Pubpaper 815 – Second Chances and 5 Years On

Posted: 12th July 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

The Cock of the North in Hipperholme was one of the original pubs I used to visit a lot when I started to write for PubPaper back in 2010.  It had always had a wide range of beers on and enough variety of styles for a session to be kept interesting.  It was (and still is) the brewery tap of the Halifax Steam Brewery with the brewing vessels being visible as you entered the bar and only their beers being sold on draught.  My visits became less regular as more real ale places opened closer to home, but it was still on our list.

However a couple of years ago, I boycotted the place after an experience where the then bar manager put on a display Basil Fawlty would be proud of.  Coming to the end of a night out about 11pm, the manager started to hoover around the remaining customers whilst they were drinking up, and whilst I was on the phone to the taxi company, he interrupted the call as me and my wife discussed what time to book it for, effectively telling us to book it for ASAP.  His performance was frankly disgusting and we vowed to never return.

However this weekend we decided to give the Cock of the North another chance, and the intervening years have certainly seen improvements.  The original portacabin was half brewery half bar, so could get cramped at busy times and was always a bit cosy on an evening, but it had a good atmosphere (most of the time).  The brewery operation has now been moved out of the portacabin and as a result it is nearly double the size and it really improves the place as a venue, the mix of sofas, bar tables, benches and high stool tables have plenty of room around them now and looks immediately more relaxing.

They have also tweaked how they operate the bar, they used to serve 10 of their beers at any time previously, now there are 6 pumps on the bar serving a selection on the day from pale to ginger to dark.  The range of cider has also improved with boxed ciders now on offer, the previous limited cider range not being the best at that time.   The smaller range works for me, as when you had the 10 beers on at once, there was a lot of beers which overlapped in style and strength, whereas the 6 pumps now provide a gradual range across the beer spectrum.

The bar is definitely back on my list again now, but it does show the point that poor customer service over-rules beer and venue in the customers eye.   On my visit, the service was good and was attended to quickly.  That is half the customer battle won, the beer is the easier sell as you are preaching to the converted.

Another thing than it brings to the fore is how the scene has changed beer and pub wise in the last 5 years in Calderdale.  It has definitely changed for the better,  we have more choice of real ale pubs and a bigger range of interesting beers.  Most towns in the area now have seen an upturn in their pub and bar scene and more choice is out there for the real ale (and craft beer) drinker.  Back in 2009, my regularly visited pubs could be counted on a hand at times.  Hebden Bridge, Brighouse, Luddenden Foot, Todmorden, Ripponden, all have gained venues which provide the beer people want and more importantly the pub numbers are sustainable given the local population and visitors to the town.  This means that I now sometimes have a difficult decision when choosing where to drink, and the favourites list is now 5 of many more.  The Calder Valley pub scene was of course decimated for a while by the floods around the turn of the decade.

Sowerby Bridge I didn’t mention as it had already had its boom well in progress by 2009-10.  Halifax has gained a decent real ale scene again with more established pubs serving a good range of these beers as well as the opening of the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe in 2014 and much earlier in this period, the Cross Keys on the border between Halifax and Siddal, providing a top quality end to the real ale mile at the bottom of the town, the Old Post Office at its start now.  Of course we have lost the Pump Room, sadly physically as well by the time you read this, but overall things are better.

However certain towns have been overtaken by their neighbours as they stand still.  Elland is now overshadowed by Brighouse regarding its pub scene, and could fall behind West Vale and its immediate surrounding hills as the leisure development at the Thornton Mills comes to fruition.  The town centre now only has 2-3 pubs in it’s heart, supported a number on the outskirts.  The town has the transport links and population to make it destination again, but investment will be needed to do so.