If you weren’t looking out for it, you could easily bypass Leeds’ oldest pub, Whitelock’s, entirely. Quietly nestled off Briggate in Turk’s Head Yard, named so after its original title, it sits a mere matter of strides away from the epicentre of Leeds’ shopping district. But you wouldn’t know. Once you have turned into Turk’s Head Yard, you’re transported away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and into a nirvana for craft beer and real ale. And once you’re in, you’ll find it hard to leave.
First opening its doors in 1715 as Turk’s Head, there are fewer places in Leeds that have outlasted it or remain standing to this day. Having recently been granted Grade II* protection status, the second highest available, it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon either. Once you step through the door, it’s easy to see why Whitelock’s has been recognised for its historical significance. In fact, it’s almost like stepping back in time.
As Leeds’ first luncheon bar, and allegedly the first building in Leeds to install electric lighting, there are many reasons why Whitelock’s is so charmingly important. From its original marble and copper-topped bar, to the numerous mirrors adorning its walls or many examples of fine stained glass, it tells a thousand stories at every turn. What makes it such a good venue, I think, is the fact that it doesn’t try to be anything other than just a bloody good pub.
“Just a bloody good pub…”
A delicious aroma wafts tantalisingly from the historic serving hatch, with the pub remaining faithful to its past, serving high-quality produce alongside fresh, high-quality beer. Four rotating cask lines await those who step inside, alongside a range of craft and regular beers to entice both the hop heads & those seeking the crisp refreshment of a lager alike. It’s here that both worlds blend harmoniously, and the beer almost falls into insignificance. Being in the presence of such rich history is worth paying for alone, let alone one of the finest kept pints in the city.
Courtesy of local powerhouse brewery, Kirkstall, Whitelock’s also boasts its very own beer; an un-fined IPA weighing in at 5% which, on accounts of its strength and appearance, may well have drinkers of years-passed cursing in their graves. It’s a beer that’s fruity in both aroma & taste, but finishes with a nice bitterness and smoothness, leaving you reaching for your next sip. Much like the pub in which it’s served; its excellence lies within its apparent simplicity.
It’s criminal to think that, having always lived in and around Leeds, residents like myself can take Whitelock’s for granted. But, when you stop and consider its age, significance and quality, your appreciation soon comes rushing back. For a pub that pre-dates both America’s and France’s Revolutions, the Napoleonic Wars and witnessed the rise and fall of the British empire, the ol’ place ain’t doing too badly.
As the poet John Betjeman once said, “[Whitelock’s is] the Leeds equivalent of Fleet Street’s Old Cheshire Cheese and far less self-conscious, and does a roaring trade. It is the very heart of Leeds.”