After a brief hiatus, OnLocation is back with a new sponsor in the form of the new gin – Bulldog Bold.
OnLocation is designed to give bars across the country outside of London the chance to shine. Each month we will be visiting a different city, checking out a few bars and reporting back on the scene.
Our first port of call was Leeds. One of the first cities BarLifeUK visited when we started up many moons ago. A lot has changed since those days but the energy, quality of drinks and potential for silliness (Andy dancing on the bar of Sandinista at 4am on our first trip for example) has thankfully stayed and even improved.
After a small hotel hiccup we put on our bestest drinking boots and with our companion for the evening, in the form of Mark Cato from Bulldog Bold, we set about seeing what this crazy town had in store for us.
It may seem like an unusual name for a bar but this quirky little venue a couple of minutes walk from the train station was a great place to start our evening. A small venue upstairs which serves craft beer and wine alongside a charcuterie counter houses a fantastic range of beers to get your whistle well wetted.
The knowledgeable staff happily guided us through the selection and beer in hand we headed downstairs to the cavernous basement. Full of comfy looking mismatched furniture and board games, groups were happily chatting and knocking back beers of various colours and sizes. It was however the Shuffleboard table in the far corner that caught our eye.
After a couple of quick games (which BarLifeUK definitely won no matter what Cato might claim) our beers were finished and we felt ready to take on the evening ahead.
The scene of our first Bulldog & Tonic was the Botanist. The outside area (including outside kitchen) has been designed to give an underwater feel with metal lily pads and blue lights towering above the seats. Unfortunately it was bloody cold so we headed inside.
This bar come restaurant was just beginning to get busy with the after work crowd and Cato reliably informed us it has a reputation of being a very busy and popular venue especially during the week. The cocktail menu reflects the cliental well with some real crowd pleasing combinations on display.
It was also obvious from the list that they are trying to move their regulars away from vodka and into the world of gin. It was a little busy to properly have a chat with any of the staff so we knocked back our G&T’s and headed back into the darkness.
Call Lane is bar central in Leeds (much in the same way as Manchester has the Northern Quarter), that is not to say all of the cities best bars are there by any means, but it is great place to head to if you are unfamiliar with the cities layout.
One of Call Lane’s longest running bars is Jake’s Bar and Still Room (previously Jake’s Bar and Grill) serving drinks since 2004. It is always a favourite with BarLifeUK with great drinks being matched by great service from the excellent team.
This night was no different with Dave West giving us a big welcome (and those that have met Dave will know he can only give big welcomes). With a special offer on Sazerac 18yo we started with one of those alongside a bottle of beer whilst Dave took the bottle of Bulldog Bold to be the first bartender of the night having a play. He put together:
45ml Bulldog Bold
20ml Yellow Chartreuse
20ml Maraschino Liqueur
25ml Lemon juice
1 Egg white
Wet shake then dry shake (and no that wasn’t dodgy note taking, that is his way) with a cracked black pepper garnish.
It was a lovely drink and really brought out the powerful flavours of the 47% Bulldog Bold.
The keen eyed of you will have noticed this drink doesn’t have a name. There is a very good reason for this. Just as I was about to quiz him for the name Dave announced we were going to have a shot of barrel aged Jagermeister (aged in twice used Rye Whiskey barrels) and after that I forgot what I was doing there.
Jake’s, it seems is leading the way in barrel ageing in Leeds bars and I look forward to going back another night to try some of the creations on their back bar. Even if Mr Burger’s The White Rose won’t be on offer….
One of the joys of OnLocation is the unearthing of a great new bar, an interesting new local ingredient/trend or talented young bartender. At The Maven we happened across the latter.
The Maven is hidden up stairs but opens out into a great space with an amazing looking back bar positively inviting you to sit at the bar, not that BarLifeUK ever need much of an invitation. As we ordered a Singapore Sling and Bramble, with Bulldog naturally, Cato introduced the bartender on shift Jo Last.
We handed her a bottle of Bulldog Bold asked her politely to have a play with it and come up with a drink for us. What we got back was worth the train fare alone. It was described to us as a twist on the Perfect Lady and a ‘bold drink for a bold spirit’. As soon as we heard the specs we understood what she meant:
The Bold Last Lady
75ml Bulldog Bold
22.5ml Crème de Peche
25ml Lemon juice
5ml Sugar syrup
Dry and wet shaken, served in a coupette with a flower petal and twist.
Managing to balance 75ml of a product you have tried only minutes before so expertly shows real skill and a superb pallet. She wasn’t done there either grabbing the bottle for a Martinez twist (40ml Bulldog Bold, 22.5ml Antica Formula, 2dsh Angostura Bitters, 1 dsh orange bitters) which was equally well balanced.
Let’s not forget her bartender in crime in the form of Nelson Davey who won the award for best name of the day for his BFG (Bold Fernet Grapefruit), consisting of 40ml Bulldog Bold, 20ml Rosso Vermouth, 5ml Fernet Branca and 2dshs grapefruit bitters.
BarLifeUK top tip. Keep an eye out for the name Jo Last, she might well be topping comps very soon indeed.
If you have been to Leeds you have been to Mojo, if you haven’t been to Leeds you have heard of Mojo and if neither of those statements apply then get on TheTrainLine.com right now.
Mojo is an institution in Leeds, it has been around so long that apparently Jesus used his carpentry skills to help build it. However they are, like any good bar, always looking to evolve. In the recent past they opened The Rhum Room upstairs and launched their own radio station online (which is often heard in the BarLifeUK offices) and they recently opened a kitchen.
We decided it would be rude not to try it out and Cato hadn’t been fed in a few hours and was beginning to get feral. The menu is proper bar food fare done to a high level and continues the bars music theme. Their Macca’s Wings are already getting somewhat of a reputation and our three sliders (Primal Scream, John Lee Hooker and The Police) were also superb.
However food cannot not distract OnLocation for long and we were soon back at the bar for some refreshment. Unfortunately BarLifeUK friend and contributor Sam Fish was out of town for the night but as we know the sign of a great bar is a great team and Jos was on hand to look after us with aplomb.
He even had time to grab the Bold and come up with the aptly named:
30ml Bulldog Bold
10ml Cocchi Torino
10ml Cherry Herring
25ml Grapefruit juice
10ml Lime juice
Shaken and served in a coupette with grapefruit twist
It was just what we needed after the food to reawaken our pallets and minds (we may have had a shot also) and after Jos had finished showing off the new back bar lights we were back out into the night air for the next port of call.
Close enough to Mojo to share a postcode we found The Pit. A new kid on the block The Pit’s ground floor level is a warehouse style space with big corner bar.
It didn’t take to long however to see why we were there. Above the bar was a big sign advertising the Ping Pong tables downstairs, Cato wanted revenge for the earlier Shuffleboard mauling. Drinks were grabbed and the stairs were descended.
20 minutes later the stairs were ascended and BarLifeUK had a 2-0 lead in the evenings battles despite being distracted by a couple of rather marvellous young ladies playing on the table next to us.
The upstairs of The Pit may not fit everyone’s taste but they have a good beer selection and the Ping Pong tables are always a good draw card.
If you come from London The Belgrave seems very familiar. It could be dropped in Shoreditch, Hoxton or Dalston and fit right in. Full of cool kids and tight jeans it has a great buzz to it.
Add to that some great outdoor spaces (although it was a bit chilly to really enjoy these) and a reputation for live music and it is BarLifeUK’s kind of place. It seems we aren’t the only ones as despite the size of the main bar it had a good crowd in attendance.
Rather than disturbing the busy bar team we settled into a couple of beers and re-cooped ready for the final push of the evening. For the next stop we didn’t have to go far.
The scene of the aforementioned ‘bar dancing’ was next on the list. There is something about Sandinista that makes us immediately relaxed and ready for fun the moment we walk in.
On this occasion we were greeted by Dan Crowther and Claire ‘Mozza’ Morrow so we knew good times were ahead. For those of you not familiar with the Sandinista concept it is a bar/Mexican restaurant renowned for its party atmosphere and the lady sat next to us at the bar drinking her cocktail from a hollowed out pineapple was certainly getting into the mood.
Dan and Claire needed very little encouragement to get creative with the Bulldog Bold and both came up with a cracking drink for us.
Dan – 47 Steps to the Devil (named after the 47% abv of Bold)
50ml Bulldog Bold
15ml Cocchi Americano
3 dash Campari
1 dash Peach Bitters
J Wray & Nephew rinse
Served in a coupette with a cherry and cocktail umbrella
Claire – Straight Off the 10m Board (a nod to her time as a swimming coach)
37.5ml Bulldog Bold
5ml Apricot liqueur
12.5ml Cocchi Americano
Serve straight in a coupette
We were given a quick preview of a new addition to Sandinista which is soon to open. A big room hidden away in the bar is going to open imminently as an extra cocktail led bar, the plans certainly make it sound like we’ll have to pop back again soon once it’s open – any excuse….
Now by the time we reached Smokestack I must admit our memory and note taking had taken a little turn for the worst. However thanks to a combination of photos and a previous trip to Smokestack we can fill you in.
Smokestack is one of several bars in Leeds which really take a lot of time and effort in their music selection and it really is a treat. In fact the Leeds bar scene might well be home to the best music in the country.
With walls festooned with music posters and a shiny well stocked bar we settled in as bartender Mikey Brauny knocked up our final Bulldog Bold drink of the night and I’m sure all of the juice involved help keep hangover levels down a bit the next day.
50ml Bulldog Bold
12.5ml Framboise syrup
12.5ml Lemon juice
50ml Pineapple juice
Served in a coupette with a lemon twist and fresh raspberries.
That was it, we were done, no good was going to come of staying any longer and an early morning train had to be caught.
Leeds is really one of the most fun drinking nights out you can have. Music, cocktails and plenty of talented, outgoing and funny bartenders make you feel welcome at any time.
Thanks to all of the bars we visited for their hospitality and sorry to those we missed out, it just means we’ll have to come up again very soon. Thanks also to Cato and Bulldog Bold for helping the BarLifeUK OnLocation happen and spread the word that the UK’s bar scene is so much more than London.