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Guitarist Mark Boyle plucks and hammers the strings on the neck of his guitar in a unique picking style that allowed him to also drum on the body of the instrument, creating a strangely melodic sound at the Blues Cafe Bar's open mic night in Harrogate recently.
Guitarist Mark Boyle plucks and hammers the strings on the neck of his guitar in a unique picking style that allowed him to also drum on the body of the instrument, creating a strangely melodic sound at the Blues Cafe Bar's open mic night in Harrogate recently. (Ben Murray / S&S)

HARROGATE, England — In North Yorkshire, where a fire-lit, oak-infested pub is as common as a rainy day, it’s just not a phrase you hear often: “Now that was some good beat-box.”

Onstage, a pair of teenage boys in baggy pants bumped fists and exchanged smiles after an undeniably impressive four- minute rhythm session in which they covered vast amounts of techno terrain, sometimes at almost bat-like frequencies and beat rates.

“Those guys are here every week,” said a girl named Elena, a congenial twentysomething woman rolling her own cigarettes near the bar.

It’s Tuesday night at the Blues Cafe Bar in downtown Harrogate, a lively locals bar on the edge of the shopping district in the small northern city, and Elena’s assessment of the beat-box team’s talent as “good” is an understatement.

In fact, with its décor of broken drumsticks and imploded guitars, its talk- to-anyone atmosphere and penchant for live music, almost everything in the Blues Cafe Bar is an invigorating change of pace from the traditional smoke-soaked and pie-serving pub.

Featuring live blues bands on Thursdays and Saturdays and an impressive lineup of regulars at the Tuesday night open mic, it’s the kind of place that can make the entertainment-starved masses want to look skyward and say to the heavens, “Thank you for the hippies.”

“Thank you for the indie songwriters with too many bracelets and the dreadlock-wearing guy on the djembe drum, whose shirt is made of either wool or hemp; it’s hard to tell.

“Thank you for the heavy guy in the leather jacket with better vocal and piano-playing talent than Van Morrison, but without the creepy hat.

“Thank you for ponytails and beaded necklaces and tins of tobacco and excessive facial jewelry.

“Thank you for three-part harmonies and vocal chords scorched by thousands of cigarettes.”

They are all on display in the Blues Cafe Bar, and they combine to make for one of the most refreshing watering holes in short reach of a U.S. base.

From first glance, it’s a place that offers something different from the Kings Arms or Queens Knees on street corners all over England. Pictures of famous blues guitarists hang reverently on the walls, and a painted caricature of Jimi Hendrix wails over a burning guitar. A signpost dangling from the ceiling points in two directions: Betty’s Bun Shop (a famous Harrogate tea shop) and Perdition (a mythic pit of eternal damnation).

At the bar, the Blues Cafe Bar goes for a short list of ales and lagers, with Guinness and Budweiser on the side. As bonus, it has its own ale named after it, but it’s a feature that provides one of the only less-than-noteworthy experiences of the place.

If you’re hungry, there’s a lunch-style menu during the day, and a bona fide Egyptian restaurant upstairs called The Blue Nile.

But a bar is often just a bar, no matter how many wheelbarrows it has hanging from the roof, unless the two-fisted combo of the music and the crowd make it shine. At the Blues Bar Cafe in Harrogate, if the right one don’t get you, the left one will.

As always, if you drink, do so responsibly. Don’t drink and drive.

Blues Cafe Bar

Location: 4 Montpelier Parade, Harrogate, near RAF Menwith Hill.

Food: Lunch menu at the bar during the day, with a short list of standards. But the menu erupts upstairs at The Blue Nile, which offers Egyptian dishes from Bedouin lamb chops to something called Dauoush Basha (Egyptian marinated meatballs).

Drink: Bud, Fosters, Guinness, several lagers and a few northern ales, including the bar’s own Blues Bar ale.

Ambiance: Cool, funky, bluesy, fun.

Service: Excellent.

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