An Axe-cellent Place to Visit

All Images: Mustafa Chaudhry

School friends Matt and Vincent have always wanted to run an establishment in York, the place in which they were born and bred and thus one which is close to their heart. A few years ago various possible concepts for an establishment were bounced around until they agreed to tap into York’s proud and historic heritage, namely that of the Vikings – after all, as Matt informs, “it doesn’t get more historic than the Vikings”.

Of course being sticklers for authenticity, the pair mentions how rather than wanting the place to feel just like “any old bar” they wanted to truly encapsulate that historic 900 AD feel. The name chosen ‘Valhalla’ is meant to reflect the majestic palatial hall in which warriors slain in battle end up in Norse mythology. Thus a vital part of ensuring the place stands out is focussing on the decor and trying to get it all as close to looking like ‘Valhalla’ itself as can be.

This has subsequently resulted in much of the interior having been custom-made to recreate such an effect, as it isn’t possible to simply buy wood that looks old enough. Along with the stonework, it needs to be sourced (which in itself can take several months) and then altered manually to achieve the desired archaic effect.

The use of wood is thus especially noticeable, from the beams scattered across the ceiling to the benches placed around the establishment itself. Such is the dedication of the pair to getting things exactly right, that through the development they consulted with Jorvik Viking Centre to ensure they are able to give a “respectable nod to the olden days”.

The location itself did present them with an initial challenge – prior to the establishment’s creation, the site was occupied by a small hairdressers which meant considerable planning as to how to transform such a place into what they were hoping for. Furthermore, having the Shambles merely around the corner and being situated so close to King’s Square adds to the historic nature of the area and emphasises the need to ensure authenticity so as to fit in with the surroundings. Through all this planning and organisation, it sometimes falls down to serendipity to provide such a place with even more meaning. The location being close to King’s Square, the residence itself of Viking Eric Bloodaxe, has meant that according to York historians there is a fair chance that this location would also have been that of Bloodaxe’s local watering hole.

Aside from paying testament to the city’s heritage, it remains that the place intends to be somewhere for people to come and relax and thus represent a healthy balance between both comfort and history. Take the music for one, rock music that is intended to compliment the décor yet remain accessible to anyone. A lot of the food and drink, similar to the décor, has been especially made as well. York Coffee Emporium blends the coffee used specifically for the establishment and the beer itself comes from a local brewery.

The place also prides itself in particular for the quality of the mead they sell, again being something which is produced locally in York. They couple this with a range of whiskies from around the world. The food menu is inclusive of lots of platters, smoked meats, cheeses and cured meats but there are plans to develop further food options as time progresses. The place exudes a very cosy and rustic vibe as well which is the aim of both Matt and Vincent, something which people have taken to with 500 people visiting on the establishment’s opening night.

One key aim for the pair however is to ensure the place is not only aimed at the people that visit York but in fact being able to provide a place for locals to visit and enjoy themselves (rather than simply isolating them) which at this moment in time ‘Valhalla’ seems to be achieving.

With this being the pair’s first venture, they certainly want to ensure that they can provide both those currently in York and those visiting with a place that they can come and relax in. Offering up a bar environment yet maintaining the vibe of café in which one can just relax and have coffee, for example presents a challenge but Valhalla seems to get the balance just right.