The year 2020 has not quite been the return to the vivacious Roaring Twenties we all dreamed it’d be as we donned our flapper dresses, feather headbands and strings of pearls on New Year’s Eve. The restrictions currently imposed on our everyday lives, however, do not mean that 2020 is truly cancelled and the dream of a resurgent Jazz Age has to be a thing of the past.
Cheaper than London, and Yorkshire’s very own ‘capital city’, Leeds is the perfect destination to live your 1920s fantasies for the night, with numerous hidden cocktail bars – think speakeasy-style – around the city centre. This guide will list the best cocktail bars in Leeds (and where to find them) as tried and tested by myself. So, in no particular order, we begin:
1 Call Lane, Leeds, LS1 7DH
Welcome to the prohibition of the 1920s, experienced a century later! The Maven is a hidden cocktail bar above Call Lane Street, residing in an old Victorian building. There are no signs pointing the way to its entrance; there is nothing but a black door which, once found and entered, leads you up a staircase to the main bar area. Once inside, the dimmed lighting, leather seating, and wood-panelled walls decorated with eccentric art transport you straight back to the iconic Jazz Age era.
The menu is extensive: filled with numerous house-cocktails, plenty of wines, champagnes and prosecco. The beer is bottled, nothing is served on draught, but there are still plenty to choose from. Moreover, the expertise of the bar staff means that the classic cocktails that we all know and love, whether a Cosmo or an Old Fashioned, are available upon request and made to your personal preferences.
Bookings are available from Thursday-Sunday but walk-ins are also welcomed.
This decadent drinking den, hidden away from the troubles of the world, provides the perfect escape from reality. It is astonishingly affordable too: just in case you needed another reason to visit one of the best cocktail bars in Leeds.
For more information and bookings, visit: https://www.themavenbar.com/
159A Lower Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6LY
Smokestack is similar to The Maven: a nondescript doorway leads you up a flight of stairs until you reach the bar. Unlike The Maven, however, Smokestack is more clearly signposted. But do not think that this means that everyone knows of its existence; on one of the busiest streets in Leeds for bars and clubs, Smokestack is hidden away and crammed in next to a very popular Vietnamese restaurant and bar.
One inside Smokestack, expect to find leather booths, exposed bricks, jazz music, and a large bar area. This New Orleans-style speakeasy serves their own signature cocktails, all priced between £8-£8.50, with a ‘for fans of’ section underneath the ingredients, so you’ll always be sure that the cocktail you choose is the right one for you – my personal favourite, ‘The French Martinilla’, is ‘for fans of French Martinis, vanilla ice cream and fairgrounds’. Of course, the usual spirits, beers, and wines are also on offer, alongside the more traditional cocktails.
Smokestack is open until 3 AM from Tuesday-Sunday, though opening times vary throughout the week. Also, as Smokestack has limited seating available, and even less due to the current pandemic, it is advisable to book your spot, especially if you’re planning to visit over the weekend. Still, this is another bar that makes the cut as being one of the coolest and best cocktail bars in Leeds.
For more information and bookings, visit: https://smokestackleeds.co.uk/
12 South Parade, Leeds, LS1 5AL
Through a small iron gate, down the stairs, and into the basement, you will find Below Stairs; at ground level, the only hint of the bar’s existence is a small sign, easily missed. Once inside, you will find a spacious night-time blue room, the walls covered in artwork – both from the menu and completely original pieces.
The menu is artwork in itself: it is completely different to anything else seen in Leeds. While it offers cocktail creations, unique to Below Stairs, and lists the ingredients within, as expected, you are also presented with a story. These short, paragraph-long, stories appeals to your senses and create an atmosphere, allowing you to choose your cocktail based entirely on your senses rather than having to be a cocktail expert to know which is right for you.
As with the other bars, your favourite classic cocktail that may not appear on the menu is available upon request, but all of this will be explained to you by the very attentive staff as they show you to your seat. Unlike other bars, Below Stairs has always been table-service only, meaning that even in pre-pandemic times you were not queuing for 25 minutes waiting to be served at the bar. This also means that Below Stairs feels pretty much exactly the same as it did before March, albeit slightly more spacious.
Bookings available but walk-ins are accepted, though your time may be limited if you walk-in at the weekend. Below Stairs is open 7 days a week, though opening and closing times vary throughout the week.
For more information and bookings, visit: https://www.belowstairsbar.com/
7 Duncan Street, Leeds, LS1 6DQ
A different vibe to all the other hidden bars on the list, Distrikt is an underground bar that once (before the pandemic) doubled as a nightclub and a restaurant. Despite the current restrictions preventing the club scene from re-emerging in Britain’s night-time economy, Distrikt continues to offer an escape from the realities of 2020. Where the other bars on this list offer a more relaxed, classic atmosphere, with their light jazz music, Distrikt is known for its hosting of underground electronica DJs and musicians which makes it one of the best cocktail bars in Leeds.
Distrikt’s cocktail menu is extensive, with prices ranging from £7-£10, paying homage to the popular classic and contemporary cocktails – some being offered with an original twist.
It is strongly advised that you book a table 3-4 days in advance of your visit in order to avoid disappointment; and it is also worth bearing in mind that, currently, a table can only be booked for two hours at a time due to the bar’s popularity.
For more information and bookings, visit: https://www.distrikt.co.uk/
The Domino Club
7 Grand Arcade, Leeds, LS1 6PG
To fully experience a prohibition-style party, The Domino Club is not a bar that can be missed. Though more expensive than the others on this list, it is well-worth the price paid. Located in the Grand Arcade, The Domino Club is a barbershop by day. Once hairdressing duties are over for the day, however, expect to find bouncers guarding the unassuming door at the back, ready to allow your passage back in time to last century. Through the door, you’ll find a wooden staircase leading you down into the basement which is filled with leather booths, a large bar, and a small stage at one end of the room.
The menu is packed full of the big-name classics, alongside The Domino Club’s very own signature-style cocktails. And the usual beer, wine, and spirits are also available.
Recently, The Domino Club has changed its opening hours to being open 7 days a week, with live music being played from 9pm-12am every single night. There are on-the-door charges from Thursday-Sunday, however, with Thursday and Sunday priced at £5 per head, and Friday and Saturday at £10 per head. It is worth bearing in mind that, as with Distrikt, tables can only be booked for two hours at a time.
For more information and bookings, visit: https://www.thedomino.co.uk/