Tank beer? I’m going to hold my hands up here and say I honestly thought it was a gimmick. Even though Headrow House opened in October, I’ve held off visiting until the first week of advent. I thought Belgrave Music Hall was okay, good in parts, excellent, really cheap pizza, but I was put off by an arsey bar maid the first time I went in who took exception at me asking for a top up on a pint of Cloudwater, containing at best two thirds.
Anyway, I’ve been to Headrow House now and it’s dawned on me that I should have been going in from the start. It’s almost as if the people behind the venture just had a bit of a practice, trying out a few ideas, with BMH and have now decided to do it properly. I only really went because a mate had been pestering me to have a look, saying things like; I would like it and the beer was excellent. You were right Al, it looks like a new default venue.
The first pint I had was a Saltaire Pacifica. For me this is proper beer, traditionally brewed with a modern outlook and a boat load of southern hemisphere hops. It instantly highlighted one of the characteristics of real ale because it wasn’t nearly as good as the same pint of beer I had in another noted and esteemed Leeds City centre real ale house, only six days before. Strangely enough I paid 20p more for a pint in the traditional boozer than the £4 here in what is a trendy bar/cocktail bar/restaurant/music venue/roof top garden crossover. If I had to put money on it, I reckon the pint I had last Sunday was fresh on and came from Saltaire in the back of the same van as this barrel did on the Friday (of the week before now). Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad beer, it just wasn’t as good as it could have been. So I decided to see what all the fuss was about and try the Tankovna.
I apologise Headrow House/BMH people, this is no gimmick, this is beautiful. Frozen glasses, big foaming head, golden amber and a taste like … ? I agonised over the taste; malt, a touch of sweetness and a sort of a cross between sweetcorn and a cows breath when she’s been eating silage. Sounds horrendous I know but if you’re familiar with fermented grass and farmyard animals, then you will know what I mean. This is not Lager as I know it, this is real beer. This is the business and it is no cheap stunt. It is however £4.60 for a pint.
For me the centre of Headrow House is the Beer Hall, think a modern take on the old Bier Keller. Banquettes around the side and refectory style tables and benches down the middle that have the appearance of being made by a failed apprentice butchers block maker. There’s even some of those low slung ercol style chairs they used to have in the staff room at secondary school, circa early seventies. I’m not sure about the ‘wall of logs’ only because I’ve got visions of someone shoving a lit fire lighter in it and it all going up in flames one Saturday night.
Apart from the bar at the head of the hall the main focus is the four large copper tanks containing the Plzeňský Prazdroj, that’s Pilsner Urquell to you and me. The competent and friendly staff, we even did a cheesy photo, told me that the unpasteurised Pilsner comes once a week in a big tank in the back of a van. A Czech guy drives the first leg from Plzen to Calais and then Ian does the second leg up to Leeds and back to Calais. Once the four tanks are filled the Pilsner has a shelf life of 21 days until the tank is vented when it lasts for five days. The amount they were selling tells me there was no way there’s any hanging round for five days and I reckon Ian the driver will be gainfullly employed for a long time to come.
Now I’ve had this discussion with a mate, an original CAMRA bloke, continuous unbroken membership since he joined in the early seventies as student. He was adamant there was no such thing as real Lager, I might have agreed, but not now. I’ve had it, unpasteurised, unfiltered real Lager and it’s frabjous and we are having an outing in the next couple of week to prove the point to a wider audience. I’m just sorry that I can’t compare it with keg Pilsner Urquell beer, because I’ve never had it. What I can say though is that no pasteurised keg or bottled Lager, readily available in UK pubs, tastes like anything like this. So from a CAMRA point of view, it would be real ale then? And will it vary, depending on the brew and how long the tank has been opened?
If you want other beers at Headrow House, then they have them; real ales, craft beers, cans, bottles. Prices were par for the course for Leeds city centre.
Now Headrow House is more than just a Beer Hall. I’ll quote you from their own publicity; Four floors Three bars One Restaurant One Beer hall Three Outdoor areas One Cocktail bar Live room and more! The Cocktail bar looked nice, quiet, sophisticated, relaxed; you can get the Pilsner in here but not the other real ales. The Ox Club restaurant had just finished the Brunch setting in the open plan, watch the chefs style kitchen. The restaurant looked worth a try, most things under £10, modern stylish British cuisine – Onglet, chips, watercress for a tenner sounded pretty reasonable to me.
You couldn’t get onto the highest outdoor terrace owing to the strategically placed Crimbo tree. I’m guessing they don’t want people perched high above the city centre on a steel gantry in inclement weather. In fact there was only me on the roof terrace, stood in the teeth of the storm. I’m not sure about the relevance of the illuminated REM lyrics? They did look good against the back drop of Desmond’s drab raiments though. On summer evenings it has real potential, apart from the downside of probably being overpopulated by smokers. Maybe the terrace could be nicknamed ‘Fag ash Lil’s’, a nice reference to the building’s previous incumbent. Toilets? Different. Clean, tidy and functional so on that score they get a good pass. Anyone who has spent any time in a cell will instantly recognise the pans; Home Office spec stainless steel, one piece. Fair to say, the lack of a toilet seat didn’t go down well with either of the ladies in our party.
Clientele? 2.30pm Saturday afternoon, second Saturday in December, Briggate’s absolutely rammed with Christmas shoppers and everywhere we’ve been in so far is quiet, apart from the noted LUFC pubs (LUFC v Hull). Stuck down Bramley’s yard, off the Eastgate end of the Headrow you’d think Headrow House would be quiet too. It isn’t though and you can just about get a table to sit at, so long as you don’t mind sharing. All ages, 18 to 65+, groups of middle age mixed groups, odd student/young professional types on Mac books, couples and groups of male drinkers, of all ages. The standout being that everyone, in their own way, was well dressed and presented. You know, the sort of people who had taken a bit of pride in their appearance. There was even a bit of Stone Island, that obviously weren’t interested in football.
Overall, Headrow House is brill, if BMH was the prototype then this is the real thing. Not a pub, but at the same time, more than a pub. Something that offers lots of everything to lots of people in a modern thriving city centre.