And so I have died and gone to beer heaven. When I awake, I am in a room of satisfied murmurings. Light is flooding in through stained glass cupolas, and as my eyes adjust, lines of polished beer pumps seem to be rotating around the centre of the room like squaddies on a drill. Somewhere, a pork pie is warming, its amber pastry all a-gloss with shiny fat. Somewhere else – somewhere far away – a train door is slamming. A reunited couple tumble down a crowded platform in a weekend embrace. Fingers snap. And then they snap again. Wake up. Wake up. You’ve been on the Belgian guest ales again. This is not death, after all. It is the York Tap, and no afterlife could ever taste so sweet.
Millions of railway users a year pass through York railway station. How many of them, I wonder, ever stumble across this miracle of the railway age. Tucked to one side of the main concourse, sandwiched between the grand station hall and York’s majestic old railway hotel, the Tap is a drinking traveller’s (or travelling drinker’s) one way ticket to paradise. You don’t even need a drink to be transported to the angels. Simply being inside it is a joy.
A huge circular wooden bar dominates proceedings. Behind its shiny expanse of dark wood no less than eighteen draught beers await your pleasure. Brews from strange places. Brews with barmy names. Bad Seed Brewery. Magic Rock Brewing. Beavertown Smog Rocket. Titanic Stout. Not to mention keg beers from Suffolk, Hull, Huddersfield, Belgium (naturally) and the Czech republic. Wondrous bottled varieties abound, and to soak up the poison, a changing selection of Yorkshire Pie Company pies are on offer served by knowing, friendly staff dressed in black.
Step back a century and this place wouldn’t look any different. No fruit machines then. And none now. The art nouveau detail is sublime. Stained glass tulips picked out in vivid oranges, reds and greens. Two tiled fireplaces, and through the windows on one side the creamy mediaeval walls of York, while on the other, trains come and go inside the city’s majestically arched station interior. Nothing is terribly comforting, however. Even in summer, the Tap feels cold and its fireplaces are for show not warmth. The tables and chairs are functional at best, as is the random mosaic floor with its Mediterranean wave motif – designed for wiping not comfort. There are no distractions. No fripperies here. And hence no punters. Not really. Few people stay here long. Most are grabbing a cheeky swift one before dashing home, or travelling on.
Or are they? How many chanced across this place – espied its neat ranks of beer pumps – and found how easily a swift one could mutate into a steady half-dozen? What trains were missed? What lies concocted? What furious partners appeased? What luggage carelessly left? How many relationships wrecked? Or started, furtively, before the Grand Central twitched north towards Thirsk? How many aching bladders stood gasping outside a busy bog on the last train to Leeds, cursing the infernal Tap, its narcotic ales, every one as seductive as the last. Sadly, we will never know. But risk it if you dare. Only please. Take heed. Don’t, for heaven’s sake, have a train to catch.