Shambles Tavern - 323 years of history, spooky goings on and great Yorkshire tipples

It’s a chilly Monday morning and we’ve ventured into the centre of York. It’s not unusual for it to be chilly up north but the coolness in the air makes walking into our next ‘Friends of Rudgate’ feature pub, even more welcoming than normal. 

The candles are lit, the lighting is cosy and the higgledy piggledy nature of any building on the Shambles (or in York in general) makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a time capsule from the 1700s.

(View of the street from the top room of the Shambles Tavern)

And that’s exactly where the story of Ye Old Shambles Tavern begins. The building that the pub calls home, was refurbished in the 1700s and all of the features in the building, from the beautiful beams on the ceiling and walls to the butcher's hooks out front, are all original. They tell a story of the street and the times it’s witnessed.

The Shambles Tavern is currently the only pub on the historic and ever popular street. Historically, the building, like many others on the Shambles, was a butcher's shop. The street's middle gulley would be filled with the less than rosy smelling liquids from the meat as well as the waste from houses on the street. So not an ideal location for a pub back in the day.

We spoke to Freya and Luke, Freya is the purchasing supervisor and focuses her efforts on the pub's spirit selection whilst Luke is the bar supervisor and deals with all things ale.

Freya has worked at the Shambles Tavern for four and a half years, since she was 17 and was keen to give us lots of the pub's history. After it was a butchers, the building became home to an art gallery, a bike shop, a sports shop and a Cafe/gift shop. It became the pub we know and love in 2013.

The original idea for selling beer came from owner Keith’s wife, Sue - they were a Cafe/Gift shop at the time and wanted to introduce a ‘wall of ales’ to sell for people to take home as the local craft beer industry was growing. It became so popular that people began asking to enjoy the canned and bottled beers with their lunch in the building. This led to Keith getting a table licence meaning they could officially sell beer to be consumed on site!

It only took a few months for the first draught ale pump to be installed (which was from Brown Cow Brewery!) and things have spiralled from there. From one cask ale in 2013 to now having six cask ales and six keg lines on the bar as well as a HUGE selection of Yorkshire cans and bottles and an impressive range of Yorkshire spirits to boot.

(The Shambles Tavern bar area and their ‘wall of ales’)

Being a pub on the Shambles has massive benefits - the Shambles is the busiest street in York and is considered by many to be one of the prettiest streets in the UK. Tourists flock to see the wonky buildings with their stunning beams and tiny windows.

Both Freya and Luke commented that their favourite thing about being a pub on the Shambles is getting to meet so many people from around the world. Freya spoke of a group of Dutch tourists just recently who had got the boat over just for the day! So there’s never a dull moment. “We talk to people from all over the world because of being on the Shambles, it’s definitely the best benefit of being here”. You can see evidence of this if you check out the fireplace downstairs, which is plastered with bank notes from all over the world that customers have donated!

(The fireplace of currency from all over the world)

Of course there are always going to be some downsides to being situated on such a busy street and we thought we’d ask what they find the most difficult. “It’s definitely awkward at times when the street is so busy during peak tourist season. Deliveries can be a challenge at times” but both agreed that the positives far outweigh the negatives.

The pub also has a strong band of regulars who have supported them for years. “It’s quite unusual for a pub on such a busy tourist street to have so many regulars but it’s great that we do!”. Luke added “We want everyone who comes in to feel like a regular”, and more often than not “people come in for one drink and end up staying way longer than they intended”.

The Shambles Tavern offers drinks that are almost all made in Yorkshire. All the ales on the bar are brewed in Yorkshire, the spirits selection comes exclusively from Yorkshire distilleries and the cans and bottles on offer are also, you guessed it, from Yorkshire. It’s reet good.

We asked Luke and Freya if using local businesses was always the plan for the Tavern, Luke told us “We had always hoped to have a large range of Yorkshire products available, especially with our beer but we’ve grown as the industry in Yorkshire has grown. It wasn’t always as easy to get certain spirits from Yorkshire but now we can get almost any spirit we need from a Yorkshire producer”. Luke commented that “it does have its limitations at times but it’s worth it to support our local producers”.

Freya, who deals with all of the spirits that they sell, emphasised to us that “supporting local businesses is always important to us.” The tavern has started to move away from using wholesalers recently and to dealing with distillers directly to hopefully build better relationships.

(Trio of Shambles ales)

The Tavern’s relationship with Rudgate goes back to 2013 when owner Keith and brewery MD Craig agreed that Jorvik Blonde would become the permanent Shambles Tavern Stumbler. By the end of 2014 the relationship was well established and the Stumbler was becoming a firm favourite at the Tavern. The name came from Keith’s step-son, he thought that even though it is only a 3.8% beer, it still had the ability to get you stumbling around! The Shambles Best Bitter and Shambles Dark, (Battleaxe and Ruby Mild) followed suit to complete the trio of house ales at the Tavern.

Whilst Stumbler may have been the first, it’s the Shambles Best Bitter that comes up trumps in terms of most popular beer. Our HUS 4.0% lager, which also has a permanent home on the bar, comes in second but the bitter is by far the most popular at the Tavern. Freya commented that she isn’t usually a fan of bitters but said that it’s a “really good beer” and “easy drinking”. Luke, who knows the beer like the back of his hand after working at the Tavern for nearly 8 years told us “we have people who come in just because they want to drink the bitter”.

We also chatted about how people’s choice of drink has evolved over his time in the industry. “More people are drinking, or at least up for trying darker beers now.. Since lockdown people’s knowledge of beer seems to have increased. A lot of people took to ordering beer online from their local breweries and learnt much more about it than they knew previously. Generally people know more of what they want now when they come in”.

(Freya serving up a pint of Shambles Stumbler)

Finally, after lots of beer talk, we got onto the main topic… the spooky goings on in the building.

Some of you may remember seeing a video that grew in popularity, about four years ago, when Luke was in the bar by himself and suddenly boxes, glasses and the pub's speaker just fell off the shelves. You can read the story and see the video here if you’re interested.

We asked if there were any other incidents to speak of since this ghostly event. Freya told us a story about a new staff member who saw a man in the top room, “She came down and asked if anyone had been to serve the man in the top hat in the upstairs room, I hadn’t seen anyone up there so we went back up together and no one was there”. “I knew that there had been a butcher who used to own the shop around 1900 and people had said that he had been spotted before, I showed her a picture of him that’s up in the pub and she immediately said ‘yes, that’s him!’”. Freya mused that he was just coming to introduce himself to the new staff member.

(The top room where Jim Render was spotted by a new staff member)

Luke added that “It’s normally just mischievous behaviour and never anything sinister”. He also told us that he went into the cellar once in the middle of the day as there seemed to be a problem with the beer pulling through and every single line was disconnected. “No one else had been in there and there would be no reason for anyone to disconnect everything”. Very spooky!

You can find out more about the Shambles Tavern on their website - and their social media accounts (linked below) which they post on regularly about their drinks, food and live music (which takes place every week Wednesday-Sunday evening).

Item added to basket.

View basket | Continue

Join the mailing list

To sign up to our mailing list, simply fill in your email address & hit 'sign up'.