Booked – some of York’s best cask ale pubs

Try out cask ale at the Blue Bell pub in Fossgate. Photograph: Gareth Buddo for Visit York
3 Oct 2012 @ 11.10 pm
| Food & drink
Try out cask ale at the Blue Bell pub in Fossgate. Photograph: Gareth Buddo for Visit York

As cask ale is celebrated, York CAMRA’s Nick Love picks out some of the best pubs from the new Good Beer Guide where you can enjoy a drop of the proper stuff

It’s Cask Ale Week and if the visitor numbers to the recent York Beer and Cider Festival are anything to go by, cask ale is in rude health.

More than 8,000 people turned up to the Knavesmire event and lay waste to 317 real ales and 100 ciders, making it the most successful event ever. The attendance at the festival reflects a national trend that has seen real ale sales increase yet again whilst consumption of almost all other beverages in pubs has fallen.

The 2013 edition of the famous Good Beer Guide, published by CAMRA, has just gone on sale and is a reliable guide to where to find the best beers and ciders throughout the whole of the UK. You can buy it from all good book shops in York or direct from CAMRA.

Because York has so many great beer pubs and space in the guide is strictly limited it is always a hard choice by the local branch to select which pubs go in. York’s picks for the 2013 guide are listed below (and for my next article I will highlight other pubs that serve consistently great real ale).

Go on – celebrate Cask Ale week in at least one of these pubs over the next few days!


York’s Good Beer Guide Pubs

Blue Bell

A wonderful city-centre pub, one of only a few left on a street that once boasted dozens. The interior is unchanged since 1903 and is listed in CAMRA’s national inventory. It’s wood-panelled throughout, with two small rooms and a corridor with a serving hatch. Reputed as the birthplace of York City FC and a great real ale pub, three times a winner of York CAMRA’s annual award and appeared in the first ever Good Beer Guide in 1974! Sandwiches served at lunchtimes and customers can take in food purchased down the road at The Hairy Fig, also owned by the licencees.



This real ale haven, with ten handpumps featuring Yorkshire beers, including one from Leeds, York, Black Sheep, Great Heck and Timothy Taylor alongside five other guests, is just inside the city walls. Part of the Market Town Taverns chain, the pub also stocks a selection of continental beers and a draught cider. The ground floor bar area leads to a lounge area, while upstairs is a period Georgian function/dining room. The menu features daily specials and a pie of the day.


Golden Ball

Situated in Bishophill, this is a fine, welcoming Victorian street-corner local. It has an impressive glazed brick exterior and was extensively refurbished by John Smith’s in 1929. A worthy inclusion in CAMRA’s National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors, it has four very different rooms – a main bar, back room, comfortable lounge and snug. It also has a large south-facing beer garden. A true community pub where several local societies hold their meetings and owned by a community cooperative.


Guy Fawkes

Hugely atmospheric inn with upmarket chic accommodation, located in the shadow of York Minster. Purported to be the birthplace of Guy Fawkes, it has retained many of the features from this period. Timber floors and plentiful oak furniture are lit by candles and gaslamps to complete the olde worlde experience with a flourish. Six handpumps dispense Dark Force Treason brewed especially by Great Heck plus rotating local ales. Gastro-type pub grub is served in the adjoining rooms to the bar.



Situated half-way between the railway station and York Minster, this iconic ale house has been quenching the thirst of locals and visitors alike since 1993. Three popular Yorkshire beers are always available, but the four guests can hail from any part of the country. The lunchtime menu from “the dragons pantry” is legendary and the new extension with a tasteful outside area has made the place significantly larger for even more drinkers to enjoy.


Minster Inn

A traditional, unspoilt local pub which retains its multi roomed layout. You can always find someone to talk to in the friendly bar, meet with friends in one of the three other rooms or find a quiet spot. There are table top games to keep everyone busy (or frustrated!) for hours. Although tied to Marston’s they make the best of the range of beers available, always selecting the seasonal beers. Dogs are welcome.


Phoenix Inn

Unspoilt traditional independently run pub. A major refurbishment took place in 2008/9 which preserved the historic features of the pub. It is adjacent to the city walls and close to tourist attractions; Jorvik Viking Centre and Castle Museum. The pub has five real ales mainly from northern breweries and hosts small festivals of ale. Live jazz two nights a week, a quiz night and traditional pub games (bar billiards and shove halfpenny) help create a convivial atmosphere.


Rook & Gaskill

The most northerly Castle Rock outlet with one of the widest range of beers in York. Situated just outside the ancient city walls, this popular simply furnished convivial local with a single split level bar keeps a varied clientele happy with nine constantly rotating guest beers to supplement three Castle Rock regulars. Two more handpumps serve traditional cider. There are quarterly beer festivals and open mic nights every Thursday.


Slip Inn

Traditional community pub just outside the city walls that has been an independent free house since 2010. There are two bars plus a snug and a paved outdoor area often covered for the frequent events such as the annual beer festival run jointly with the Swan just up the road, other beer festivals and featured brewery days. The regular beers are sometimes replaced by others from the same brewery. Live music features at many of the events.


The Swan

A popular Tetley Heritage Inn that was local CAMRA Pub of the Year 2009. It has a West Riding layout and features on the cover of Yorkshire’s Real Heritage Pubs. Three regular and three rapidly-changing guest beers, plus two real ciders, are served from a central bar to the drinking lobby, lounge and public bar. To the rear is a paved and walled garden, with a covered and heated smoking area. It holds an annual beer festival with the nearby Slip Inn.


Three Legged Mare

A modest frontage gives way to a roomy pub with plenty of seating. Enjoy the view of the Minster from the settee by the door, spot the red piano occasionally used by buskers around town or navigate the spiral staircase in search of the loos. The York Brewery range is supplemented by an interesting range of guests from regional breweries.


Waggon & Horses

The only Bateman’s-owned pub in York has been refurbished by them to a high standard. Situated just outside the City Walls near Walmgate Bar this pub has a loyal local following and is sought out by visitors to York not just for its beer but its high standard of accommodation. It holds regular quiz nights and live music on Saturdays. The interior comprises of public bar with tv; lounge; snug and a separate room so there is always a quiet spot to found if needed. It supports LocAle and has a varied selection from local micro’s and is York CAMRA’s current pub of the Year.