A Tale of Two Cities

New Victoria/Odeon Bradford - Early Exterior

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

New Victoria/Odeon Bradford - Exterior Now

I live in a small industrial town in the North of England, near to Bradford, opposite Leeds.  Anyone else remember learning this for your French GCSE or O’Level? [insert your own town name above].  Well Shipley is my town, although I do admit to changing my story slightly depending on who’s asking.  Shipley is known for very little these days, it has a dreary town centre and nothing much going for it (in my opinion), so I may sometimes stray from the truth and say that I’m from Saltaire, the quaint Victorian village and World Heritage Site, or from Leeds, my nearest city.  What’s that you say? I’m closer to Bradford?  Well you would be right to say this, but only in the geographical sense.  Bradford is a sad reflection of its former self.  There are of course some great places still to visit, but these places stand as individuals with nothing to knit them and Bradford together [pun intended].   I may go to the National Photography Museum and take in a film at the Imax or Pictureville, or at a push take the kids to the Alhambra Theatre, but that’s it.  Even my trips to Rawson Market are now few and far between.  I have no affinity with a place I should proudly call “my city”.  If I was to translate the same idea to beer, I would be pushed to recommend Bradford as my go-to place for a session.  There are of course some decent pubs in Bradford, including The New Beehive Inn, The City Vaults, The Fighting Cock, The Corn Dolly and of course the latest addition and what I would consider a reason to journey into Bradford, The Sparrow Bier Cafe.  It’s only been open since May this year, but has already successfully bridged the gap between city-centre boozer and specialist beer joint.  You can read regular reviews of what’s on tap at HopZine.

This is all well and good and I have enjoyed an afternoon or two there with a plate of pork-pie and pickles with a few decent ales, as well as a few evening sessions making my way through their superb beer menu, but its weakness is its location, unless I’m missing something?  I don’t know exactly why they picked the location they picked, and I’m not criticising them in the slightest, it’s a brave move and one I applaud, but I can’t help but feel that Bradford will let them down too.  I think that what they have on offer is strong enough to stand on its own, so don’t misinterpret what I’m saying, but I sincerely hope that other like-minded business owners start to make the same move and recapture the attention of its locals, and I’m not just talking about beer here.

A short train ride to Leeds and the difference is unbelievable.  A city whose streets are fused together, with retail, eateries and bars and most importantly a sense of place.  It feels like a city, it offers me choice across the board, but most importantly a choice of watering holes.  Having only just discovered the likes of Mr Foleys and North Bar, I am still as giddy-as-a-kipper and rarely venture any further.  However, I am aware of many other pubs and bars that I need to familiarise myself with and have recently bought Simon Jenkins book ‘The Great Leeds Pub Crawl’ to help me on my way.

So there it is, I live in Shipley, Saltaire, Leeds and Bradford and am lucky to be able to call Yorkshire my home.  A wealth of beer on my doorstep and great places and events celebrating that fact.  But one thing that sticks in my throat is that Leeds is not my city, I am cheating on my roots.  While I support Bradford’s ‘vision’ of regeneration and know that a wicked combination of economic hard-times and planning tomfoolery have been crucial factors in the progress or lack-thereof, it is a Catch-22 situation for myself and I would think many other people.  We are consumers and we can’t support something that isn’t there.

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8 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Cities

  1. The location of The Sparrow was in no doubt a great idea if you could have seen it last night at their celebration for the presentation of CAMRA Pub of the Season Autumn 2011. It was packed and full of happy beer drinkers. Marko and Les are proud Bradfordians and wanted to bring something new and exciting to a city that is struggling. A shining light in a crumbling wasteland.

    • I hope it came across the way I intended…more a comment on the state of Bradford in general. Like I said, they offer something people want and the CAMRA award is recognition of that.

  2. interesting. I’ve had similar thoughts this year about Bradford; it occured to me (when reading about The Fighting Cock) that I know more about pubs in Machester and Sheffield (and probably London) than I do about Bradford. I was planning to get over there at some point in the early next year for a bit of a crawl, if you’re up for it. (btw – I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment of the peice). Good work!

  3. oh how i miss seeing that big odeon at the bottom of the street!

    I lived in Bradford for the best part of 5 years (3 years at uni and 2 visiting my mrs2be)

    It’s such a shame at the state it’s in, even in the time i was there as the new build cinema opened and the out of town shopping centres grew it seemed to loose its magic.

    Im gutted but glad places like the sparrow weren’t there…id have been in even more debt that i already am lol.

    The uni biko bar always had good ale on and spoons and the one next to it in what was the old swimming baths usually had something on, there were also a couple of little ones hidden down back streets that somtimes had the odd cask ale on….if not the guinness in the SU bar was less than a quid a pint!

    But most the places were student bars so we often found our selves heading over to leeds or out into the dales to do some walking and search for local ales.

  4. I live in Halifax, but worked in Bradford (beside the University) for 2 years, and apart from the theatre and media museum (plus the sparrow from reputation as I haven’t been yet), I find no reason to revisit the city centre. Saltaire and surrounding towns I like, just not bradford. The place feels tired and very run down, and is badly laid out (although this a histories fault I admit). There are too many abandoned or tatty looking mills and this brings the tone of the place down. I find the city centre quite depressing to be honest.

  5. Pingback: The Sparrow Bier Cafe, BD1 « broadfordbrewer

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