It's what everybody has been waiting for...
WHO was Lil and what kind of cafe did she run? Is the fading faux Chinese lettering on the brick exterior above ‘Blue Rinse Vintage’ any kind of a clue (Shanghai Lil perhaps?).
In this oldest part of Leeds city centre in the shadow of Kirkgate Market and the Corn Exchange ‘ghost signs’ are everywhere on facades; just look up a storey and you will find these spooky historical clues.
We are staring straight out from the first floor gig space of Slocken, tearing off slices of pizza, our chihuahua Captain Smidge demanding his tithe of crust, and slurping the last craft beer of our Kirkgate/Call Lane dog-friendly indie bar crawl. On the top floor the pool players are potting away the Saturday afternoon among the sunny dust motes. It’s like being a hippy again.
Both previous stops, Wapentake and The Doghouse, had been lovingly rescued from scruffy desuetude and, if they are pioneers in the gentrification of a really run-down stretch, they are doing it with style, in tandem with the cool upgrading of the Market opposite.
Slocken is slightly different. For twenty years it was legendary music hang-out Milo’s; a riot of stripped brick, it has now been taken over by Wapentake, self-styled upholders of all things Tyke.
So expect the same adherence to ales brewed within a twenty mile radius and county-driven raw materials, such as Henderson’s Relish and Wensleydale, are employed in Slocken’s 'A Little Pizza Yorkshire' offering.
The ‘Yorkie Porkie’ features Yorkshire chorizo and salami, spinach, bacon fettle and mustard leaf, while the ‘Little Fryup Dale’ is brekkie on dough. We stuck to a boring old mozzarella, tomato and basil topping, a fourteen incher to share for £12. It hits the spot.
Dark curry, another pizza base, had been the slightly crude sauce for my main as we kicked off the crawl with some ballast at mothership Wapentake down on Kirkgate. On the menu it’s trumpeted as vegan at £7.25 a go, but for a quid extra you get chicken. Is it vegan chicken? I can’t tell. The bhajis are crisp and satisfying; the flatbread is definitely bread. We live in confused times. Still the bread and cakes are baked in-house daily and most of the produce comes from Kirkgate Market.
All the mains are the same £7.25 price but with supplements. An extra 50p added Stilton to my companions’s sarnie of flattened portobello mushrooms and caramelised onions. None of this is going to win awards but it fits in snugly with the quirky homeliness of the place. Who would have thought cricket bats would furnish a fireplace in the upstairs room.
We drink Northern Monk Eternal, a 4.1 per cent session IPA on handpull that pulls off the difficult trick of feeling trad and current. An Isaac Poad Piccadilly Porter sounds the real deal but is overloaded with vanilla. Priced are city centre reasonable at £4.20 a pint.
About the same at next door neighbour The Doghouse, which had been touted as a shellfish bar/record store/art events space. Paula’s Record Store (named after the previous owner’s hair salon) is a source of rare vinyl and cutting edge sounds at the top of the building, but the only food on offer is £3 Growler pork pies.
Still there’s a trio of handpulled Yorkshire ales (we settled for Stod Fold IPA from Halifax) and the most perfect pub dog, Ralph the giant bulldog (pictured top), to make pals with Captain Smidge.
The bar’s name supposedly comes from co-owners – Jacob Kelly and Stu Dixon, who also run 212 Cafe and Bar on Brewery Wharf – never being at home, so always “in the doghouse”.
We, Smidge and Ralph think that’s a rare plaudit. Bring your canine companion and enjoy this least tiring and most laid-back of city bar crawls. Just watch out for the ghost of Shanghai Lil, mind.