Archive | June 2009

Ale discussion: drinking at Symposium

Symposium, 7 Albion Road, Idle, Bradford, BD10 9PY

There’s this pub in Headingley, just at the end – or beginning depending on how you see it – of the road of where I used to work. The pub’s called Arcadia, and it quite neatly encapsulates the essence of a good boozer: the chance to drink quality beers well looked after by friendly bar staff in a quite relaxing setting.

There are bonuses at this place: no music; some bar games; books under the stairs to browse or slowly work your way through from visit to visit; the strangely relaxing sight of traffic flowing through Headingley; the opportunity that some random nutter will waltz in, grab a pint, pull up next to you, and proceed to engage in you in banter.

But these are far from essentials in the pub’s canon. If anything some of these are specifics to this pub’s individual allure. The very essence of Arcadia from day one was spot on, and continues. For all intent and purposes, since I spent most of my waking week in Headingley, Arcadia served as my local, and it served me well, and usually with a perfect head.

In the pub’s early days I discovered, quite promisingly, that it one of about ten pubs run by a company called Market Town Taverns (MTT). Word was that all of their pubs shared the same ethos. Handily up the hill from my old house was the MTT run Town Street Tavern in Horsforth, close enough for the odd night out, albeit still too far to rule out regular visitations. But these trips provided sufficient evidence to back MTT’s supposed reputation.

So it was just over a year ago when I said bye-bye to the constant murmur of the Leeds ring-road, and moved to Idle with hope in my heart. Idle, on the cusp of the tranquil valley of the Leeds-Liverpool canal and river Aire, had a lovely gentle pace. And within Idle’s little village centre was a MTT pub called Symposium. Having unloaded the removal van into the new house (well, mainly the garage) by half twelve I sought lunch in the pub.

My first sips of ale there were not only to abate an incredible thirst built up during an arduous morning, but also of immense satisfaction, knowing I had a boozer nearby which I would want to trek to on cold, wet nights.

Unlike Arcadia’s emphasis on liquid refreshments, Symposium really pushes itself as a place to dine and drink, and the dining area – the lower and main part of the pub – greets you when you walk through the front door. There’s a few tables, but not too crammed, and a nice mix of circular and rectangular tables to pick from. The fantastic arched windows allow light in and a hint of an outside world, but not to the extent of traffic watching as in Arcadia.

If anything the first-time visitor may actually be a little put off by the dining area. Not because it is regularly full but because it hints not at a watering hole. (A local once said to me he thought it was more a restaurant than a pub, which backs up that point.)

If you’re a drinker you need to head up the small set of steps to the bar, which looks down from that level up. It’s clearly designed for those who want to be within reaching distance of the bar, with just about enough standing room and several small tables with stools round. If you want a bit of intimacy there’s the ‘snug’ round the back, although it isn’t immediately obvious as it is past the entrance to the kitchen. There’s also a terrace past there, which would be a fine place to drink if the weather let up for once!

The beers? Oh yes, the beers! There are six hand-pulls of real ale, and by deduction I think Copper Dragon’s very suppable Golden Pippin is the regular, with the five others guests. The selection of these beers is done on a month-by-month basis, each month showcasing several breweries’ ales. There’s even a board highlighting whose wares you can sample in the coming months. In its own right this provides a lovely sense of knowing anticipation (Kelham Island month? Please!), although dispenses with the sheer delight a surprise at Arcadia used to spring on us. (Graham at Arcadia has explained that the demand in Headingley is massive compared to Idle, so Symposium can afford to plan that far ahead while Arcadia has to be more reactive at times.) Of course, as a Cask Marque certified pub, the beers are well looked after. If you don’t fancy real ale, there’s a fine selection of lagers and other bottled beers from around the world (or if you fancy something over eight percent before you waddle home).

The walls are adorned with local history – photos, maps, and the like – which steep the place in a sense of belonging. (Maybe you could nip over the road to the library and buy some of their local history booklets to take in while you sup.) There is history to the place itself. Unlike, say, Arcadia which was a Lloyds TSB before its conversion into a prime boozer, Symposium already existed as a food-focused bar. That tradition still continues. At night the ‘eating’ tables are usually occupied by the warm conversation of diners, while some locals hang around on the upper level by the bar. Some, like me, slink back into the snug.

As I write this now, nothing has changed over the past year-and-a-bit. Sat in the snug on a lovely wood pew-like bench, I am enjoying a pint of Rooster’s magnificent Yankee. I look out of the window and the wind is gentley bobbing the trees’ branches about, I can glimpse the valley and along the top of the hill, Horsforth. There’s no music playing and the only sound is the murmur of some idle banter from the bar. Plus I’ve got a decision to make about which beer to have next. The only downside? It is only open one afternoon during the week (Friday), shutting up at 2:30 until teatime. Still, a couple of jars at lunch will put one in the right spirits to get through the afternoon toil until then.

You’re probably wondering if I prefer Arcadia or Sympoisum. Truth be told I can’t be sure. The staff at Arcadia lifted that place, but Sympoisum has a more relaxed atmosphere on weekend evenings where one doesn’t have to resort to SHOUTING. In the end, Symposium is now my local, and I love that.

Opening times
Monday & Tuesday: Closed at lunch; 5.30pm – 11.00pm
Wednesday & Thursday: 12pm – 2.30pm; 5.30pm – 11.00pm
Friday & Saturday: 12pm – 11.00pm
Sunday: 12pm – 10.30pm

More information on Symposium are available on the Market Town Taverns website.