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.
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.