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Ask any Leeds resident to point out Baby Jupiter on a map and they’ll almost certainly falter. For the city’s bar that most deserves the title of best-kept secret is well-known by name but so elusive in location that only the determined or the plain lucky actually end up descending the stone steps into the psychedelic underground space. Neighboured by strip clubs and anonymous offices, Baby Jupiter attracts plenty of office workers on a Friday night, but stay a little longer after the sun goes down and you’ll discover a retro bar with something special to offer.
Since its formation in 2007 as a two man (and one dog) operation, Brewdog has been steadily growing inside and outside of Britain. With its mission to provide an alternative experience to ‘industrially brewed lagers and stuffy ales’, it expanded into Leeds in March 2013, setting up shop in the White Cloth Hall. The deliberately minimalist, almost rustic design of the interior feels 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 with the rebellious ethos of Brewdog as a company.
As the popularity of cosmos, mojitos and daiquiris endures, a new generation of bars has arisen to cater for the voracious thirst for boundary-pushing mixology and a polished experience that can almost justify spending the best part of a tenner on a drink that could easily be downed in one. In Leeds, there’s Mook, The Alchemist, Skybar and Angelica, at the top of Trinity. Its large range of beautifully presented beverages is served with a side order of unbeatable scenery, and as close to the VIP treatment as the average aspirational pleb can get.
It must be said, few drinking holes have invested as much into theming and eccentricity as this small third-floor bar, which seemed to signal the movement of mixology mastery out of London when it launched less than two years ago. The Alchemist is first and foremost a cocktail bar that also happens to serve other drinks and food, instead of a restaurant that serves a few cocktails. Tales of dry ice, copper kettles, fire and test tubes provided constant publicity on social media, and the bar quickly became difficult to get into at the weekend. Alchemist’s playful, wacky and incredibly creative cocktails continue to grab headlines.
Tucked away in one of the busiest areas of Leeds city centre, underneath the railway arches and next door to the recently demised Cockpit music venue in Heatons Court, The Shed hides in plain sight. It is oriented on indie music – a fact that is obvious from the moment you step inside. The walls are adorned with posters and vinyl records of the likes of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, giving it a bar-meets-record-store style. Critically, 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.
Everything about the SkyLounge is informal and relaxed, yet it retains an unmistakably upmarket feel. While The Botanist and Angelica’s at the new Trinity shopping precinct are currently the fashionable rooftop bars, SkyLounge, sitting atop the Doubletree by Hilton near the canal, still offers unrivalled views of Leeds. The decor is bright, minimalist and breezy, and the bar boasts a breathtaking view of Leeds. If you venture outside on to the spacious balcony area, your view is dominated by Bridgewater Place and the canals below. A place to take somebody if you want to impress them.
Although most of Leeds’ key places for nights out are city centre venues, every once in a while a suburban spot will find its place on the map. Seven Arts in Chapel Allerton is not only an independent arts venue, with the bar doubling up as a gallery, but is also a contemporary performance space famed for its gigs, fine wine, and impressive menu. The upmarket town isn’t short of quality places to drink and dine, but Seven turns an evening into a sophisticated, self-contained package of entertainment with a constant calendar of jazz, folk, blues, rock, spoken word, and comedy acts.
This bar and restaurant at the former Tetley’s factory is the product of heavy investment, and this newly refurbished space is now 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 for a range of clientele; whether you’re treating your gran to lunch or just hanging out with friends, you won’t feel out of place. The inviting space pays tribute to the building’s rich manufacturing heritage, while ensuring that the food and selection of alcoholic drinks on offer are sufficiently à la mode to entice trendy young professionals.
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 and same old industrially brewed lagers. It’s a winning formula to which North Bar has had to make very few alterations down the years. The range that North Bar offers is something to behold, with a constantly changing selection of nearly 130 beers, keeping it ahead of the curve even in an increasingly crowded marketplace. For instance, it was the first in the UK to bring in Brooklyn Lager and Erdinger on draught.
In a city that boasts an abundance of excellent bars serving cocktails, it’s rather impressive that the hidden-away Mook has become synonymous with mixed beverages and a great night out for those who want to avoid the sweat and standing-room-only vibe of the clubs. The word-on-the-lips for Friday night drinks and sophisticated socialising, the bar has remained unfazed by the recent influx of more experimental cocktail bars in the same area of town. After a few of their lethally alcoholic drinks it's customary to head downstairs from the quirky bar area to a dancefloor where DJs spin inoffensive pop, dance and indie into the wee hours.