heard was about the gents, which is still very original. I had to think about that one, if you can’t have an original gents in an original heritage pub then where can you have one – I mean, you can’t have everything can you?
As I walked back down Kirkstall Road on my way to the bus stop I glanced up at the Tetley Heritage Pub wall plaque and wondered what could have happened? It’s clear to me that some pubs will succeed and some won’t; many factors operate in determining this.
On balance, I don’t think the Cardigan Arms was ever going to become redeveloped. Yes, it was nice to have a back-stop in the guise of a community buy out, but I’m convinced the pub has gone to the right owners. Kirkstall Brewery is less than half a mile away, the brewers first pub is maybe a mile further up Kirkstall Road and is exactly what a traditional modern pub should be like.
When the long awaited Brewery Tap opens up, hopefully in December, they’ll have to rename Kirkstall Road as ‘Kirkstall Brewery Road’. I can see people getting on a mini bus in the city centre with tour guide, John Rowe providing the most erudite running commentary, dropping punters off at the various Kirkstall Brewery premises, while his minder looks on?
You never know, we might even see a microbrewery being set up in the old brewhouse at the back of the Cardy yet?