A Poet’s Guide To York

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be whisked away by Lovely Boyfriend for a New Year break to gorgeous, poetic York. North Yorkshire is the land of my birth, and I’ve spent a fair bit of time visiting its principal city over the years, though I haven’t been since I was an impressionable young undergrad visiting friends who were studying there. Back then, I spent most of my time catching up on exciteable chatter in those friends’ living rooms — or in pubs with cheapie student deals — rather than exploring the city. So it was quite nice to head down there as a Proper Adult (oo-er) for the first time, and actually get acquainted.

The first thing that struck LB and I was the abundance of chain stores — York seems to be sadly overrun by big national and global conglomorates. Perhaps we’re just used to Tollcross and Bruntsfield and their brave array of small businesses, but we were a bit dismayed to see the historic Betty’s elbowing for space among so many Costas and Cafe Neros, for example. However, there is weird and wonderful gold in York’s rambling little shopping streets (and beyond!), if you’re willing to dig around. Here are our picks of Stuff To Do:

The Evil Eye Lounge, Stonegate
It’s a shop, it’s a restaurant, it’s a bar, it’s a cinema, it’s a live music venue, it’s an internet cafe: it’s amazing. Stop in on the ground floor to buy all manner of delicious alcoholic beverages, including a selection of beers brewed only metres away by fabulous lobal brewpubs. Through the back there’s a cool bar with scary-coloured cocktails and groovy music. Head upstairs for more seating, including street-view booths and two utterly gorgeous hand-carved four-poster beds which you can lounge in (no shoes!) while you embrace alcohol-induced oblivion. On the next floor is the cine lounge, where there are also facilities for all your internet-accessing needs. The kitchen supplies Asian-inspired food to all floors, and although LB and I did not sample any, we saw plenty of it, and rest assured: the portions are huge and the smells divine. Kind of weird unisex bathroom facilities, but hey, get over it. This place rocks.

Minster Gate Bookshop, Minster Gate
FIVE FLOORS OF BOOKS. Need I say more? Climb the narrow, winding staircase to the Literature Room, where there’s poetry, lit crit, literary biography and all sorts of other geeky ephemera… or you can dive into the basement where there’s tons of high quality second hand fiction at tiny prices. The poetry selection’s limited, but you will find something to love here, guaranteed. I dug up an epic book on typewriter ownership, for example!

El Piano restaurant, 15/17 Grape Lane, York
El Piano, Grape Lane
If you’re a veggie like LB and I, you might find it a bit tricky to get your teeth into any inspiring meat-free or vegan food while in York. The city has three main kinds of eateries: big chains (Wagamamas, Zizzi, Bella Italia, and of course the usual cheap and cheery likes of McDonalds &co), bog-standard Italian restaurants (and lots of them!), and pubs. Many of the pubs, particularly in the city centre, are also owned by chains and their menus tend to be hearty but very meat and dairy heavy. Thankfully, LB spotted an ad for El Piano in a tourist guide, and it’s a definite must-go for all veggies! We had huge difficulty in picking just one thing each from the splendiferous and extensive Spanish-themed menu. In the end, I went for a vegan burger, which came on homemade gluten-free bread with homemade hummus, homemade pickle and a ton of different salads. It was almost too tasty to bear. Add into the mix lovely, friendly staff, bright and sunny decor and a sweet soundtrack. They also hold writing evenings and host the York “Go” club. Love!

Banana warehouse
The Banana Warehouse, Picadilly
LB and I stumbled across this place by accident: we were meant to be walking the City Walls, but it got dark and they locked the gates at Fishergate, so we had to turn back. We ended up short-cutting down Picadilly and I’m so glad we did! As we drew level with this place, I spotted a full-size Dalek through one of the windows and announced “WE HAVE TO GO IN THERE!”, before marching out into oncoming traffic, such was my hurry. And it’s every bit as amazing as it looks from the outside. An absolutely cavernous place, they keep the valuable stuff in glass cases at the front, but the rest of the warehouse is just haphazardly piled with… everything. As well as the usual fridges, tables, bookshelves and fireplaces, we also saw several rows of plush velvet cinema seats (plus two hipsters loudly fawning over them!), a luxury, seemingly unused (!) satin-lined coffin, and loads of typewriters, including a Smith Corona Zephyr, a Litton Imperial portable and a beautiful LC Smith desktop with green keys that I was heartbroken to leave behind. I did come away with a sweet, rare Diplomat portable from 1950, made in Czechoslovakia… for the bargain price of £15 and some heckling (you can take the girl out of Yorkshire, but…). The staff are lovely, helpful blokes who’ll happily trade jokes with you as you attempt to chip away at their prices. Go there, I command you!

Have you been to York? What were your highlights? Anything I’ve missed?


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(For photo credits, click the individual photos)

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2 Responses to “A Poet’s Guide To York”

  1. Jo Says:

    As a york resident :-)…

    The folk that have the evil eye also have a bar a few doors up called House of Trembling Madness (you go in through the Bottle shop). It’s ace - high beamed room, good selection of beers (and no waitng for ages while the person in front of you orders loads of cocktails as happens in evil eye). They also do lovely food…mainly local pies and cheeses so not ideal for veggies though! Got to big up the Snickleway as well for a proper pub pint and a nice fire (and great music/staff) :-)

    Shops-wise Gillygate is (I think) best for indie retailers…2 record shops (and an adult shop that also sells some second hand records!), vintage clothes shop, couple of jewellry/bag types shops, a designer homeware shop and at least 3 good places to eat…shame it’s just outside the walls and a lot of people miss it…

  2. Chris Lindores Says:

    Impossible to find the bogs in Evil Eye, but lounge-y bed type things and unisex toilets both coincidentally interesting features of Brass Monkey here.