1 August 2014

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Focus on... bars and pubs in York and Harrogate


harrogate town centre 2013 istock - iStock_000018535917XSmall.jpgIt’s said that there are 365 pubs in York – that’s one for every day of the year and more than enough to satisfy the drinking needs of local residents, a thirsty student population and a yearly influx of tourists. Many hostelries trade on the city’s half-timbered antiquity, and they are also fiercely loyal to the region’s burgeoning contingent of independent breweries.

But it’s not all jugs of real ale, crackling fires and oak beams, York has a thriving cocktail and bar scene too – likewise the neighbouring spa town of Harrogate, which is also well-endowed with traditional watering holes and clubbing venues for those who want to pout and pose.

Bars and pubs in York

Biltmore Bar & Grill

This spacious, two-storey venue accommodates a restaurant and bar, though it’s the latter that really draws the crowds. Bottles of bubbly line the shelves above the large, central ‘island’ bar, which pumps out well-mixed cocktails, cask ales and European lager. A stylish mix of urban sophistication and rustic local charm.

The Blue Bell

Reputedly the smallest pub in York, this little beauty comprises two tiny wood-panelled rooms, where you can sup a generous selection of well-kept, local cask ales. Tip: don’t be put off by chalkboard signs outside proclaiming ‘private parties only’ – it’s just a cunning ploy to prevent this minuscule boozer from overcrowding.


A café by day and a bustling cocktail bar at night, Dusk is tucked away on the otherwise nondescript New Street. As well as serving competently prepared classics, the bartenders also mix up a colourful array of bespoke cocktails. Popular with students, thanks to its laid-back approach to dress codes and big groups.

Visit York - Minster at night 1209_Visit_York_Minster_at_Night.jpg

Kennedy’s Bar & Restaurant

Despite the ‘restaurant’ tag, most people go to Kennedy’s for the raucous atmosphere on Friday and Saturday nights – although its roof terrace is one of the best places to enjoy a drink on a sunny afternoon. Party-sized pitchers and lesser-known cocktails are an immensely popular feature of the venue’s drinks list.

The King’s Arms

Every time the city of York floods, the chances are that you will see an image of the submerged King’s Arms on the news – check out the plaque by the door marking the water levels each year. Come summer, however, the pub has usually dried out and it’s a lovely place to sit outside and enjoy the sun by the river.

The Lendal Cellars

The foremost reason for visiting the historic Lendal Cellars is its setting – a long, narrow subterranean tunnel lined with wooden tables, benches and bar stools. Knock back a few pints of Speckled Hen or Greene King IPA and it’s easy to imagine rubbing shoulders with York drinkers of yore. Don’t miss the beer garden, either.

Lamb & Lion Inn

This quaint pub-with-rooms is tucked up against the city walls, right by Bootham Bar. Inside, it’s all subtle dark wood accoutrements, renovated church pews and open fires, although the terrific roof terrace/ beer garden is a real draw in summer. The Lamb & Lion also prides itself on its ever-changing list of locally brewed real ales.

Olde Starre Inne

Stroll along Stonegate and duck into the small, yet well-signposted entrance to York’s oldest licensed premises. Expect low ceilings and a cluttered hotchpotch of little snugs and cubbyholes – although the ‘olde’ atmosphere is partially undermined by the TV screens and fruit machines. A pleasant courtyard offers light relief from these mod cons.

Guy Fawkes Inn

Reputedly set in the building where Britain’s most famous terrorist was born, Guy Fawkes Inn offers guests a warming, antiquated vibe. Cosy rooms, candles, gas lamps and an open fire set the scene for serious drinking from a decent line-up of real ales. Straightforward pub grub, Sunday night folk sessions and boutique accommodation too.

House of the Trembling Madness

Worth visiting for the name alone, Trembling Madness is tucked above Evil Eye (a shop purveying artisan beer) and it specialises in real ale. The eclectic range of beers sourced from across the country is matched by an equally wacky choice of embalmed animal-head trophies on the walls. A crazily eccentric, candlelit classic.

Bars and pubs in Harrogate

harrogate town centre 2013 istock - iStock_000020992181Small.jpgBlues Café & Bar

This rumbustious rendezvous stands out from the crowd, simply because it’s one of the very few live music venues in Harrogate. But there’s no complacency when it comes to bookings – the management fill up weekly slots with interesting innovative acts from near and far. Check out Monday’s ‘open mic night’ for the latest wannabes.

Coach and Horses (pictured, right)

The perennially popular Coach and Horses enjoys a lively atmosphere throughout the day, as well as in the evening. This has much to do with its loyal local clientele, who take advantage of the affordably priced pub grub and a cracking assortment of well-kept beers (Tetley’s, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Golden Pippin etc).

The Fat Badger

A popular hangout for some of Harrogate’s more mature drinkers, this quirky high-end pub within the White Hart Hotel generates a suitably sophisticated vibe. Expect an extensive selection of Yorkshire-brewed beers, a sizeable wine cellar, some interesting cocktails (including the ‘infamous’ pink badger) and an all-day menu.

Old Bell Tavern

Famed for its fine selection of real ales from independent breweries, which are pulled by professional and knowledgeable bar staff, the Old Bell Tavern is set on busy Royal Parade. Not surprisingly, it’s justly popular with the after-work crowd, who come to sup in a relatively regal setting of wood panels, high ceilings and mustard-coloured paintwork.

The Winter Gardens

It may be part of the Wetherspoon’s chain these days, but The Winter Gardens is worth a visit on account of it spectacular interior. The glass-ceilinged venue was once part of Harrogate’s former Royal Baths complex and was used as a public recreational area until the 1930s. Expect the brand’s familiar mix of cut-price drinks, TV screens and all-purpose grub.

Find top restaurants in York and Harrogate.

This feature was published in February 2013.

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