The Victoria Family and Commercial Hotel (affectionately known as The Vic) on Great George Street has survived continual redevelopment of the local area; making it part of Leeds drinking culture since it was built to accommodate visitors to the Town Hall in 1865.
My guess is not much has changed since then – and that’s no bad thing.
Walking into the bar is like stepping back in time. Etched glass and solid wood booths divide the small main bar room up into cosy tables for four, while the front and very back are more open plan to allow for groups or the occasional use as a stage for live jazz music.
Two rooms just off the bar are set up as traditional dining rooms, but are more often than not used by drinkers who can’t find a seat, which happens often. The dining rooms are available to hire free of charge, meaning that the bar is often used by organisations for meetings and parties, which has the double effect of meaning the ‘overflow’ areas are lost and the queue to the bar is longer.
At times - particularly after work or just before something starts at the nearby art gallery or Carriageworks theatre - it can become a real scrum.
There is good food served (sausages are a real speciality with eight different sorts on offer), but the real draw is the beer. A CAMRA-approved pub guarantees a selection of reasonably priced, ever-changing guest ales on tap, usually four or five at a time; with several lagers and Stowford Press cider on draught and several choices in bottles.
There is the usual range of spirits, a mainstream mid-price price list and soft drinks, but nothing special. Often seasonal drinks are on offer - mulled wine and cider in the winter and Pimms in the summer. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable about the drinks on offer, with an opportunity to ‘try before you buy’ on the real ales; and drinkers at the bar will happily offer advice on the pint you’re contemplating.
As it’s just across from Millennium Square, The Vic is often used as an overspill drinking venue for whatever is going on, so there is a huge mix of clientele. Around Christmas, expect groups who can’t get into the Bierkeller in the German Market; and if there’s football on the big screen in Millennium Square the pub will be filled with fans, despite not having any televisions of their own.
Summer tends to be quieter, as there is no outdoor area (smokers have to stand on the pavement in front of the bar, often dodging pedestrians). It’s also a real favourite with the independent scene (some folk regularly use the free rooms to organise talks of the revolution) and artsy-types in bohemian clothing can be seen rubbing shoulders with the old-time drinkers sharing grumbles over a pint before heading home to the family.
This makes it hard to categorise The Vic; it’s partly a successful real ale pub, sometimes a quiet drinking hole to fill in a spare half hour and sometimes a raucous mix of politics, art and putting the world to rights - much like Leeds itself.
If you want a real taste of the people who make up the city, pop in for a pint. Just don’t blame me if you can’t get a seat.
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