“I BET this happens to you all the time,” says Immi Cardy, co-owner of the Old Red Bus Station, as she hands me a hot pie, on the house.
She’s wrong, mind. Perhaps it’s born of a fear it will be seen as a minimalist attempt at bribery, but it’s depressingly rare that licensees ever offer me a free pint or a sneak sample of the food. They should; I will guarantee never to imply some sinister motive.
Immi has no such qualms, thankfully. All the food at this brand new venture is vegan, and despite my deep-seated suspicion of any pie which is not packed with steak and kidney, chicken or pork, I have to say it was pretty fine effort, home-made too.
The name’s a clue, but if you haven’t guessed, Immi’s bar is based at the former red bus station in Vicar Lane. The station itself wasn’t red, but the buses were. Built in 1936, its dramatic curved art deco frontage echoes that of LGI’s Brotherton Wing across town, which opened in 1940.
The last buses rolled out of here some 20 years ago: “It was very derelict when we first got in,” says Immi. “There was no electricity, heating or running water.” The ground floor premises were last used in 2010, the upstairs even longer ago, and a three-month building project has re-invented the space as a bar, nightclub and canteen.
The project has a limited life, as the premises are set to be demolished to make way for the shiny new Eastgate Quarter, because a lovely shopping centre is apparently what Leeds needs, rather than the preservation of a fine historic building. “Because we’re only here for five years and wanted to keep the budget down we have recycled and re-used things as much as possible.” The bar top is parquet flooring salvaged from upstairs and held up by scaffolding poles. We are having our conversation lounging on bean bags around an old wooden cable drum given fresh purpose as a table.
Immi and business partner Rikines are also behind online magazine Champion Up North, which promotes the best of the region’s underground culture: “I’d never run a bar before,” admits Immi, who was at least sufficiently plugged into the zeitgeist to install two shiny rows of craft beer fonts on her parquet bar. The biggest sellers are the house products – Old Red Cider and Bus Station Brew. Other beers include lovely Brooklyn Lager, hard-to-find malty Belgian pale Grimbergen and the eye-watering expensive Flying Dog. The choice is completed by fridges stocked with a cosmopolitan selection of bottles: “I grew up in Spain and Rikines is from Croatia, so we really wanted it to be international.”
When I first arrive at the bar, staff are still cleaning out the beer lines after a heavy weekend. Several pints of water are pulled through the tap before I get my hands on an undiluted pint of the crisp and refreshing Bus Station Brew, which has more bite and more body than you might expect from a session ale. Immi refuses to divulge where they source this from, but perhaps there’s a clue in the fact that the only handpull on the bar is dedicated to Ridgeside Brewery, a mile or so away in Meanwood Road. The cost of the two house brews comes down to a friendly £2 during after-work happy hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. They serve excellent home-made cake and coffees too, at £2.50 a go.
Upstairs, there’s a broad space ideal for gigs, club nights, events and exhibitions – perfect for showcasing the talent long championed by the business partners’ online venture. It’s surprising then that ORBS itself doesn’t yet have a website; it must be the only new bar in Leeds which doesn’t. “We haven’t got round to it,” says Immi. “We’re on Facebook and Twitter though.”
The Old Red Bus Station
Address: Vicar Lane, Leeds
Host: Immi Cardy and Rikines Andrin
Type: Craft beer bar, canteen and club
Opening Hours: noon-11pm Sun-Wed, noon-4am Thur-Sat
Beers: Bus Station Brew (£2.80), Old Red Cider (£2.80), changing Ridgeside real ale (from £3.60), San Miguel (£3.50), Erdinger (£4), Brooklyn Lager (£4.50), Grimbergen (£4.50), Flying Dog (£5.50). Great choice of bottled beers from the UK and overseas
Wine: Good selection
Food: Vegan pies and pasties available at present – menu will expand with the opening of the upstairs canteen
Entertainment: Regular programme of live music, plus club nights upstairs
Disabled: Easy access
Children: Not suitable
Beer garden: None
Parking: City centre pay and display areas nearby
Telephone: 0113 345 4390