Simon Richardson has a new favourite bar
A long time ago, a philosopher called Epicurus divided pleasure up into two types: moving pleasure and static pleasure. Now, I’ve never met a single soul who prefers moving to sitting, so I think he might have been on to something. It’s probably no coincidence then, that a bar called Epicurus would be so full of comfortable seating – ideal for a cocktail or two.
I say Epicurus… but I actually mean Death and Taxes. Next to the Belgrave, you’ll find that the bar is divided into two separate areas; Epicurus occupying the lower level, and Death and Taxes hiding away upstairs. If you sign up, you get a membership card that lets you book an upstairs table on busy days, plus a free welcome drink on arrival.
Other than that though, both bars are open to everyone, and while the menus are different, the bar staff move between the two freely, swapping ingredients and ensuring that there is nothing snobbish or elitist about Death and Taxes – which is where I choose to ensconce myself for the evening.
From the moment I walk in, I am greeted by the kind of welcome you’d get in a family home – and I don’t mean being attacked by seven aged aunts and an overweight, arthritic dog. The barman comes over with water and menus straight away, and I’m instantly hooked by the music – Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightnin’ providing the perfect backdrop to a room that is decorated in such a way that I desperately want to break out a cigar. Even the coasters are made of leather.
Yes, this is a proper cocktail bar, with elements of a Georgian smoking room – dark, elegantly decorated and inviting, with grand Chesterfield armchairs and the obvious Benjamin Franklin reference in the name.
Leeds is experiencing a real cocktail revolution at the moment, and it’s long overdue
I’m encouraged to start with the house cocktail of the month – the “El Viejo” (£6.50) – a nod to Nicaraguan history. It’s refreshing and clean, with the rice flavour washing through, providing balance to the cantaloupe juice and tempering the coconut flor de cana rum. It’s a cracking introductory drink, cleansing my palate and preparing me for a serious assault on the house menu.
The Pirate’s Toast (£9) is a mix of banana and rum that’s enough to break out the embarrassing inner Jack Sparrow, while the Amistat (£9) provides a superbly rich coffee flavour without being overwhelmingly bitter. The Honeymoon (£9) is a touch too sweet after that, but once my taste buds have readjusted, the Clover Club (£8) is an absolutely beautiful, fruity concoction – all egg white froth and summer fruits.
Epicurus isn’t all cocktails though – far from it. The food is absolutely superb. The cured meat selection (£12) is smoky and full of flavour – we’re informed that it had been flown in from Spain the day before. The cheese also plays host to the kind of smokiness that would have filled the room back in the era in which the bar belongs; the wonderful stilton and oozing brie combination are so mature that they try and walk off my plate all by themselves. I stop them and exact quick and severe punishment upon them both for their escape attempt.
There’s also a fresh, crunchy bruschetta (£5.95) and a homemade hummus (£4.95) with a cracking chilli kick to it – and the portions are certainly generous enough to help you find that extra inch of give in the seating.
As a creature of habit like so many of us, I find it impossible to evaluate the merits of a new bar without having my favourite cocktail, so I finish with a Negroni (£9). I’m a fan of swapping out the gin for mezcal to match my love of smokiness, so I’m very happy when the barman suggests the same – although a bit disappointed that they’ve run out of their cacao-nib infused Campari. I’ll definitely be back to try that out. The negroni, as with the rest of the evening’s cocktails, is on point, and served in suitably pleasing glassware for the surroundings.
My other half has her favourite too – a textbook espresso martini (£9) but with the addition of fig liquor, which neither of us can claim to have really tasted. We leave as if we’ve just watched a particularly addictive Netflix series – binged out but still wanting more.
Leeds is experiencing a real cocktail revolution at the moment, and it’s long overdue. Epicurus is at the epicentre too, with at least four superb alternatives within a two-minute walk.
It isn’t just the fact that you can have a cheeseboard until 3:30 am that makes this the pick of the bunch for me though – although it certainly helps. It’s the whole package – the atmosphere, the music, the quality of the cocktails and the superb service, which work together to make me genuinely excited to have a membership card, and even more so about my next visit. It’ll certainly be soon.
Epicurus: Death and Taxes, 3 Cross Belgrave St, Leeds, LS2 8JP Tel: 0113 244 2122
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.
Drinks and snacks
El Viejo 8, Pirate’s Toast 9, Amistat 8, Honeymoon 7, Clover Club 10, Negroni 9, Espresso Martini 8, Cheese/Meat/Mixed Board 9
A proper welcome, with knowledgeable, attentive, friendly staff
Wonderful music, lighting and decor