Visit Real Ale, Real Music

I recently paid a visit to a local pub which is to be found in a rather unusual location, which then set me off thinking about other pubs I have visited which are to be found in a similar setting....

The Hop Monkey Music Bar opened a few months ago in Lee Bridge, close to the Dean Clough complex, a short distance from Halifax town centre. I had been meaning to pay a visit ever since last December when this long-standing pub, which had most recently been closed, re-opened its doors, but until last weekend I had not had the opportunity. From the outside it is an unassuming-looking place in itself, but it is situated in a rather unusual location as it nestles beneath a fly-over which carries the busy A629 through this narrow part of the valley. Indeed, the pub is sandwiched in between the road's supporting pillars and struts, with the traffic thundering by overhead.

The pub, which was re-built in 1904, was originally known as the Olde Shears Inn, and in the pre-flyover days the main road out of Halifax towards Keighley passed right beside the pub. It therefore attracted travellers on this route between the two towns, as well as workers from the huge Dean Clough Mills which dominated the valley here. And with its proximity to residential areas such as Lee Mount, Ovenden, and Boothtown, where many of the workers in the mills were drawn from, the pub had a loyal local following. Built largely between the 1840's and 1860's by John Crossley and Sons, the Dean Clough site consisted of several large mill buildings which sprawl for a distance of half a mile along the valley around the Hebble Brook, their setting made more dramatic by the steep slopes of the narrow valley. With an incredible 1.25 million square feet of floorspace, these mills were for a time home to the largest carpet factory in the world. The mills provided employment to thousands over the years as carpets produced in Halifax were despatched across the country and exported across the world, with the US a particularly strong market. I can still remember as a young lad passing over the North Bridge on dark evenings after visiting my grandma and seeing the huge Crossleys Carpets illuminated sign on top of one of the mills, along with the sign for Whitakers Cock of the North beers, brewed nearby. The mills dominated the area economically and visually, but sadly they finally closed in 1983 after years of declining business as the industry's centre of gravity moved overseas, and Crossleys suffered as cheaper foreign-produced carpets became readily available.

Part of the Dean Clough site

That though wasn't the end of the story. The Dean Clough site was bought by a consortium of businessmen led by Sir Ernest Hall and carpet manufacturing was replaced by insurance and financial services, creative industries, and cultural activities, and hospitality ventures. The looms may have fallen silent, but the buildings were now full of a myriad of different sounds; the tap on a keyboard, the rattle of cutlery, the clinking of glasses as bars, restaurants, a theatre, and a hotel opened on the site. Meanwhile, across from the far end of Dean Clough, the Shears, or 1904, as it was later re-named managed to keep going despite its now more peripheral location with fewer workers calling in as their predecessors at Crossleys would have done. With many of the new breed of generally white-collar workers employed across the site living out of the area, plus of course the change in people's habits over the years which has impacted many pubs in former industrial locations, the pub gradually got quieter. On the one occasion I did call in on a weekend night a few years ago, I'd left the bright lights of the lively Next Level bar, which was more in keeping with the younger and trendier visitors that were drawn to Dean Clough, and walked in to a very quiet pub with only a couple of customers having a drink, and there was little atmosphere to the place. In reality, most people would come to Dean Clough and be totally oblivious to the fact there was a traditional pub right on the doorstep.

And so moving on to the latest iteration of the pub as the Hop Monkey Music Bar. As the name implies, music is a significant part of the package, with live music on most Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, but it is certainly not the whole picture, with the needs of real ale drinkers very much at the forefront of the drinks offer. The pub is run by Dave and Sue Kelly, who opened the Hop Monkey a couple of years ago in the Halifax suburb of Hipperholme, and built up a previously rundown, moribund local neglected by its pubco owners into a thriving community hub with a mix of traditional ales, live music, and a welcoming atmosphere with the pub regularly packed out at weekends. Dave, who is from Chesterfield, and has years of experience in running pubs, is relishing this latest opportunity as he and Sue have now moved on from the original Hop Monkey, with additional funds in this latest venture invested by a couple of friends.

I walked into a warm and welcoming single-room pub with wooden flooring and a wooden-fronted bar directly in front of the entrance. The room was clean and smartly decorated with several of the pictures that had previously been on the walls of the old pub on display here, with the Hop Monkey imagery and various simian references and items in evidence along with some interesting brewery memorabilia. A highlight was the sympathetically-lit pub stage, decorated with a full drum kit, which is only for display purposes, but presented with a number of other artefacts it gives the room a real focal point. Elsewhere, much use is made of old barrels as tables, with the shape of the bar and supporting pillars dividing the room into several natural areas.

On the bar there are a total of 14 hand pumps as well as several keg lines, but needless to say most of them are not in use, but the potential is there. There were 5 pumps in use, with a choice of beers including Moorhouses Premier Bitter, Yorkshire Heart Blonde, and a couple from Two By Two, Snake Eyes and a stout. I was driving, so I decided to try a half of the Yorkshire Heart, which is a brewery with its own vineyard based in Nun Monkton near York, whose beers are rarely seen in this area. It was a nicely balanced, quite delicate and refreshing 3.9% session pale ale. Of course I then had to try out the Snake Eyes, a 4.7% hazy, soft, and highly drinkable pale single-hopped with Mosaic. As this is a beer with which I am very familiar I am delighted to be able to report that it was in excellent form. And like Yorkshire Heart, Two by Two beers are rarely seen in Halifax although they are very popular at the Crafty Fox over in Brighouse.

I mentioned to Dave and Sue about the pub's unusual location. I said I thought you would be able to go outside for a smoke and not get wet when it is raining. He insisted that isn't the case, as he had been already been soaked by spray coming off the flyover above. And that probably explains why there is a smoking shelter outside.

At the moment, the pub is only opening Thursday through to Sunday as Dave and Sue try to build the trade up, with them making the decision to run the pub themselves rather than employing a manager which had been the initial situation. And whilst it has been quiet, it has also been packed out for some of the music events. But based on the quality of the beer, the warm welcome, and the comfortable surroundings which Dave insists aren't finished yet, the pub is well worth visiting. If you fancy going along and checking out the Hop Monkey Music Bar for yourself it is about 15 minutes walk from the bus station, or a short taxi ride from the town centre, or with a designated driver there is plenty of parking across the road at Dean Clough.

Despite its unusual location, the Hop Monkey Music Bar is not unique in being underneath a bridge. Aside from the micro pubs, taprooms, and breweries which are to be found in railway arches up and down the country from London to Newcastle via Manchester that are within the structure of the bridge, there are a number of free-standing pubs in different parts of the country that have a bridge or viaduct above them. One that stands out is the Crown in Stockport, which lies beneath the one of the 27 arches that make up the huge viaduct which dominates the town. In fact the viaduct is the largest brick-built structure in the country with an incredible 11 million bricks used in its construction. The Crown, one of many fine pubs located in the town, is a former Boddingtons pub as indicated by the vintage pub signage. Today it is a popular free house with 12 hand pumps featuring beer from predominantly local microbreweries, and with its timeless, multi-roomed interior it is a great place to stop for a pint.

Traditional look at the Crown, Stockport

Another pub that I enjoyed visiting that is beneath a bridge is the Station House in Durham, which I called in a couple of years ago on a cold day in the city. It is situated on a sharp junction under the high railway viaduct just down from the railway station. This small pub, which opened in 2015, has a traditional layout which harks back to simpler times, with the bar basically a serving hatch with hand pumps along one wall. It sells up to 4 beers on hand pump, although sometimes beers are available on gravity direct from the barrel. When I went in the pub was a haven of quiet conversation and excellent beer, a welcome respite from the snow coming down outside.

The Station House, Durham

And finally, another pub that I have enjoyed visiting in the North East over the years is the Tyne Bar in Newcastle, which is situated just by where the Ouseburn Beck flows into the River Tyne. Whilst the pub itself is not under a bridge, the pub beer garden is partly beneath the bridge which carries the A191 road above. This is a lively free house which sells beers from local breweries like Almasty and features regular live music, or if the weather is good, you can sit out at one of the many tables out front and watch the world go by. And like, the Hop Monkey Music Bar, the setting of the the Tyne Bar and these other examples may not be unique but it is unusual and provides an additional point of interest to what is a fine pub....

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