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Previous Pint Pleasures - September 22, 2003

guinness eileen

The Old Bell Tavern, 6 Royal Parade, Harrogate, North Yorkshire

One recent sunny afternoon we decided to roll down the windows, crank open the sunroof, and go for a drive. Our destination was north and our purpose was to cool off and have a nice pint somewhere. As we'd been contemplating a day trip to Harrogate -- and as a reader of my column had recently recommended a pub in Harrogate -- we ended up, surprisingly, in Harrogate.

With a reputation as the posh part of Yorkshire, Harrogate became famous for its healing sulphur springs which were first discovered in 1571. By the late 18th century the town had become very popular as a spa destination. Its most famous well, currently located below the Royal Pump Room Museum, was known as the Stinking Spaw and still serves the strongest sulphur water in Europe.

Just opposite the Royal Pump Room Museum and near the famous Betty's Tea Rooms is a bright, woody pub called the Old Bell Tavern. Originating from the early 17th century, the original Bell (called the Blue Bell because of its blue sign) was a stage in the York to Harrogate coaching run. The Bell closed in 1815, and when the site was cleared in 1846 for construction of the Royal Parade the old tavern cellars were incorporated into the new building. Since 1956 the building went through life as a shop, a cafe, and the Six Royal Parade Restaurant, until in 1999 it was restored and reopened as the Old Bell.

One of 6 Yorkshire pubs owned by Market Town Taverns, the CAMRA-listed Old Bell features 8 real ales which include Timothy Taylor, Black Sheep, and Deuchars Caledonian, as well as local microbrews. There is also a variety of German and Belgian beers along with an extensive wine list. For glass collectors there is a Connoisseurs' Beer Card Scheme where if you buy enough Continental beers from the Connoisseurs Menu you can collect a stylish range of beer glasses. The food looks quite good as well, and we were a bit sad we'd already had lunch. Looks like proper salads, good crusty homebaked bread, tureens of homemade soup, and a wide range of options even for pescavegetarians like myself.

The pub's Continental cafe decor with beer-matted walls reminds me a bit of some pubs I've been to in San Francisco. There are two rooms downstairs and a dining room upstairs, and plenty of mirrors and windows give the place its bright feeling. We sat by the window and sampled two microbrews. My pint of Drunken Duck (4.3% ABV, Rooster's Brewery, Harrogate, North Yorkshire) was the colour of my favourite Seattle brew, Elysian IPA, almost a hazy corn colour. It was light and crisp with a hoppy cream-soda character: a quackin' pint. Andrew had a pint of Cracker (3.8% ABV, Barngates Brewery, Ambleside, Lake District, Cumbria), which is amber coloured and slightly caramelly with a Barnsley Bitter edge and also pleasantly hoppy. Both pints were so enjoyable we shared them, interspersing sips of Cracker with Quacker. Coincidentally the Barngates Brewery which makes Cracker was initially established to provide beer for the Drunken Duck Inn. And all the beers are named after dogs that lived at the Duck. So if Cracker was originally a dog, who was the Drunken Duck? And do the quacks of intoxicated ducks echo?

I'm mind does tend to wander sometimes...

A plaque on the wall close to us says that Bill Clinton visited this pub on the 8th of June 2001 and dined on the homemade Steak and Ale Pie. He was in Harrogate for the Yorkshire International Business Convention, and aside from the Old Bell he was reported to have dropped in unexpectedly on a wedding in Rudding Park. But what the plaque doesn't specify is what Bill had to drink. Would he prefer a cracker to a quacker, or perhaps some Timmy Taylor? What does a beer-drinking President prefer?

As we sipped our pints we gazed out the window onto the Royal Parade roundabout where the massive 17th-century Crown Hotel commands the view. We found ourselves wondering why all the streets in Harrogate seem to be called "Parades". Since Harrogate has quite a number of huge parks and greens flanked by rows of stately Georgian buildings, perhaps the Victorian leisure class spent their time parading up and down the streets and across the parks; after all, they couldn't spent all their time soaking in sulphur baths or they'd end up looking like stewed apricots. And then for some reason we moved on to thinking up unique names for hairdressing salons: Locksmiths, Dis-tress, Curlew, Do or Dye. Was it the view? Or was it the beer? Does a drunk hairdresser's voice echo?

Oops, sorry...there I go again (again (again))...