In November 2014, just before moving to Saltaire, a hint from a friend and a chalkboard sign reading ‘micro pub’ first drew me up Queen’s Road and through the door of the Cap and Collar. I wasn’t the only one.
Sitting in the Cap recently as owners Phil and Jenna Garvey prepared to set up the bar for a busy weekend of service, they reflect on the handfuls of flyers they tentatively spread around Saltaire Village and Festival ahead of their opening. The flyer was cryptic, carrying just the name of the pub and ‘coming soon’, but evidently it struck a chord. Before the first pint was pulled the locals were queuing down the road – clearly West Yorkshire’s first micro-pub was tapping into a thirst that other local swilling spots weren’t equipped to quench.
This weekend, the Cap and Collar celebrates its 5th birthday, a great achievement given the average life expectancy of a new hospitality start-up and the 12+ established pubs closing their doors across the UK each week.
For a bar that has perfectly surfed the UK beer revolution of recent years, I’m surprised to hear Phil say that, for him at least, beer plays second fiddle to the core ethos of the business. When training staff, he always highlights that the Cap is a people business first and a beer business second.
As supermarkets subsume the craft beer movement to their shelves and as mass pub chains establish that hundreds of thousands of pounds in capital are required to synthesise their version of ‘a local’, it makes me wonder what it really takes to conjure the magic of a beloved local pub.
Phil talks of friendships formed, communities galvanised, and links made amongst local people that might not otherwise have been forged without the Cap’s friendly welcome and small proportions, meaning tables and benches are shared by friends and strangers alike.
This has become a special place for local people with a core community of committed regulars. For some, it is a staple Friday night ritual. For others, it might be their main point of social contact with the outside world, helping to stave off loneliness. For many it is a valuable ‘third’ space between work and home in which to relax and a convenient place to become waylaid whilst returning from the chippie, co-op, bus stop or school run.
Amidst the focus on communality, the Cap has also distinguished itself for its beer offering, winning several CAMRA awards and earning its spot in the beery bible, The Good Beer Guide, for 3 years in a row.
Careful balance between character and style is observed when presenting the rotating mix of beer available. Hand pulled classics from stalwarts Ilkley and Thornbridge rub shoulders with edgier crafters like Cloudwater and Wishbone. Delving behind the bar and into the signature fridge cum ‘vertical cellar’, even more experimental cans and bottles offer tastes from across Europe and beyond, including larger tipples for celebrations and sharing with friends.
Phil is holding his cards close to his chest about what the next five years might hold in store. The current building’s size negates upscaling and I celebrate his conviction that small is perfect. Replicating the current format in multiple elsewhere could also prove difficult given the unique balance of people-powered chemistry that has characterised the success of the Cap in its current form. His voice and imagination wander off a little amidst musing on different formats, collaborations and other spaces around the village. I guess we’ll have to wait, pint in hand, and see.
Recent additions to the calendar though include a series of informal talks kicked off by the exceptional and self-effacing Ollie’s Honey Company back in October, recently followed up by local artist Sarah Harris whose screen printing practice has captured some unique perspectives of the landscape and colour of Saltaire’s many landmarks. For Phil, these talks are a natural evolution of the informal sharing of local info, skills and experience that take place week in, week out around the Cap’s cosy tables and bar. They also build on the established community groups who call the Cap their home. These include board gaming nights, book clubs, home brewing forums, a cycling group and a weekly folk music jam.
Birthday celebrations will feature cracking open a jeroboam of Chimay Grande Réserve and run into the weekend with a Hawkshead takeover and special BBQ food offer. Beyond that, a birthday beer will soon hit the taps, brewed by Phil and his staff under the guidance of Armley-based favourites Anthology.
Nationally, the conversation on the future of the ‘great’ British pub continues to extend a projection of reduction and loss. Here in Saltaire, however, villagers and visitors can enter winter fortified that the Cap and Collar (through service and on tap) will be offering care, love and cheer for another 5 years to come.