A more laid back sports bar might be just what the area needs
Lasting just over a year, Ham & Friends was a star that shone bright, but briefly, on Merrion Street. An offshoot of the Friends of Ham charcuterie bar, its attempt to bring fine wine to the masses was admirable and highly aesthetically pleasing, but perhaps a little too self-conscious, and certainly a little too highbrow for that end of town.
Still, we all live and learn, and with a space to fill, the team have picked themselves up and reinvented themselves as Lucky Number 7. Gone is the hyper-intellectual branding, in favour of an American-Irish Sports Bar, with shuffleboard, American drafts on tap and more televised sports than you can shake a pool cue at. With plans to host live music, special beer launches and happy hours, the potential is strong – but how does this new project measure up?
Stepping inside the familiar entryway, the mood is instantly different from that of Ham & Friends. While the classy blue paint and tasteful fonts retain some of the brand’s hallmarks, there is Outkast and Wu Tang Clan blasting down the stairs in a manner that screams ‘SPORTS!’
We emerge, half-expecting a scrimmage, but are pleased to see something much more appropriate to a John Lewis catalogue – leather armchairs, casually tossed cushions, exposed brickwork and neon signs all feel very ‘industrial-meets-interior-design’. It’s very relaxing, and a much more grown-up, gender-equal environment that your traditional sports bar. It’s an oversized living room in which to sink a pint, watch some sports and enjoy the simple pleasures of darts and shuffleboard.
Giddy over both their quirky range of beers and our freak 180 score on the dartboard, we order. A Camden Hells lager (£4.80) for my partner, and upon my request for something to satisfy my sweet tooth, I’m served a Buxton Brewery ‘Rocky Road’, a hearty dark ale that costs an equally hearty £12. Its pudding-worthy flavour is rich and delicious, the sort you could easily nurse slowly for half the night, but £12 is £12, so if you're cash tight, be sure to ask the price of speciality beers before diving in.
The food (cash only) takes things slightly across the border from America to Mexico, delivering tacos that pack a punchy flavour. We opt for Blackened Prawn and Avocado (2 for £7) and are pleasantly surprised with juicy shellfish accompanied by fresh corn and plenty of lemony salad. A reasonable portion for the price, it's exactly the sort of stodge that this level of beer drinking requires, without the greasy shame that comes with a burger or kebab – a very Ham & Friends touch. The flimsy paper plate they're served on is less elegant, but hey, this is bar food after all.
With attentive staff, a highly-relaxed atmosphere and tasty eats, it’s not hard to imagine this place doing well. The bigger test will be in how it copes with larger sporting events – this space feels much more equipped for an off-peak international match than it does a rowdy world cup final. Still, with the World Cup on its way, it’s an upmarket alternative to your local ‘spoons, and a welcome addition to the city centre as a low-key place to spend a Friday night with friends. For the Friends of Ham team, third time might well be the charm.
Lucky Number 7, 7 Merrion St, Leeds LS1 6PQ
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
Camden Hells Lager 8, Buxton Brewery Rocky Road 8, Prawn Tacos 8
Knowledgeable, polite and amiable
Cosy with just the right amount of sophistication