Sunday 26th January 2014
I suppose I should refer to this pub by its correct name which is "The Victoria Family and Commercial Hotel". It was completed in 1865 and is to be found in the road behind the huge City Hall. This is no coincidence as it was inextricably linked with it for the first 130 years of its life. The purpose of the hotel was to accommodate the judges, barristers, plaintives, etc that were in the city to appear at the Assizes Courts in the City Hall.
It is said that there was even a tunnel from the hotel under the road so that the judges could pass to the courts without contact with those appearing in the trials.
The courts were moved away from the City Hall in the 1990s and the pub is no longer a residential hotel. It is worth noting that the sign displaying its full title on the outside of the building dates from the 1890s.
Inside its Victorian heritage slaps you in the face. The interior is a quite remarkable survivor from the second half of the nineteenth century. I was with wife Linda and once inside we turned left to the room that contains the bar.
This is a wonderful room as the bar and back bar are superb wooden creations and opposite is a row of booths, again of carved wood.
There are a lot of original built-in mirrors around the pub and this aspect, along with some wonderfully sympathetic lighting, really shows it off to great advantage. At the back of this room is a small area of some tables with a large portrait of Queen Victoria. There is also a superb wooden fireplace surmounted by yet another gleaming mirror.
There were two other large rooms and I would have loved to have photographed them in detail but they were in use by a private group. This gathering intrigued me as they had such an unusual name; they were the Leeds Meeples. I took a small paper with their contact details and later looked them up. I had noticed that they were all quite young and of both genders and were playing board games. And that is it really, as they meet every Sunday in the pub and play.
In this modern age where nearly everything is extreme, it struck me that there was something very pleasing about seeing people enjoying such innocent pastimes.
This pub was once part of the Tetley empire and later appears to have fallen to the hands of a sympathetic pub company. More recently they have been taken over by Nicholson's. At that time they also acquired the Scarborough Hotel and the Palace, both excellent pubs that I hope will feature in BeerVisits in future.
So whatever company it was that bought them from Carlsberg-Tetley, they were good custodians of our heritage. It seems incredible to realise that it was to be demolished in 1973 and was only saved by a massive public campaign.
There was a good range of beers available for our delectation. There was local favourite Tetley's Cask (3.7%) now brewed at Bank's brewery in Wolverhampton. The owning company was represented by Nicholson's Pale Ale (4.0%) brewed by St Austell brewery in Cornwall.
The remainder of the offerings were guest beers as follows: Purity (Great Alne, Warwickshire) Saddle Black (5.0%); Dorset Brewing Company (Dorchester) Frosted Jack (4.3%), Great Yorkshire Brewing (Cropton, North Yorks) Top of the Hops (4.5%); Portobello (London) White (4.8%) and Red Squirrel (Potten End, Hertfordshire) Scottish Ale (4.3%).
A full menu is available and the pub hosts Jazz bands on Thursday nights and, of course, the aforementioned Meeples on Sundays. It's a classic and should not be missed if you are in the city.
Victoria Family & Commercial Hotel, 28 Great George Street, Leeds LS1 3DL
Tel: 0113 245 1386
Open: Monday-Thursday 10.00-23.00; Friday-Saturday 10.00-24.00; Sunday 12.00-22.30
Food service: Monday-Saturday 10.00-22.00; Sunday 12.00-20.00
From Leeds railway station, turn leftish and walk down the Station Approach. Cross over Wellington Street to Quebec Street and walk up it. At the top it joins King Street, turn slightly left and this street becomes East Parade. Keep walking up and when you see the edifice of City Hall, cross to the other side of The Headrow and continue up Calverley Street with the City Hall on your left. Turn first left into Great George Street and you will see the pub on the opposite side of the road.
Leeds station is very well connected by rail to most towns and cities in the country.