Certain towns can be relied for an annual visit that will deliver a) a decent new Guide pub, b) a new aspect to the place, and c) a decent lunch.
All of those were present in lovely Harrogate this week, which was just about to unveil a magic fountain in the Valley Gardens that turns curious children into stone. Simon Everitt will be delighted.
Walking in from Harlow Carr Gardens on the hottest day of the year was a joy, with only the price of the Betty’s Welsh rarebit, clearly inflated pos-Euros if not Brexit, a bit of a downer. I instead succumbed to the Le Gourmet quiche, a comparative bargain.
I still don’t quite get Harrogate. It can’t exist purely for tourists, even if the number of OAP visitors in Betty’s suggests otherwise, and I’ve never seen any other obvious employment. Do people here all commute to Leeds to work in craft beer bars ?
There’s something of a common spa town characteristic there. Like Bath and Tunbridge Wells, successive years have seen Wetherspoons, artisan bakeries, smart chains and craft bars springing up, displacing goodness knows what. It’s a reminder of just how much spending power some of our OAPs have.
Those spa towns all have impressive central Travelodges too, with Harrogate’s stone marvel near the Pump Room one of the world’s bargains if you book early enough.
Unlike Bath and T’Wells, Harrogate has a Tap, an immediate favourite first time round, and looking equally gorgeous by the station now. Tremendous staff too, even if they were having to unload the van at the same time as serving customers. And I do like “bud” as a greeting. (the Czech one, not the US one of course).
At just gone 11am , there were a few professional drinkers in the bar, noticeably all seated. One chap was working his way through the line-up below. No-one was waiting for a train.
It really looked the essential visit I remembered. But possibly not on the hottest day of the year.
As you’ll know I’m no beer geek, but I have had enough Mallinsons this year to know their pale beer is reliably great in a good pub. The Tap is a good pub, but the half of Motueka was showing all the signs of summer. I suspect at least one Oldham-based beer writer would have taken it back, but it wasn’t that bad, still had flavour, and I knew the others wouldn’t be any cooler. Cannier Yorkshireman were drinking the Belgian bottles from the fridge.
I didn’t hold out great hopes for the new Guide entry, Major Tom’s something or other. I’d been turned away at the advertised opening hour of 11 with a bit of a rant about the Beer Guide’s accuracy, and I feared a place with too many taps for the daytime custom (and the heat) awaited.
I couldn’t fault it. With the feel of Pimlico’s Cask, a mix of proper seating, flowers in Chimay glasses, tat, and a Cloudwater Bitter at close to cool (NBSS 3.5), it’s an immediate favourite. Even the overrated War on Drugs sounded good on Major Tom’s rather wonderful Hi-Fi.
It looks like I’ll be back in Harrogate soon; beer quality is generally high, and I passed a new North Bar and micropub on the way back to the Valley. Hopefully they won’t push classics like the one below out of the Guide.
QUIZ TIME – What does this pub have that makes it my favourite in Harrogate (though I avoided it on Wednesday);