Bar review: Mojo, Lower Merrion Street, Leeds

Mojo bar on Merrion Street, Leeds. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Mojo bar on Merrion Street, Leeds. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.

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Stalwart is one of the words that comes to mind when you come to think of Mojo, but what’s new?

A real pioneer of the city’s independent drinking scene, this plucky Merrion Street trend-setter alongside some of its like-minded and effortlessly cool Call Lane colleagues helped modernise the nighttime economy in Leeds.

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More than a decade and a half on, this area of the city has had its ups and downs, but with the recent addition of the relatively close by First Direct Arena and a sudden boom in venues, the Northern Quarter is a go-to bar district in itself.

Across the road Leeds Grand Arcade has been invested in and renovated, now hosting The Pit and soon new bars Mannahatta and The Brotherhood, while the introduction of the thriving Belgrave Music Hall alongside the likes of IT Bar, Sandinista, Blind Tyger, Sela and North have rejuvenated an area once known for its love-or-hate nightclubs.

But Gatecrasher and Heaven & Hell are long gone, and the future looks bright. This summer Lower Merrion Street was pedestrianised, in the hope of turning what was once a grubby rat-run into a more cosmopolitan offering.

Mojo has seen the benefit. Popping by on a Friday night, the pokey terraced venue has sprawled out on to the street where diners and drinkers can socialise alongside punters from the neighbouring Reform, Pit and Verve.

There is a buzz about the place, and that extends into the bar itself. Mojo’s low lit memorabilia-mad interior is a library of framed posters, gig tickets and record covers, which add character as well as a sense that music is high on the agenda here.

Classic rock, Motown and alternative music lights up Mojo on most nights, and we had the pleasure of being serenaded by a soundtrack centred on Thin Lizzy and Stevie Wonder on our visit.

A couple of benched red leather booths are the main source of seating in the main bar area, which is bordered by simple wooden stools and dominated by a lengthy wooden mirror-backed bar illuminated by the red neon ‘Music For The People’ sign that has sums this place up. There is also a diminutive ‘Rhum Room’ upstairs.

A mixed crowd featuring leather-clad middle aged couples, groups of young lads and girls is drawn in because of the thick back catalogue of music, friendly, cool and cosy surroundings as well as a range of drinks that’s clearly been refined over time.

The menu is enviable to say the least with a vibrant range of over 40 cocktails to suit all tastes, from spirit-heavy ‘grown-up drinks’ to sociable punches and party drinks from £6 upwards. There is also a number of wines, sparkling wines and champagnes to choose from, as well as a dozen shooters and seven bottled beers but none on draught.

We decided to step up to the plate and test out some grown-up choices, with a sippable rum, honey and bitters Rum Old Fashioned and a refreshing and fruity vermouth, orange and rum El Presidente. Combined with a couple of bottles of Pacifico Mexican beer, our bill came to a premium £24.

Mojo has a reputation for great drinks and top music in a stylish, welcoming venue, which it is safe to say continues to be delivered.

But this venue finds itself in the midst of an exciting evolution of the Northern Quarter, and with a pedestrianised front street, Mojo has its deserved place at the heart of the movement.

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