Low-built Leeds isn’t the first place you’d expect to find a smattering of rooftop bars. But from glitzy Sky Lounge to bougie Angelica, this city them surprisingly well – and the views up there are striking. The canal, the Aire, all those rolling terraces: Leeds is really quite beautiful, isn’t it?
That said, of course you don’t have to get in a lift to have a good night out here. Whether you’re after swanky cocktails, fine wines or obscure craft beers, the very best bars in Leeds can sort you out at ground level, too. And in fact, many rank among the country’s finest.
Trouble is, with so many excellent places to eat and drink and club in these parts, it’s difficult to know exactly where to spend your time and money. So however long you’ve been here, and whether local or tourist, here’s our run-down of the 12 drinking dens you shouldn’t miss.
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Best bars in Leeds
As the popularity of cosmos, mojitos and daiquiris endures, a new generation of bars has arisen to cater to tipplers’ increasingly voracious thirst for boundary-pushing mixology. That, and a polished experience that can make you feel justifed in spending tenner on a single drink. In Leeds, there’s Mook, The Alchemist, Sky Lounge and Angelica, at the top of Trinity. Its wide range of beautifully presented beverages are served with a side order of unbeatable scenery. This feels as close to VIP treatment as the average aspirational pleb can get.
It must be said, few drinking holes have gone as all-out on theme and décor as this small third-floor bar, which seemed to signal the movement of mixology mastery out of London when it opened a few years ago. The Alchemist is first and foremost a cocktail bar, but it also serves other drinks – and the food’s decent too. Clips of dry ice, copper kettles, fire and test tubes have provided constant publicity on social media, and the bar quickly became difficult to get into on the weekend. Alchemist’s playful, wacky and creative cocktails continue to grab headlines.
Tucked away in one of the busiest areas of the city centre, underneath the railway arches, The Shed certainly isn’t showy. The soundtrack here is mainly rock and indie, a fact made very clear from the moment you step inside. The walls are adorned with posters and records from the likes of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, giving it a bar-meets-record-store feel. Crucially, though, there’s no hint of pretension or exclusivity about the place. Instead, it simply focuses on what it does well: providing a pleasingly unpredictable variety of music and drink.
Set in the former Tetley’s factory, this newly refurbished space is both a centre for contemporary art and a place to eat and drink. The interior of the distinctive red-brick building is functional and stylish, cosy and welcoming, making it a suitable option whatever the occasion. The inviting space pays tribute to the building’s rich manufacturing heritage, while ensuring the food and drinks menus are sufficiently à la mode to entice trendy yopros.
The Faversham, or ‘Fav’ as it’s more commonly known, is one of the city’s most famous venues, but its just-off-campus location means you’ll only ever see students there. It’s hard to imagine a fully-rounded Leeds University experience without at least one messy night stumbling out of the former hotel after a club night or gig. Fav is perhaps better-known for its hedonistic summer bashes that take place throughout the venue’s grounds with music, dancing, food and fun until the very early hours.
Although most of Leeds’s key nightlife spots are in the centre, every once in a while a suburban hangout begins to pull in the crowds. Seven Arts in Chapel Allerton is not only an independent arts venue, with the bar doubling up as a gallery, but also a contemporary performance space famed for its gigs, fine wine and impressive menu. Seven turns every evening into a sophisticated entertainment package with its non-stop calendar of jazz, folk, blues, rock, spoken word and comedy.
In a city with an abundance of cocktail bars, it’s rather impressive the hidden-away Mook has become synonymous with mixed beverages and a great night out for those who want to avoid the standing-room-only clubs. Ideal for Friday night drinks and sophisticated socialising, this address has remained unfazed by the recent influx of more experimental cocktail bars in the city. After a few of their potent mixes, it’s customary to head from the quirky bar area to the dancefloor downstairs where DJs spin inoffensive pop, indie and electro into the wee hours.
Everything about the Sky Lounge is informal and relaxed, yet it retains an unmistakably upmarket feel. While The Botanist and Angelica at the new Trinity shopping precinct are currently the fashionable rooftop bars, Sky Lounge, sitting atop the Doubletree by Hilton near the canal, still offers unrivalled views of Leeds. The décor is bright, minimalist and breezy, and if you venture on to the spacious balcony, you can peer down at Bridgewater Place and the canals below.
The two Roxy venues are a pleasing exercise in thematic mash-ups. One combines the current trend for craft beer with the tried-and-tested pool hall model, the other with a bowling alley. The Ball Room, featuring pool and ping pong tables, has the feel of a converted warehouse. The opportunity to play saloon games in an abandoned factory space is a novel one, and there’s even an area for beer pong. Sister venue Roxy Lanes is a short walk away, and is very similar in most respects – the main difference is that it offers bowling rather than other ball games.
Since its formation in 2007 as a two-man (and one dog) operation, BrewDog has been steadily growing both in Britain and internationally. With its mission to provide an alternative experience to ‘industrially brewed lagers and stuffy ales’, it expanded in Leeds in March 2013, setting up shop in the White Cloth Hall. The deliberately minimalist, almost rustic design of the interior makes it feel like you’re drinking in someone’s cellar. This conscious rejection of what it feels to be the extraneous and predictable elements of pub culture in Britain fits in well with the rebellious ethos of BrewDog as a company. There’s now a second Leeds outpost at the end of North Street.
North Bar in Upper Briggate describes itself as ‘one of the original pioneers of the Leeds bar boom’. It serves an upmarket range of imported craft beers and is a good place to escape the monotony of the regular pub scene with its same-old industrial brews. It’s a winning formula to which North Bar has had to make very few changes over the years. The range North Bar offers is something to behold, with a constantly changing selection of nearly 130 bottles, keeping it ahead of the curve in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
Many of the bars on party street Call Lane merge into the same boozy, house music haze after a few drinks, but Neon Cactus always manages to stand out. The venue blends an appealing traditional Mexican cantina atmosphere with a trendy, cosmopolitan Call Lane vibe, as well as a cheery atmosphere that’s very much its own. No Mexican venue would be complete without tequila, and indeed the devilish spirit plays a major part at Neon Cactus, with a ‘tequila of the month’ and a heavy presence in many of the cocktails.