Now main street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more
They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to
Your hometown, your hometown, your hometown, your hometown
You only get one Home Town, and Keighley is mine. Much as I love the place there’s no avoiding evidence that it’s seen more prosperous days. A better writer than me could say something profound about Reid’s bookshop (founded 1899) becoming one of those hateful neo-pawnbrokers. It really doesn’t help matters that the people entrusted to run our town have allowed three gigantic supermarkets to be built, the latest arrival being a quite brilliantly ugly Asda. It can only be a matter of time before Tesco arrive to suck the last life out of Cavendish and North streets and the market. At least the residents will never want for places to buy fried chicken, a payday loan (typical APR 4,214%) or a fake tan.
Despite the apparent odds, pubs do well in Keighley – the town ones, at least. The Market Tavern, The Masons Arms and the Eastwood Tavern have gone for good – victims of location and demographics – but places that close don’t usually remain so for long. We’ve even just got an Oirish boozer – ‘Muldoons’ (ex-Tetley’s Star Hotel) – about 15 years after the boat for that dubious craze sailed. In fact, I can only think of one pub that’s currently shut and to let; The Gatehouse, which I always thought had potential, but ended up one of those joints frequently mentioned in the magistrates reports in the local paper.
Keighley’s newest pub is Percy Vear’s Real Ale House, which until Taylor’s flogged it off earlier this year was The Friendly, a tiny local’s local that had been in their estate since 1887. Percy Vear (Herman to his mum) was a Keighley boxer back in the 20s and 30s, and the granddad of Keith Vear, the pub’s new owner. We were in there a couple of fridays back; my dad, my brother and me on a diversion for them to watch the last half of the England/Sweden match before going on to The Club, as tradition dictates. The place was nicely busy, all eyes (except mine) glued to the two TVs at either ends of the one-room bar. The welcome was warm (‘help yourself to home-made chilli, lads’) and a pleasing mix of young and old. We kicked off with Saltaire Blonde – and, as usual after not being home for a while – was taken by just how dense and how creamy a properly sparkled head can be. Blonde is a light quencher, really. A sort of beery amuse bouche that tastes a lot lighter than 4%. Just a tickle of hop dryness. Weirdly, this pint tasted fine but smelled of nothing at all. I also had to pretend not to be annoyed by Saltaire’s continuing use of Comic Sans in their branding. We moved on to Percy’s Pint, brewed for the pub by Empire. This had a sort of concentrated malt flavour, reminding us of homebrew. Was it meant to taste like that? Keighley’s punters are famously good at rejecting iffy pints, and they were selling plenty of Percy’s, so I’ll let them be the judge.
Meanwhile, back in That London it was the first birthday of Leytonstone’s very own Red Lion a fortnight ago. And what a year it’s been, with the pub getting deserved plaudits from the likes of Boak And Bailey, Mark Dredge, Beer Beauty, Des De Moor and er, Ten-Inch Wheels. Pub visits for me are something of a rarity these days, though Little Wheels insisted on taking me for a pint on fathers day, to the Red Lion’s birthday beer festival.
They’d certainly been busy up there, knocking down walls and having a clearout to reveal a frankly enormous beer garden, still bearing odd bits of decor from when the pub was the execrable, puke-soaked and mourned-by-nobody South African theme bar Zulus. Funny how when you become a parent you become a bit of a hypocrite. Just over a year ago, I’d have run a mile from somewhere running with parents and kids. Nowadays it’s welcoming – kicking back with your family, smiling to the other dads and comparing beers. And prams.
The racked-up ales were on stillage in the barn-like side entrance, looked after by two enthusiastic lads, alongside a fast-diminishing roast hog. Twenty-odd barrels from the likes of Dark Star, Otley, Fyne, Magic Rock, Oakham, Thornbridge and Summer Wine. The guv’nor of the Red Lion knows his beer – drop by any time and see one of the best selections in London – and he knows what to choose for a festival. I couldn’t be bothered with tasting notes, but I can tell you that everything I tried – Magic Rock’s High Wire and Dark Star’s Saison among them – was in prime condition. The winner for me was Fyne Ales’ Avalanche; Deep and fruity with a dry backbone. I might be biased – we live just down the road – but The Red Lion is proving to be one of the capital’s outstanding pubs and clearly run with passion, care and imagination. Here’s to many more years of roaring.