Bar review: 51% Bourbon Lounge, Hirst’s Yard, Leeds

51% Bourbon Lounge, Hirst's Yard. Picture: Tony Johnson
51% Bourbon Lounge, Hirst's Yard. Picture: Tony Johnson
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INTRIGUED by a bar that goes super-niche? Me too, so that was why, as well as a personal penchant for whisky, the Bourbon Lounge appealed.

The ‘51 per cent’ in the name is confusing. Yes, there are other drinks available, but this is a place to narrow your sights upon if bourbon is your thing.

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On every wander to Hirst’s Yard I get puzzled trying to locate the alleyway entrance off Lower Briggate, which probably says more about my sense of direction than anything else, but once there the bar is nestled tightly packed and rising out of a small space, split over two floors.

I was pointed in the direction of the first floor for an examination of the bourbon menu. This leather bound tome contained dozens of blends from five bourbon distilleries, and a separate list of miscellaneous origin tipples. Where to start?

Easing myself in I checked out the cocktail list, where besides the typical choices were two pages of bourbon cocktails. Wonderful. I went classic, opting for the Bourbon Sour (£7) which comprised of Woodford Reserve, lemon juice, sugar, a dash of egg white and with the added flourish of a sliver of triple sec. It was cracking, the initial sweetness settled down by the smoothness of the bourbon. Success.

The barmaid kindly indulged my next selection. Overcome by the options, I asked for a recommendation, explained the sort of whisky that I usually enjoy and was presented four options; the barmaid handing a bottle of each for me to gauge how they smelt. Sweet and light, Buffalo Trace is a good place to start for the newbie apparently, but I wasn’t going to settle for that. As a Scotch drinker, I opted for a single measure of High West Double Rye (£5) served without ice. It had a subtle sweetness and a deep, relatively smoky finish.

I don’t know whether or not it’s standard bourbon etiquette or not, but as a chaser to the stiff stuff I had a bottle of Brooklyn Lager (£3.90) and the uncomplicated flavour of the beer fit with the bourbon like a hand to a glove. Thankfully the barmaid gently steered me clear of more hoppy beer options like the Anchor Steam in the fridge.

It was a great place to chill out and savour a drink, the interior upstairs a curious but snug cross between a downlit reading room with its faux fire at the foot of a chimney breast and pull string lamps, and an American mid-west barn thanks to its wood beamed ceiling and whisky barrel tables in the centre. A tiny balcony with a pair of chairs on it alleviates any claustrophobia and an upbeat soundtrack, whilst I visited at least, of James Brown, Elvis Pressley and Nina Simone felt just right.

Just don’t expect to try much more than a few measures and not make a dent in your wallet.

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