Simon Richardson takes us on a tour of some of Leeds' best booze establishments
Back by absolutely nobody’s demand: it’s the twelve pubs of Christmas. If you read my 2018 and 2019 versions you’ll be familiar with the concept. Twelve quality boozing establishments in logical walking order, possibly winding up with being sick in a bin. We’ve done an ale crawl and a craft crawl, so this year I’m going to offer up a mix of beer and cocktail places. We’re scientifically proven not to get hangovers in December anyway, so it’s fine.
This year’s crawl starts just outside the city centre and, depending on what time you choose to get started, it’s a great option for lunch. Kirkstall spent ages getting their tap room ready, but boy was it worth the wait. I could have started this crawl at Kirkstall Bridge or the Cardigan Arms – they’re all on the same road – but this is the closest option for town and I like to keep things easily walkable. Grab yourself a pint of Virtuous, order a pizza, and while away a good hour here. Always good to start slowly – it’s a long road ahead.
Kirkstall Brewery 100 Kirkstall Road, LS3 1HJ
The first of a few live music venues on this list, the Fox and Newt is one of two pubs owned by Burley Street Brewhouse – which you’ll find conveniently located in the cellar here. Not only is this a great, cosy spot for a proper ale, but they specialise in lower ABV cask too. Get yourself a pint of Monza mild. Trust me – it’ll stand you in good stead in about 7 pubs’ time.
The Fox and Newt 9 Burley Street LS3 1LD
If you didn’t eat anything earlier, you’re unlikely to be able to refuse some scran here. Burgers, pizzas, falafel – it’s all brilliant. Oh, and there’s a speakeasy tucked away in an adjacent room. But the main draw has got to be the frankly ridiculous fifty beer lines, courtesy of Vocation Brewery and guests/collabs. Hop, Skip & Juice is one of my favourite beers ever, so if it’s on, it’s what I’m having. I miss Carpe Diem like crazy, but the vibe in here is still great, so I’ll get over it. One day.
Assembly Underground 12 Great George Street LS1 3AL
This is where we come to our first coin flip moment. Are you an ale guzzler or a craft tippler? Maybe you’re both. Either way, I think that a Leeds pub crawl without a visit to this particular ginnel should be made a crime (which is why you’ll see it feature in both my previous pub crawl articles). Your first choice is the cosy interior of Whitelock’s, roaring fire, brass, wood, and the strange sensation you’re being served by actual giants. Grab an exceptionally well-kept pint of cask here…
Whitelock’s Turk’s Head Yard LS1 6HB
Or head to the more café-style setting of The Turk’s Head next door. Once you’ve stopped staring at the apothecary-style medicine bottles and glasses that adorn the back bar and the underside of the front, take a look to your left and go all finger-pointy. There’s something crafty for all tastes.
Wanna do both? You might regret it later on.
The Turk’s Head 6-8 Turk’s Head Yard, LS1 6HB
This is where the route gets slightly higgledy-piggledy I’ll admit, but the decision not to swap the next two gaffs around is purely a vibe one. Brownhill & Co is seriously chilled and, as you’d expect from the beer geniuses that blessed us with Little Leeds Beerhouse, the lineup is goooooood. Both on tap and in the fridges. Don’t be afraid to ask for a recommendation, then grab a spot by the window if you can. It’s a magnificent people-watching spot.
Brownhill and Co 30 Central Road LS1 6DE
Five or six pints in - I’d say it’s about the right time to enjoy some tunes, and where better than a bar in a guitar shop? Northern Guitars has got a great feel to it, a far cry from some of the unbearable alternatives on Call Lane. If you like legendary band and gig posters, classic rock, and good beer, this is the place for you. This is the last beer for a while on our crawl too, so we’d better make it count.
Northern Guitars 41 Call Lane LS1 7BT
Time for a confession: I haven’t actually been to Tabula Rasa yet. I haven’t had the chance – it’s only been open a few weeks. But just knowing that it’s the newest project from Filippos Filippopoulos is enough: it’s going to be great because he’s an awesome host and makes absolutely stunning cocktails. Oh, and the bar itself looks seriously sexy. I promised a bit of everything, so this is our first cocktail stop. But it won’t be the last.
Tabula Rasa 8 Eastgate LS2 7JL
If you can tear yourself away from the cocktail menu at Tabula Rasa, the new bar in House of Fu is only a stone’s throw away and only a few days into its Leeds life. LPs, cocktails, sexy lighting and a cool, party vibe await you, once you’ve burned off some of the beer calories by climbing the stairs to get there. Worried you might waste away? You can always pop back downstairs and grab some gyoza. Bite-sized awesomeness.
House of Fu 15-19 The Headrow LS1 6PU
One of those fancy bars with the beers on screens. Yeah, you know the kind. Brew York’s long-awaited arrival in Leeds brings a comprehensive beer line-up with some excellent names (Juice Forsyth – nice to drink you), and with Itsu in situ (try saying that at this point on your crawl), you can choose from ramen, katsu, wings and more to cram into your greedy little face while you merrily booze away. And you’re also now in the prime part of Leeds centre for us to start turning the volume up to 11.
Brew York 72 New Briggate LS1 6NU
Wait, what time is it? Whose trousers are these? Never mind – Dariush and co will look after me. This place manages to offer both quality cocktails in a date-friendly environment, and an opportunity to get slaughtered and scream along to loud music at the top of your voice. It’s also open way later than is advisable at my age. You might also stumble across something properly weird going on. The bar might be a sandpit, or covered in bubbles, or glued to the ceiling or something. Just go with it. You’re hammered anyway.
The Watermark 3 Cross Belgrave Street LS2 8JP
For a generation of drunk idiots that couldn’t dance, Sandinista was a belting late-night spot. Rammed, loud, sweaty, and fuelled by sugary cocktails, I forgot many a night while in its awesome, filthy clutches. Well, now it’s back and even though I’m a good ten years too old, I’m still going. You can’t stop me (well, unless I can’t stand up, in which case I probably won’t get in). I’ll probably get my air guitar out – you wouldn’t want to miss that. Open ‘til 4am at weekends. Oof.
Sandinista 5 Cross Belgrave Street LS2 8JP
AND / OR…
Of course, Sandinista might not be your thing. You’re wrong, but that’s fine. Domino Club is only 100 yards away, offering a more refined but similarly lively experience. Expect superb live music, brilliant cocktails and a vibe you’d normally associate with a New York speakeasy complete with “secret” entrance underneath a hairdresser. I absolutely love it here; it’s unlike anything else in Leeds and the perfect way to cap off a memorable day out on the lash. “Merry Christmas. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence…”
The Domino Club 7 Grand Arcade LS1 6PG
Header image: The Watermark
Read again: Stocking up: Leeds festive markets 2021
Don't miss out
Get the latest food & drink news and exclusive offers by email.