Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Beige. But in a Good Way


A small beige room about the size of the Euston Tap, or maybe a smidgen bigger, in a side street near busy Leeds Station and just off the main drag, Friends of Ham doesn't look like a bar from the outside. Despite knowing the area fairly well, I nearly walked past it. It is one o'clock and the place is empty. Well it is upstairs where the bar is. I understand there is more downstairs, but I didn't visit as I 'd have felt a tad conspicuous in doing so. The place is a vista (OK - a small vista) of shades of beige.  Beige floor, beige walls, beige bar and stools and light brown rolls of hanging paper which act as wine lists and menus.  It would be quite at home in Stockholm or Oslo, but counter intuitively, it works, though a splash of colour here and there wouldn't go amiss.

I am greeted cheerily by the inevitable neatly bearded barman and scan the pumps. It is my first drink of this sunny Saturday and I order Roosters Leghorn. I look round and when my gaze returns to the bar, perplexingly I am confronted by a dimpled pint mug full of beer. I remark that I would have asked for a straight glass had I known, but I demur when offered an exchange, remarking that I'll just have it in the old fashioned glass. A jaw drops in this achingly trendy little bar.  Have I committed a cardinal sin of implying untrendiness? I hastily offer the explanation that I remember these the first time round, but he doesn't look convinced. Is he unaware that there was a first time, or, more likely, should I clearly know that this is a retro touch?

This pointlessly worries me as I retreat to the most uncomfortable stool ever;  it is a tiny rectangle of sharp corners that bit into my well padded arse, but they look good. Style over substance, but in there I have to say they are perfect.  Young women in matching aprons fuss about filling the tiniest saucers ever with a precarious (small) heap of olives for £1.60 a pop and bringing "sharing bottles" to the stand up fridge. The choice of beer is thoughtful and wide ranging. The bottle fridge is interesting, diverse and representative. Is there a price list somewhere? I don't know.  The craft keg offer is well thought out, seems par for the course pricewise and is offered in thirds, halves and two thirds.  Three handpumps offer a balanced range. My Roosters is good. Very good, so I order another half.  A young couple come in, order beer and disappear downstairs.  I would love a look there but somehow don't do it, though I know this is the part of the bar that gets a lot of plaudits.  I am missing out here, but drink up and go and am given a cheery goodbye.

So what do I think?  I really need to visit again, preferably with my lass to tell you.  It isn't a place to go on your own, if like me you like to watch what is going on at the bar. In fact it probably isn't a place to go on your own at all.  I have no reservations whatever on service which is helpful and friendly, beer choice which is pretty near perfect, or popularity, but I can tell I am not the target audience.  It is for trendy 25 to 35 years olds and no worse for that.  Friends of Ham know who it is aiming at and judging by the on-line reviews, it does it very well indeed, but somehow I am guessing that there would be few occasions when it would be my first choice. 

That is probably how it should be. They have a niche that works for them and that is a very good thing.

I am guessing too, that it would be very uncomfortable when busy. But younger folks like that and busy is always good for a pub or bar.

22 comments:

py0 said...

Dimpled handled mugs were already becoming cool and retro back when I was a student. Now they're pretty much compulsory.

Martyn Cornell said...

To be offered a dimpled mug by a bearded barman in his 30s is as clear a sign that you are in a hipster bar as you could ask for. The only other item to earn more hipster points is a vinyl-based sound system.

Tandleman said...

Martyn - They may well have had for all I know. It is pretty hip.

RedNev said...

It sounds rather awful to me. If I were alone, I probably wouldn't have got as far as ordering a drink.

Phil said...

Nice picture. I initially thought "beer in a can" was a wittily up-yours-CAMRA reference of the keg, but no. £3.50 for a 330ml can of Punk IPA? Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

I felt for you on the dimpled mug front - I'm still not used to being handed one of those, let alone to the unstated implication that the barman's doing me a favour by using it.

py0 - how long ago was "back when I was a student"? Back when I was a student they were still around. The real nostalgic items, which you never saw anywhere except on old films, were straight-sided glasses. Manto was the first place I remember using them, and that opened in 1990.

Birkonian said...

Dimple glasses never went out of fashion in certain middle class taverns. I hate them. Too heavy, they take up extra space on a table/bar. Plus it's easier to avoid spillage if your banged into when holding a straight glass. Bar staff can carry a lot more empty straight glasses back to the bar in one go.

py0 said...

early-mid 2000s. It was the precursor of hipsterism, I think we were the first generation for a while to "ironically" dress in diamond patterned cardigans and ask for a handled glass with our pint of "old man beer" (bitter itself being a briefly cool retro drink).

You had three types of glass: "normal" glasses - the classic nonic and its slightly crapper cousin, the straight sided cider glass; "poncey" tall glasses; and retro "old man" glasses with a handle.

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

I had my first foreign meet-the-brewer event there back in November with Mr. Hardknott. I felt like I was in Portlandia.

Leigh said...

Morning Tand - re: Glasses, North & The Adelphi never stopped serving beer in dimpled mugs, as far as I can remember. It was once a talking point in itself, when I was beginning to drink be circa '00. Hey - at least he offered to swap.
FOH is a different little offering to what we have in Leeds and its entirely welcome. Small, absolutely. Uncomfortable when crowded - definately. Another stop to get a beer and one that offers something new (food-based, wine, a place that, as you say, you can perhaps take people who are not that into beer) - definately.
RedNev - bit of an extreme comment, pal. Drop by - have a drink.

Tandleman said...

So - dimpled mugs seems generationally a no no.

I thought FoH has its place. It is quirky, but not my plate of iberico.

Dimpled Mug said...

personally I'm quite partial do a
http://dimpledmug.co.uk/

Tandleman said...

DM

Then you know where to go in Leeds. Another public service from Der Tandlamann.

Dimpled Mug said...

Thank you very much Tandy, maybe for a beer but being vegetarian-the food would be off limits.

Phil said...

I don't like nonics - to me they look like what they are, a design solution to a catering problem - but I really dislike dimple mugs: too broad, too heavy, awkward to hold and carry. Plus they remind me of the 70s - the sight of a pint being pulled into a dimple mug reminds me of Worthington E adverts.

Funny, though - a while ago the debate was all about branded glassware, and I was made to feel like a luddite for saying I didn't think my pint was enhanced by branding & if anything I preferred my glasses plain. How often do you see a branded dimple mug? Fashion, turn to the left...

Tandleman said...

Phil - I agree. Readers of my blog will know I have an avid dislike of the nonic. I like your description of it.

py0 said...

What is your glass of choice Mr T?

wee beefy said...

Hello, I was in Leeds the same day as you, but Friends of Ham about 12.40 so think you may have been Palace bound.

I love dimpled mugs but only because hands around the beer could cause warming.

I agree it's not everyone's cup of tea but I rate FOH. I mainly go for the meat and atmosphere downstairs. True the stools are uncomfy, and its painfully expensive if you don't do a bit of research. But its new, interesting, sells Lardo, and there's nowt like it in Sheffield.

Hence it's the best place to start a Leds crawl followed by Whitelocks, Swan, North, Templar, Adelphi and Grove (or more).

There's room for ultra modern and ultra trad in Leeds, much to it's credit. Dimpled or straight.

ShadowHider said...

We love Friends Of Ham, especially downstairs and I'm 50 something.

I must be trendy !!!!

Great beer and a very good charcuterie board means it's a regular stop off for us.

Simon Johnson said...

I thought this was going to be about Phil Booton. I feel cheated.

Tandleman said...

Put it this way Simon. If you arranged to meet Phil there and he got there first, you wouldn't be able to spot him, as he'd be invisible.

Wheaty said...

Greene King offer a nice flat sided handled jug. Is this the best compromise?

http://www.thepintglasscompany.com/WebRoot/Store/Shops/es146542/50AE/4CB5/82A6/4E69/0652/0A0F/1115/17BD/GREE02.JPG

I have to say I do like the Thornbridge 'chalice' with a short stem (similar to the Stella Artois version) but prefer a straight sided thick 'sleeve' affair to the ubiquitous nonic style.

Anonymous said...

Should things turn nasty dimpled pints are a much safer weapon than a the obligatory broken straight or tujip being more of a club than a dagger. They should be obligatory in the less salubrious watering holes. I suspect that this might not be too much of a problem in the trendy Friends of Ham