APERITIVO

One of my favourite things about my last holiday in Italy (Couchsurfing around Bologna, Padua, Venice and Florence, absolute bliss with my girlfriend, eating amazing food and meeting some lovely hosts) was discovering, via Geovanni, our great host in Bologna, about the aperitivo culture in Northern Italy.

Post work, the Italian’s don’t head down the pub for a pint (not that I’m disparaging that. Hell, read the rest of blog), they head out to the bars for a Spritz (Campari and soda, really refreshingly bitter) and then getting loads of free food. Sometimes it’s just endless bowls of crisps, sometimes it’s bruschetta (that’s bread with tomatoes and stuff), sometimes it’s bread and oil, sometimes it’s a massive buffet. The premise is simple, you pay a fixed (normally relatively high) price for your drink between, say 5 and 7pm, and included in the price is a never ending supply of grub. It’s great. The food means you don’t get too pissed, and it’s so unbelievably sociable.

The other thing I thought was great about Italy (again, something you learn from Couchsurfing and being shown the city by a local) is  that it is the LAW that if you order an espresso at the bar (ie not needing table service) they can’t charge you more than €1. That makes it just about the cheapest drink you can get. And shows how much the Italians love their coffee.

(one more thing I like, but isn’t relevant here, is that almost every train station has a cafe that does great coffee, sarnies and pastries, beats what we have here)

Anyway, I always miss this in Leeds. Quality coffee for nowt (honestly, try Starbucks coffee after trying Italian coffee, it tastes bland) and this great culture of aperitivo.

But all is not lost. One enthusiastic business owner, Alex, from Milan, wants to bring that Italian culture to Leeds and is doing his based with his little espresso bar, La Bottega Milanese on The Calls. He’s been pedalling quality coffee (at a mere £1 for an espresso) for six months, and now he’s launched an aperitivo menu of his own, using a non-alcoholic campari equivalent and loads of crisps, nuts, tomatoes, mozarella and bruschetta.

What a great idea. I’ll be getting down to support it.

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Keep On Runnin’: The Otley Run, 17 pubs in 13 hours can it be done? No.

Okay, I’m not in some stupid meathead university club that requires all members to do some form of initiation involving humiliating acts or forced drinking – you know, the normal idiots who try to cram in a month’s worth of drinking into one day. I am, however, friends with a chap called Sturdy.  He’s getting married soon, and, to celebrate, his stag do involved a trawl through the Otley Run.

Folks living in Leeds will know all about the Otley Run. It’s a pub crawl from Headingley (the most studenty bit of Leeds) to Leeds city centre, and it’s infamous for annoying students in fancy dress stumbling in to the road and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

I’ve lived in Leeds for eight years now, and I’ve never done the Otley Run, because I’m sane. Neither have Sturdy, or Rob, his best man, or, indeed, any of the stag-doers. It seemed we were in good company.

Don’t fret. I’m not going to take you on a blow-by-blow, pub-by-pub account of where we went and what we drank. That would be boring, and anyway, by pub nine my memory is, well, hazy.

What is remarkable, though, is how many of these, quite frankly, shit pubs served up quality booze. Yep, I drank far more pints of Tetley and John Smith smooth flow that I would have liked, but I reckon a good 6 or 7 of the pubs I visited had a decent drop of hand-pulled ale. As I said, I don’t remember the whole evening, but I definitely got in pints of Black Sheep, Leeds Pale, Tetley’s and something Morris themed in one of the early drinking holes.  Which is nice.

A real beer lover would probably remark on the fact that some of these ales weren’t well kept, but, pft, I’d had three pints by 1pm, what did I care?

One final admission, I didn’t make it through all 17 pubs, I got to the Eldon (pub 12) and 11pm (that’s 12 hours in, we started at 11am), having had 12 pints, loads of water, a really bloody bad burger from Hyde Park Corner pub (don’t go there if you can avoid it, it’s really shit), and a Gregg’s pastie. Which was nice.

The highlight was Arcadia, which really is an awfully nice drinking den. Full of quality ales and a relaxed atmosphere, it’s not officially part of the Otley run, as they ban large groups of students and fancy dress. We, though, were well behaved and our matching T-shirts were mainly kept below jumpers. Also quite impressive are The Three Horseshoes in Far Headingley, and Woodies (again in Far Headingley). I don’t actually remember being in The Packhorse, but I’m sure it was great. It always is.

Lowlights were the aforementioned burger at the Hyde Park, and indeed, the entirity of that enormous pub. Plus, all the trendy, student-centric drinkeries in the centre of Headingley. The Box (all big sports screens, shit music and idiots), Headingley Taps (lovely building, unpleasant clientele), The Skyrack (just generally horrible and too full of students). We missed out The Arc (we visited the similarly-named Arcadia instead) and that was a good move, because that place is nasty too.

So, what did I learn? Firstly, 12 pints is my absolute limit, secondly, Sturdy has some very pleasant friends, thirdly, most pubs in Headingley are worth avoiding, which makes Arcadia even more of a gem. Fourth, real ale is more generally available than you’d think.