Harrogate needs to ‘try’ harder

The Winter Gardens, Harrogate

Saturday 3 October 2015

We emerge from a relaxing turkish bath at Harrogate’s famous spa in the mood for somewhere elegant, atmospheric and healthy. Then we spot a Wetherspoons next door.

The Winter Gardens must be one of the grandest of all Wetherspoons buildings. The immediate impression is one of awe – it feels like a miniature Alexandra Palace. Once part of the royal baths, visitors between the wars used to stroll amongst the palm trees as the grand piano played, whatever the weather.

It remains beautiful. It’s difficult not to feel like Eliza Doolittle descending its opulent staircase. But fast forward to 2015, and we’re greeted not by a string quartet but by a heaving crowd of rugby fans. For tonight is the night when England takes on Australia in the Rugby World Cup.

We retreat to the remaining table in a dark corner out of sight of the big screen. Fetching a menu from the bar, we notice the barman’s eyes nervously flicker. Over the roar of the crowd we decide to go for new additions – Shanghai Noodles and the Pulled Pork Burger. (We groan as the latter is listed under “burgers and dogs” – thankfully the faux-Portlandisms don’t extend to calling coleslaw “slaw”.)

We go up to order, and it is clear the huge inconvenience this is to the staff whose eyes are trained the big screen. Slinking back to the table, we google the pub while we wait for our food to arrive. The first result is a horrific story about a man punched to death in the pub the previous year. Eek. We hope that England win.

The Winter Gardens crowd

The food arrives and is passable. But as the menus are quickly collected to stop us ordering any pudding, and a young male bangs his fist on the table next to us at the news England has lost, we have no appetite to linger.

Perhaps the Winter Gardens is a pub for the daytime, when sunlight must pour through the magnificent roof and illuminate the interior. But amongst the deflated rabble of customers dressed head-to-toe in Bench and staff cursing that they are working on match night, it’s gloomy in several senses of the word. We’ll make it an early night.

Featured image by Adam Bruderer

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