Bar review: Cocktails in the City

Cocktails in the City which took place at Leeds Town Hall last week. Picture by Tom Elms Photography

Cocktails in the City which took place at Leeds Town Hall last week. Picture by Tom Elms Photography

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With a thriving, evergreen bar scene in Leeds, you don’t have to go far to get your hands on a cocktail.

Cocktail bars have been popular in the city for decades, with independent trailblazers like Mojos, in lower Merrion Street and Oporto, in Call Lane, forming a fashionable base for bars to flourish.

Finding a good quality cocktail, or something a little bit special, is not quite as easy as you may think however.

Nevertheless many of modern Leeds’ more spirit-centred venues, whether they be small-time independents or big-hitting chains, take the art of mixing very seriously.

Last week Cocktails in the City returned to Leeds for the second time, with 16 pop-up bars lining Leeds Town Hall for a night of flamboyance, flames, finesse and fruit.

We were invited down to give some of the city’s finest cocktail makers the once over, while around 600 people crowded into a space filled with bar teams from established favourites like Mojos, Skylounge, Sandinista and Harvey Nichols.

The Botanist, The Alchemist, Jakes Bar and Still Room, Roast + Conch, Cielo Blanco, Palm Sugar at Chaophraya, The Pit, Mal Bar, The Maven, Shears Yard and Blind Tyger also were on hand to showcase what they considered their best mixes.

If you’d had enough of the drinks you could even have a massage, Thai food or enjoy interactive demonstrations.

The standard and ingenuity of the teams is testament to the competition in Leeds to find a niche and exploit it.

First to tickle our taste buds was The Lady Manzana mixed by the guys at Shears Yard on The Calls. This smooth, delicate cocktail made with Whitley Neill Gin, apple liqueur and egg whites was a triumph while their pork scratchings weren’t bad either.

From that you had similarly simple but delicious mixes by the teams at Harvey Nichols and Skylounge. The former was a Chase marmalade vodka, elderflower liqueur and fruit juice Lady Marmalade, which was delivered literally in seconds by the bar team. Skylounge’s Bonnie Johnnie whiskey and jam again was sweet with a fruity edge.

The diversity of Leeds’ bars was brilliantly demonstrated. Relative newcomers, and Trinity Leeds sister bars, The Botanist and The Alchemist went down differing but equally impressive routes with their selections. And the top notch service landed The Alchemist the best stand gong, while The Botanist claimed best bar team and best overall.

The Beefeater Gin and apple liqueur English Mojito by The Botanist was laden with fruit and cucumber to give an earthy simplicity, while the boffins at The Alchemist chose to wow with a bubbling beaker of raspberry Chambord, grapefruit vodka and vermouth Loire Lady.

The Maven’s homemade berry puree and Lamb’s Navy Rum Lamb’s Swizzle was refreshing, while Mojos went for a pineapple and aged El Dorado Rum Straight Up Punch, which landed them the coveted best cocktail award.

Innovative cherry puree beads made by Palm Sugar, a smooth rhubarb-infused mix from the gents at Blind Tyger and a Bootlegger white grain spirit and cocchi Giggle Juice from The Pit were also of note.

Cocktails in the City was a great start to a celebration of Leeds’ bartending brilliance, which looks set to continue during the June 2 to 8 Leeds Loves Cocktails week. The city’s appreciation of cocktail creation can only be a good thing for a bar scene going from strength to strength.

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