Jon Howe takes us on a city centre waterfront pub crawl
WHILE the Leeds waterfront has been a magnet for drinkers seeking the most ‘likes’ on Instagram for a number of years now, the continual evolution of bar culture in the city has seen new ventures popping up recently and the waterfront ‘scene’ really upping its game.
Now there are different places where you can post pictures of an al fresco pint to irritate work colleagues on your day off and new venues in which you can lose track of time and escape the pressure and intensity of big city life.
So try this crawl when the sun’s out and you’ve a few hours to spare.
For many years, one thing missing from Leeds Dock has been someone brave enough to open a bar. Now we have Dock 29, a large, open plan but welcoming bar that sits neatly opposite Mumtaz restaurant in the peaceful area of the dock itself. Mainly catering for the midweek work crowd, the bar only opens until 6pm at weekends, hence you might need to start not end here, but it does open for breakfast if you are particularly keen. With distressed furniture and bold, colourful décor you won’t be surprised to see craft beers dominate the drinks menu while you can line your stomach with the in-house deli or the small but hearty regular menu.
Dock 29, Boulevard, Leeds Dock, LS10 1PZ
The expansive curved outdoor terrace at Oracle is one of the best suntraps in Leeds, and many a lively afternoon has been spent watching the world go by – okay a few ducks and the water taxi – whilst quaffing some offerings from a decent drinks menu. Just a short walk along from Leeds Dock, staying on the south of the river, Oracle continues to be a staple part of the club-chic Leeds party scene at night, but in the day offers great street food to soak up a few afternoon cocktails next to the river. Brewery Wharf has managed to maintain a healthy footfall and Oracle is a nice size that means it always looks quite busy but you can usually get a seat.
Oracle, 3 Brewery Place, Leeds LS10 1NE
Crossing over the bridge you will already be able to see the outdoor delights that Calls Landing has to offer, as one of the most popular bars in Leeds that still somehow maintains an air of being an undiscovered joy. Inside it is bricked walls from a converted mill, board games and mis-matched seating, but outside is a decked seating area with picnic benches offering a pleasant vantage point over the river. If you are lucky, or nimble of foot, you can nab the romantic ‘balcony for two’ that overhangs the river and offers a pretty unique waterside drinking spot. Drinks choice is varied, interesting and ever-changing, while food ranges from their signature stew and oysters to cheeseboards and sharing meat platters.
Stew and Oyster, 36-38 The Calls, Leeds LS2 7EW
The original waterside drinking spot in Leeds and fully resurgent after the horrors of the Boxing Day floods of 2015. With its cavernous downstairs intrigue and iconic bricked archways, Aire Bar is an underrated gem with a good selection of local beers and a broad and enticing food menu. If you can pull yourself away from the big screen sports and pool tables, the outside drinking area is long and narrow and couldn’t really be any closer to the water’s edge. You are truly at one with the river at Aire Bar, and while being in such close proximity to water for an extended period might lead to more trips to the toilet, on a sunny day there are few better places to be in Leeds.
Aire Bar, 32 The Calls, Leeds LS2 7EW
Water Lane Boathouse
From north of the river you need a brisk walk along The Calls, across Leeds Bridge and down the toe path along the river to Water Lane Boathouse. Here you’ll find the spectacular waterside venture from the people behind Headrow House and Belgrave Music Hall. That should tell you pretty much all you need to know about the décor, food and drink and atmosphere, and sure enough Water Lane Boathouse is an ultra-cool hangout with a brilliant selection of craft beers, artisan gins and wines plus good pizzas and Lite Bites from Small Victories. While the interior has been skilfully downgraded from the plush fittings of a previous guise as a fine dining restaurant, subsequent incarnations of this famous grain store from the 1800s haven’t had to do much with the outdoor seating area, which is one of the best in Leeds, being sizeable, tranquil and offering great views of the city across the canal. And yes, we are now on the Leeds/Liverpool Canal, not the River Aire.
Water Lane Boathouse, 3 Brewery Place, Leeds LS10 1NE
The Lock Kitchen & Bar
Using a sneaky little short-cut footbridge over a lock behind Water Lane Boathouse you will arrive promptly at, appropriately, The Lock Kitchen & Bar. This is the ground floor bar of the Double Tree Hilton Hotel, which has changed identity various times over recent years, but finally someone has had the good sense to recognise the bar’s unique location, plus the increasing footfall created around Granary Wharf, and given this bar a more distinctive character. The result is The Lock, clearly buying into the theme of the area and doing a good job of providing a plush, light and airy bar and sizeable outside seating area. With large tables perfect for big groups, you can select from a fantastic selection of wines and cocktails and fill up with sharing platters, pizzas, burgers and gastropub favourites. Backing onto the canal you can even wave at the people sat outside Water Lane Boathouse and ask them if you’ve left your wallet there.
The Lock Kitchen & Bar, Granary Wharf, 2 Wharf Approach, Leeds, LS1 4BR
The most characteristic of Ossett Brewery’s tri-fold stranglehold on the Granary Wharf drinking dollar, Candlebar is at the foot of a stunning building that can be seen for miles around and that frankly, everyone in Leeds knows. That’s quite a selling point, and inside there is plenty more to crow about. With a fantastic wine and craft beer selection there is plenty to choose from, while authentic Japanese cuisine is provided by Edo Sushi. Outside, the expansive seating area curves around the circumference of the iconic Candle House building and offers great views of the barges and boats utilising the canal.
Candlebar, Candle House, Granary Wharf, Leeds LS1 4GJ
If you still have some stamina, then you are now within a few yards of the excellent bars of the Holbeck Urban Village such as Midnight Bell, Cross Keys and the Northern Monk Refectory, but if you want to stay on the waterside theme, and you definitely have the energy, you’re only a 30 minute walk up the canal toe path to the excellent Kirkstall Bridge Inn. Just stay a comfortable wobble distance from the water’s edge.