"I'll have the unusual" - 10 bars doing their own thing in Leeds
Brooklyn dive and Yorkshire living room collide to make one of the city’s cosiest, most-welcoming bars in one of the most in-need-of-some-loving parts of the city centre. The soundtrack is one of the best in the best in the city - sure to get Adidas Sambas tapping - and unique decor comes from Third Eye Signs, a local artist who paints familiar old school cartoon characters and sumptuously detailed hand-lettering on any surface he comes across - mirrors, serving trays, sometimes even a canvas. There’s even a record shop upstairs where you can pick up funk, hip hop, and world music obscurities.
What to order: Two Bloody Marys on a Sunday, they’re buy-one-get-one-free.
92 Kirkgate, Leeds, LS2 7DJ
Vice and Virtue
Tucked away through a darkened doorway in an awkward flatiron-shaped former strip-club on the lesser-trodden end of New Briggate, Vice and Virtue inherited more than enough character from its location, but the bar itself has got plenty of other, non-architectural quirks too.
Chesterfield banquettes and booths are overlooked by a stage which occasionally hosts live burlesque performances, with an acute bar in the opposite corner shaking and stirring award-winning, crafted cocktails combining homemade syrups, liqueurs, and tonics with premium spirits like Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac in their £155 Signature Champagne Cocktail. Look out for limited menus like their recent Food In Drink specials, which included a smoked duck Old Fashioned.
What to order: Bourb’n Corn - Mellow Corn whisky, roasted corn syrup, lemon, egg white, pink peppercorns
68 New Briggate, Leeds LS1 6NU
Gin bars? Can’t move for em. 90% of Leeds back-bars have got more mother’s ruin than an 1800s London backalley, so it’s easy to forget that other liquors exist. 51% Bourbon is singlehandedly putting - you guessed it - bourbon back on the map, with a core range of over 70 American whiskys from Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Heaven Hill, as well as more obscure cuts from the big boys like Jack and Jim.
Grab a table made out of an old barrel, and order one straight up, on the rocks, as a cocktail, or paired with an American craft beer as a boilermaker, for a taste of old school Americana.
What to order: Nuts for an Old Fashioned - Woodford double oak, lemon & orange peel, orange bitters, pecan syrup.
Call Lane, Leeds, LS1 6DT
The White Rabbit
Taking the venu over from Baby Jupiter, White Rabbit has refined their psychedelic vibe rather than abandoning it completely - so the Austin Powers-esque, purple velvet underground is now a subterranean Mad Hatter-style rabbithole beneath the very sensible, very businessy York Place.
What to order: Anything from Liverpool craft brewery Mad Hatter Brewing Company, obviously.
11 York Place, Leeds LS1 2DS
Half prohibition speakeasy, half Victorian apothecary, Blind Tyger is Smokestack and Sandinista’s (RIP) more refined sibling; expect waistcoated barkeepers, cut-crystal tumblers, intimate table service, botanicals and aromatics, and old-fashioned sophistication.
5 Cross Belgrave Street, Leeds LS2 8JP
The phoenix isn’t the only bird that can rise from the dead - Call Lane’s Black Swan has been gone for a few months following a sudden closure in the Summer, the street’s biggest venue is being reborn as a Cuckoo.
Aimed at the post-work and party crowd, Cuckoo has three separate bars serving outlandish cocktails like Rum n Raisin, made with their own raisin-infused rum, cloudy apple, and fig liqueur. There’s unusual decor and features like a potting shed and a toilet inside a wardrobe (we’ve all been there), and pizzas, cooked in their copper kiln, are even weirder - roasted peach with maple bacon, marmite and cheese, and apple crumble and custard. Weirdest of all, they’re all free until 9pm every day.
What to order: A queue-busting 5-litre “Giraffe” of beer, filled and dispensed at your table.
37 Call Lane, Leeds LS1 7BT
Blink at the wrong point en route to Sela Bar and you’ll miss it, but Wax is one of the city’s last remaining dive bars. Walls covered in record sleeves and memorabilia lend an authentic ‘getting drunk in a 1978 teenager’s bedroom’ vibe, which isn’t as weird as it sounds. They’re not poseurs, either - they spin vinyl from the bar’s own personal record collection.
What to order: Their pina colada is one of the best around.
20 New Briggate, Leeds LS1 6NU
Quirk is basically Red Door’s raison d'être (note to self: trademark “rum & raison d'être” before any of the bars on this list nick it), with the unassuming brick exterior and (yep) red door leading the way to a world of bold, colourful cocktails. Some of them featuring top-top shelf spirits which represent the best in the world of their kind, and some of them are available for as little as a fiver, but all of them are made with precise attention to detail, with some of their strangest serving methods and garnishes around, like an entire hollowed-out disco ball.
What to order: The vodka, rhubarb, and custard-essenced ‘One With The Balloon’ will bring all of your Pennywise-related anxieties rushing back, garnished with a balloon filled with lemongrass-infused helium.
11-15 Hirst Yard, Leeds, LS1 6NJ
Up until recently this was a very “if you know, you know” kinda place, but the secret’s out now: Poison is a prohi speakeasy type bar situated beyond the shutters and underneath Remedy (get it?) Hairdressing after salon opening hours. There’s a good range of obscure and rare gins, whiskies and brandies available as simple serves, served with a side of live hot jazz. If that’s not your thing, above the salon they’ve opened a Parisian-style wine bar.
16 New Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6NU
The most tropical bar since Nestle invented the Bounty, Tiki Hideaway is Call Lane’s worst-kept secret - it’s difficult to stay hidden when you’re serving cocktails with four foot flames erupting out of them…
Head upstairs in Call Lane Social for daiquiris, pina coladas, and other unpretentious spirits of the caribbean served in coconuts, totems, and even a treasure chest, surrounded by authentic kitsch decor (it remains, to our knowledge, Leeds’ only bar with a pufferfish lampshade…)
What to order: Zombie - A mix of rums and tropical fruits, but to kill it, you must first set it on fire...