When I announced that work was sending me on trip to York I was assailed with recommendations – my cousin even gave me their local CAMRA magazine and some flyers he had picked up about local beer tours and breweries on a recent trip. Unfortunately for me there was a significant portion of work to be done watching experimental films with a bunch of film students so I only managed to get through a handful of the excellent pubs which York has to offer. A return trip is definitely on the cards, perhaps sans teenagers this time (almost definitely sans teenagers in fact, the Chief would have my badge).
Ye Olde Shambles Tavern, The Shambles – Small but perfectly formed
Ah, a micropub! Spoiler alert – this was my favourite pub in York because it was tiny, parochial, and enabled you to squeeze into the window and watch people go by with a reasonably priced (for York) beer flight. Rudgate Brewery has produced a few Shambles Tavern lines for this bar and you can enjoy three halves for a fiver. I went with Stumbler, an unobjectionable golden ale; Best Bitter which is nutty and sweet and very pleasant, and Dark ale which is pleasingly treacly but not too cloying. “Drink them from lightest to darkest” advised the 13 year old barman. I gave him short shrift. “This isn’t my first rodeo, sonny.”
There were three other punters aside from me in the tiny front bar and it was ‘packed’, however I believe there is much more space at the back and, as there is a food menu, probably many more tables. The introduction of a plate of ham and eggs into the cramped conditions around the bar would have been sheer lunacy.
The Guy Fawkes Inn, High Petergate – Made of wood
No visit to an ancient city such as York would be complete without an intimidatingly old boozer with lots of wood in proximity to gaslight and candles. Like Nellie’s in Beverly, East Yorkshire it prides itself on being old and dark but still has its modern touches so as not to scare away too many tourists. The pub was full but for some reason this magnificent oaken throne next to a suit of armour was unused – probably because it’s haunted or cursed or something – and so I sat there like a small, northern Queen with my pint of Centurion’s Ghost Ale. Apparently they invite buskers in to play for the assembled guests and pay them only in beer but there was none of this hokey unpleasantness when I was there (don’t get me started on buskers on pubs, I’ve had too many conversations drowned out by a tuneless rendition of No Woman No Cry).
Ye Olde Star Inn, Stonegate – Hurray! It’s a hidden pub!
I love pubs which have a tiny street doorway but then open up to reveal a full size boozer like some kind of beautiful, boozy TARDIS. This is one of the best I have been in, it’s a Green King now but they have preserved the interior layout including a cozy snug and some very attractive stained glass. They also helpfully have a historical timeline posted outside so you can dream about the days when you could buy a whole pub for £25 and wish you were a time traveller. They were serving five cask ales including their very own Olde Starre Ale which was brewed for them by Moorhouses. “Do you mind having it in a handled glass?” asked the barmaid and no, indeed I did not mind. What a gem.
1331, Grape Lane – Lights, Squirrel Pie, Action
Those of you who know York will recall that it is a Google-Maps-defying maze of streets that aren’t streets, back alleys, covets, cuts, and wints. 1331 was almost impossible to find but it was a venue for one of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival’s screenings so persist I did. I very much enjoy Pubs Which Are Other Things Too (as opposed to Other Things Which Have A Bar In Them which are entirely different). This pub has a cinema on the top floor which seats about 30 and has pleather reclining chairs with a space for your beer. It’s quite wonderful. On the ground floor is your standard small bar/eaterie where they were serving a squirrel and pigeon pie as a starter (to be fair they are not going to get much meat off either creature so the pie is probably small). Wainwright on cask and a large selection of bottles and 2 for 1 cocktails. What fun!
The House of Trembling Madness, Stonegate – Pleasingly Odd
There are few places which elicit an almost unanimous recommendation but the House is one of them. Up a tiny , windy staircase above a bottle shop is a Hobbit-like tavern room bedecked with animal heads, unfettered waxy candles and many fine beers. I had a Magic Rock Common Grounds after battling my way past a gentleman with very poor bar etiquette. A moment please whilst I mount my soapbox – can we knock this tasting nonsense on the head when a pub is full to bursting and punters are three deep at the bar? With no concern for the fact I was gasping this whopper decided he needed to taste the difference between no fewer than three pale ales before making his choice. What he was expecting to be surprised by in a pale ale I don’t know. I might point out that these were not labelled ‘Zebra Piss Pale Ale’ or ‘Blackberry Crumble Pale Ale’ or anything of the kind. The worst that could have happened was that he paid £3.50 for a pint of pale ale which was not the absolute optimum that his tastebuds would allow. If he had ever consumed beer before, there would be nothing in these three pedestrian ales which could have possibly blown his mind.
Whether this unpleasantness tainted my experience I don’t know but I found the House of Trembling Madness a little too contrived in its design to really love it. There were pure whoppers in there who were clearly very pleased with themselves to be in somewhere with bizarre animal heads on the wall and the place tries very hard to be ‘strange’ and ‘kooky’. I prefer places which just are like that without trying, whether it’s because the landlord’s wife has threatened to leave him if the carved wooden tortoise collection isn’t out of the house, or whatever. Nice pint though.
The Yorkshire Terrier, Stonegate – A CHARLATAN!
Whilst wandering down Stonegate and discussing trendy hipster ‘beer house and bottle shop’ type places, myself and my companion spotted somewhere which fit that description and decried it as somewhere we would never go willingly. Next to it was a doorway in the hidden pub style which looked very inviting. “That’s the kind of place I prefer!” said I. “A real pub for real people!”. Those of you who watch situation comedies may already have guessed that it was the same place with two different entrances. If I was to buy the Yorkshire Terrier, I would remove the bottle shop from the front, stick in some banked seating, darken the place up a bit and bin the decorative bicycle. I had a pint of Growler which I did NOT like.
Pivni, Patrick Pool – Get In The Queue, Jurgen
I stumbled across this place when I was lost and there was a seat free so I went in. There were three pirates in there who asked for a picture with my friend because they were on a treasure hunt and he had a fine beard. This caused slight consternation with the wife of a gentleman with an objectively better beard. This is what I mean about being strange by accident. Pivni has a long, shallow bar downstairs but another two floors of seating and tables which made it popular with large groups of overseas tourists who would periodically come in en masse and queue very neatly at the bar before taking their handles steins of Pilsner upstairs. A nice friendly place with a very good beer selection. Also a dog came in. Excellent. Tied for first place with the Olde Shambles Tavern.