Coffee shop, café, bar…and even hotel (eventually) - We get the inside scoop on Leeds’ new hybrid

With views of the Victorian rooftops overlooking Duncan Street, a new slice of European cafe culture has sprung up in the city, from the team behind Rolands and The Domino Club. 

Opening around the clock, The Vanguard offers early birds and night owls timeless quality and consistency, in an area of fluid eating and drinking. 

We slid into a tan leather booth, with General Manager Craig Mahon and Head Barista Rob Gordon, for the inside scoop.

I want it to be timeless, there’s no real gimmick to it

Why ‘The Vanguard’ - do you hope to be a leading force in Leeds?   

CM: “We were literally mulling over the name for a year. It was one of the last things we decided’s kind of neutral, it doesn’t sound too cafe-ish and it’s quite clean. I think it works.” 

Do you see this as a cafe that opens late, a bar that does really good coffee, or both?

CM: “There are loads of venues that try to do both and the quality’s not there, they’re not willing to invest in the equipment or the baristas. I think we’re doing that crossover quite well. We only want to open places we’d like to eat and drink in ourselves."

Talk us through the duality of the space, how it functions?

CM: “Behind there (points) pulls all the way back into the kitchen. We’ve got pretty much the best bar in Leeds: a nice whiskey section, a really good gin selection, we have about 120 different spirits. We’re going to be doing quite a lot of wine evenings too, ticketed events with a set menu. You’ll be able to try four or five wines and spend a bit of time with the producers.

“Our bar food menu is completely different to the daytime café menu (which focuses on breakfast and lunch): things like smoked mackerel arancini, gruyere, charlotte croquettes…little fried snacks things to share, really informal. We are very conscious we don’t want to be perceived as a restaurant.”

2019 01 25 Vanguard Modbar
The famous Modbar

Obviously coffee is a staple, day through night. Tell us a bit more about your Modbar (an extremely fancy under-counter coffee machine)

RG - “Because we wanted to be more of a cocktail bar in the evenings, we didn’t want the coffee machine sat on the pass. And if it’s in the kitchen, no one really knows you’re a coffee shop. This was the best of both worlds.

“With this particular version, we’re one of only two places in the whole country. It’s a modular system and the water’s heated down below. There are loads of crazy features…” 

The craziest?

RG: “Probably the drip prediction, with the built-in scales. It actually predicts when it needs to stop the shot. Because we want to be serving coffees all night, we want the freshest espresso martinis: this means literally any staff member can pull the shots and not have to worry about it. It’s nice to be able to have creative control over what we’re doing.”

2019 01 25 Vanguard Cortardo
A cortado - they’re serious about coffee here

What else sets The Vanguard apart?

CM: “I want it to be timeless, there’s no real gimmick to it - just a classic product that focuses on quality. Like with our espresso martini, people say, “Oh what do you add to it? What’s the twist?” The twist is there is no twist, just really good coffee. Same with the cocktail menu, and we’ve spent a fortune on glassware so we don’t need to add anything garnish-wise.” 

Any other future plans?

“We actually have the whole unit up top as well, so we’re going to turn that into a hotel eventually. That was the initial idea…but this happened first!” 

The Vanguard, 7 Duncan St, Leeds LS1 6DQ - Café and coffee shop open 8am-4.30pm, bar open 4.30-11pm