Jenessa Williams gets serious cocktail envy at this Park Row newcomer

BARELY a month goes by without something changing on Park Row. A new high-rise goes up, a restaurant changes hands, promotions flood the cobbles…for the fickle partygoer, it’s an ever-shifting staple of Leeds nightlife.

As the trends for veganism and ‘clean living’ increase, one could be forgiven for eye-rolling at the sight of yet another meat-laden menu late last year. Opening in December, Smokin’ Bar was made possible by huge investment in the form of a peer-to-peer loan scheme which raised £7,536,230. 

A glance at the dinner menu reveals an offering highly similar to that of Reds or Fazenda – lots of hulking American carbs, rich puddings and a colossal cocktail menu that suggests the potential for serious quantity over quality. Nonetheless, Confidential will give anything a go, and within a few tentative steps inside its awnings, most of our fears go up in…well, smoke.

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The meat-laden menu is a bit Red's

First of all is the refit. Less Vodka Revs and more Revolucion De Cuba, there is no denying where much of that investment money will have gone. The room feels sleek and stylish, if surprisingly sparse for 6pm on a Friday night. The walls are adorned with Native American motifs by local artist John Pearson that blend harmoniously with the stripped dark woods of the bar, exposed metalwork and brass tableware. Even the toilets are an aesthetic pleasure, industrial and donned with particularly fancy round sinks.

cocktails are as well made as anywhere in the city...

We settle into an intimate booth that passes the sticky-floor test, adorned with the sort of cushions that an interior designer might describe as ‘hot right now’. There’s a woman on keyboard singing covers with just the right degree of cheese – Say My NameDancing In The MoonlightNaïve, all performed at a level that thankfully allows us to continue our conversation. It turns out there is much to discuss – that extensive cocktail menu is chock-full of delicious sounding blends that make it more difficult to choose.

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Sleek and stylish - you can see where the investment has gone
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Cocktails all come in under £7 - can't knock that

Serious envy ensues when my drinking partner’s choice arrives – a Kiwi and Melon Daiquiri that is refreshing, smooth and highly sophisticated for a slushy. My other pal has an English Country Garden, whilst I enjoy a Banana and Maple Old Fashioned, a clever subversion of a classic that is sweet but well balanced. 

In the interest of science (of course), we also sample an Eclipse (raspberry with a lilt of Whiskey), a Cosmopolitan (a little iffy) and a particularly sumptuous Cuba Libre, expertly blended with just the right amount of lime. With all cocktails coming in at under £7 each, they’re as well made as anywhere in the city.  

Naturally, snacks are needed to soak up all that booze, and while we decide not to indulge in the full Smokin’ Food menu, we do dabble with some light, veggie-friendly bites. 

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Snacks: tacos are dull, nachos are plentiful, tortillas are puffy

The roast potato and parmesan tacos prove a little on the dull (and small) side, but nachos are plentiful and very alluring in their rustic presentation; tortillas puffed with just enough oil to feel indulgent rather than greasy. We’re left with something of a misbalance of lemony guac, but this is quickly solved as the attentive maître d offers us a fresh plate of nachos. The notebook and camera might have pushed that one along, though staff are incredible attentive throughout.

As the evening grows darker and the clientele switches from sedate businesspeople to rowdy hen parties, we take our leave feeling suitably satisfied. While there may be the novelty glassware and cheap prices of your usual chain, there is something in the quality of the drink preparation and service at Smokin’ Bar that elevates it just enough to make it a staple of your weeknight drinks routine. As somewhere you could easily take parents just as well as friends, it's a welcome addition to Park Row, and one that deserves a repeat visit. Maybe change is good after all… 

Smokin’ Bar & Kitchen, 24 Park Row, Leeds LS1 5QB

The scores:

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: put the kettle on instead, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: made by God him/herself.

  • Drink and snacks 7/10

    Kiwi and Melon Daiquiri 9, English Country Garden 7.5, Banana and Maple Old Fashioned 7.5, Eclipse 8, Cosmopolitan 6, Cuba Libre 8, Nachos 7, Tacos 6

  • Service 4/5

    Friendly and attentive

  • Ambience 3.5/5

    Quiet enough to hold a conversation, lively enough to feel fun