Pubs and bars
York is a magical place at night. Wonderful old buildings like the Minster and Guildhall take on a new beauty when lit up against the darkness, while the centre buzzes with pubs, bars and people. There’s plenty of choice for the night owl. York pubs are full of character – and full of characters – and the vibrant new bars have added another dimension. If you dare you can take the terror trail on one of the ghost walks. Add to that the live music venues and nightclubs, and you can have several nights out in one evening.
York has always been blessed with a cornucopia of great inns, taverns and pubs. It used to be said that there was one for every day of the year. And while that may no longer be true (to be fair, we haven’t checked), the city boasts a terrific array of drinking holes. Some of them date back centuries. But new ones arrive all the time.
One of the most interesting new arrivals is Valhalla, on the narrow street of Patrick Pool. This Viking-themed bar is the brainchild of two friends with a shared love of everything Norse. You can even drink a horn of mead – from a real horn!
Another addition to the drinking scene is the Cosy Club. The bar has moved into a location with a lot of history – it was York’s first purpose-built movie house, the Electric Cinema, which opened in 1911. As befitting a building with a flamboyantly large arch, the Cosy Club is an eccentric venue, with dozens of framed pictures on the walls and an impressive chandelier centrepiece. It is one of several popular chain bars to open in York in the last two years. Another is The Botanist on Stonegate, while BrewDog opened a large pub selling its own range of craft beers on Micklegate.
York has always been blessed with a cornucopia of great inns, taverns and pubs. It used to be said that there was one for every day of the year. And while that may no longer be true, the city boasts a terrific array of drinking holes
A pleasurable night out
But what makes York such a pleasurable night out is its range of independent pubs and bars. Cave du Cochon is the wine bar sister of acclaimed York restaurant Le Cochon Aveugle. With more than 60 wines from small vineyards, and 10 cheeses, it is like a little corner of France relocated to Walmgate.
Pavement Vaults, a “progressive beer, smoke and barbeque canteen”, is run by local heroes the Pivovar Group, who own two more of the city’s best pubs, Pivni on Patrick Pool and the York Tap at the railway station. Another large local concern is Sutlers, with an impressive range of gins and home-cooked food.
Pairings on Castlegate is the creation of a couple of sisters, and has become one of the most popular wine bars in York. As its name suggests, Pairings is all about encouraging people to try unusual food and drink combinations – such as charcuterie with vermouth. And keeping with the sibling theme, the Fossgate Social was opened up by a brother and sister team in 2014. This small café bar is now an established community gem, thanks to good food and drink, live music and local exhibitions. It is just down the road from The Hop. Combining great beer and home-cooked pizza the pub was a hit from the moment it opened.
Cave du Cochon is the wine bar sister of acclaimed York restaurant Le Cochon Aveugle. With more than 60 wines from small vineyards, and 10 cheeses, it is like a little corner of France relocated to Walmgate
In 2017 the Eagle & Child, found in a 17th-century timber-framed building on High Petergate, enjoyed a sensitive makeover, with its beer garden being completely refurbished. It has also introduced Beer and Beats, a monthly tap takeover and music event.
It isn’t the only pub to enjoy a new lease of life. The Rook & Gaskill on Lawrence Street has reopened with the emphasis on choice – it now has as many as 20 keg and 10 cask beers on offer. One of the best things about the renovation of Church Street’s Golden Lion is the creation of a sun-trap rooftop beer garden. And you can tell that Keystones is aimed at the younger crowd. When this handsome pub, next to Monk Bar, reopened it came complete with retro gaming stations and plentiful USB points.
The Gillygate, on the street of the same name, has four bars, including a whisky snug, and a fine beer garden. It also stages comedy and variety nights in its ‘shed’ behind the main building.
It isn’t the only pub to enjoy a new lease of life. The Rook & Gaskill on Lawrence Street has reopened with the emphasis on choice – it now has as many as 20 keg and 10 cask beers on offer
Even York’s most famous street, Shambles, has got in on the action. What was an ordinary café has developed into The Shambles Tavern, selling a range of real ales which you can enjoy in its small outdoor seating area in York’s market place. Close by is one of the most atmospheric old pubs in York. The Blue Bell, on Fossgate, is an historic gem. You’ll be lucky to get a seat in the small front bar or back room, and may end up supping a pint in the corridor, but the wood-panelled interior and the warmth of the welcome add up to unforgettable experience.
A number of York pubs lay claim to being the oldest, and they’re all worth a visit. Infamous highwayman Dick Turpin is said to have fled through an upstairs window of The Red Lion on Merchantgate, though why he didn’t stay for a pint or two is a mystery. A downhill passage from Pavement brings you to the bar of the Golden Fleece which, they say, is frequented by dozens of ghostly patrons. Witches, meanwhile, used to gather inside the timber-framed Black Swan on Peasholme Green.
Another ancient pub advertises its presence via a sign stretching across Stonegate, proclaiming Ye Olde Starre Inn. It was here that the Royalist landlord refused to serve a pub full of Roundheads during the Civil War. But they let bygones be bygones there now.
You’ll be lucky to get a seat in the small front bar or back room, and may end up supping a pint in the corridor, but the wood-panelled interior and the warmth of the welcome add up to unforgettable experience
Nearby is the wonderfully-named House Of The Trembling Madness, which includes a small bar upstairs as well as a huge range of bottled beers for sale on the ground floor. It is planning a move to larger premises on Lendal very soon. You can enjoy a truly local pint above the mash tuns in York Brewery’s bar on Toft Green or in one of its fine pubs including the Three Legged Mare on High Petergate, known to locals as the Wonky Donkey.
Another fine option if you’re looking for great beer fresh from the brewer is Brew York. Found just off Walmgate, the team serve their own ales from its tap room from Wednesday through to Sunday, and they have recently announced expansion plans.
A pub on High Petergate has quite a claim to fame: the gas-lit Guy Fawkes Inn is said to be the birthplace of the infamous plotter. Further along the same street is The Lamb & Lion Inn. Literally part of history, it is built into Bootham Bar and the city walls, and possesses the finest beer garden in York, perhaps in England. The multi award-winning The Maltings on Tanners Moat is a must for its unmatched selection of beers and home-cooked food served from the Dragon’s Pantry.
A pub on High Petergate has quite a claim to fame: the gas-lit Guy Fawkes Inn is said to be the birthplace of the infamous plotter. Further along the same street is The Lamb & Lion Inn. Literally part of history, it is built into Bootham Bar and the city walls
York’s younger crowd often begin their night on the so-called Micklegate Run. There are lots of pubs and bars lining the cobbled hill of Micklegate, including Brigantes which has an excellent real ale selection, and the smaller Falcon Tap.
To enjoy a flavour of modern York, try one of the popular independent bars dotted around The Quarter, a fashionable maze of streets near Stonegate. One of the trendiest is The Biltmore Bar And Grill on Swinegate. What was an old brick Pentecostal church now holds a throbbing bar downstairs and more formal dining upstairs. The same street is now home to Las Iguanas, with a distinctly South American vibe, and Bora Bora which styles itself as York’s best cocktail bar. Nearby on Little Stonegate you’ll find Kennedy’s, on three stylish floors with a licence allowing the fun to go on till 2am on weekends. The same street hosts Latin bar Bobo Lobo.
The outside courtyard of bar 1331 on Grape Lane is perfect for people watching, especially when all three floors inside are full. The pub even boasts a small private cinema. On Stonegate itself you’ll find the Evil Eye Lounge, a devilishly well-liked venue which serves bottled beers and cocktails, and is favoured by comedian Russell Howard when he comes to York. If you like the underground scene, head down the steps on Little Stonegate to sample cocktails and Mediterranean food at Sotano.
On Stonegate itself you’ll find the Evil Eye Lounge, a devilishly well-liked venue which serves bottled beers and cocktails, and is favoured by comedian Russell Howard when he comes to York
A number of smaller bars off the beaten track are well worth seeking out. The Habit on Goodramgate often hosts open mic nights promoting the city’s singer-songwriters, and has a seriously cool roof terrace.
Tucked around the corner from the market, Pivni is a cosy venue with a great range of beer and cider, while VJs Art Bar on Finkle Street is a friendly, cosmopolitan cafe-bar which recently celebrated its 20th birthday. York also boasts some well-established wine bars, such as Plonkers on Cumberland Street, family-run and very friendly, and Wildes on Grape Lane, with foreign beers on tap.
Finally the city has two genuine community pubs. The Golden Ball on Cromwell Road, and the Angel On The Green on Bishopthorpe Road are both owned and run by people from their respective neighbourhoods. This guarantees a particularly warm and friendly welcome.
York also boasts some well-established wine bars, such as Plonkers on Cumberland Street, family-run and very friendly, and Wildes on Grape Lane, with foreign beers on tap
For years Fibbers has been the first name on any list of York live music venues. The bands who played here could fill a hall of fame: Travis, Coldplay, Lightning Seeds and Stereophonics to name just four. Now found on Toft Green, Fibbers hosts an impressively diverse programme of quality live music – interspersed with the odd wrestling night.
The Crescent, a former working men’s club on Blossom Street, might not be the swishest venue. But, under the ownership of brothers Ed and Bob Leyland, it has been reborn as a community venue with a buzzy and bustling gig scene.
The Basement, found underneath the City Screen Picturehouse off Coney Street, often hosts bands and DJs, as well as theatre and comedy nights. York’s Barbican Centre brings every kind of music to York, from classical orchestras to chart-topping pop stars. The Grand Opera House regularly stages popular tribute nights while The Black Swan, Peasholme Green is home to the Thursday night Folk Club. It is one of a large number of pubs that stage gigs, testament to York’s animated live music scene.
For years Fibbers has been the first name on any list of York live music venues. The bands who played here could fill a hall of fame: Travis, Coldplay, Lightning Seeds and Stereophonics to name just four
If you fancy rounding off the evening by dancing to the latest tracks, then head to Club Salvation on Rougier Street. The dancefloor at the 800 capacity venue is lit by lasers.
Next to Fibbers on Toft Green you’ll find the city’s only German beer cellar. Serving Bavarian beer alongside ales from around the world, Stein Bier Keller also features music from oompah bands and DJs. Kuda is found in the same building as York Dungeon on Clifford Street, but offers an altogether less gruesome style of entertainment. The city’s oldest club, meanwhile, rocks three floors of a listed Georgian building on Micklegate and is called Mansion.
Reputed to be the most haunted city in Europe, York has enough misshapen old buildings and narrow alleyways (known locally as snickelways) to give the toughest sceptic goosebumps. The list of spirits attributed to various corners of the city is ever expanding, which means there are plenty of spooky stories to go around for half dozen or so ghost walks.
Scary and funny by turns, they are a great way to get to know the seedier side of York’s history: look out for the posters and placards around the city centre advertising the various walks. And if you don’t fancy walking, there’s a ghost bus, and even ghostly river cruises…
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