Bar review: The Reform, Lower Merrion Street, Leeds city centre

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If you’re into cocktails and dancing, The Reform is for you - or at least that’s what this bar’s website has to say.

A self proclaimed funk, soul and rock ‘n’ roll bar, this Lower Merrion Street venue is in the midst of a timely revival after a surge of renewed interest in this area’s concoction of independent eateries and bars.

Factors including the arrival of Leeds’ First Direct Arena, and the fact that Lower Merrion Street and the Grand Arcade have become cut throughs for foot traffic parking at the nearby Templar Street Car Park, has thrust this subtle row of back street bars back into the limelight.

Having been at the heart of the city’s independent bar scene for decades, the bars of this area used to sit alongside nightclubs like Gatecrasher and Heaven & Hell but in recent years have been left to fend for themselves.

This summer’s pedestrianisation of Lower Merrion Street has given the likes of Mojo, Verve and The Reform a new selling point through outdoor courtyard seating. This combined with the arena and the addition of bars like The Belgrave, Blind Tyger and The Pit have been a major boost, or have they?

On a busy Friday night, Barfly walked past a suitably busy Mojo, a bustling Verve and entered a surprisingly downbeat Reform. There were no more than a handful of punters inside and none outside at 10.30pm - it did get marginally busier before we left, the question we had twas what is Reform’s appeal?

Inside it’s a weathered wood floor, white, grey and berry-coloured space bordered by a mixture of grand buttoned leather armchairs and sofas, simple leather and black metal stools and wooden high chairs and wooden tables. It’s pleasant, uncomplicated and roomy but lacks character.

Regal glass mirrors and beaded lampshades add bursts of colour alongside the lengthy feature bar, which is wood-topped and lined with a dazzling array of spirits.

The music is funky with a slightly retro edge, featuring a bit of Sister Sledge and George Baker on our visit, although all but the decor can be found just up the road at Mojo - there is a lack of a real sense of individuality in here.

Despite this, offer-wise there are a couple of differences. You can enjoy free pizza with drinks bought each day between 5pm and 9pm. while there are cinema nights in a room set aside for events and tastings.

As far as the menu is concerned, there is a clear leaning towards cocktails. A complex selection of around 20 handcrafted mixes, costing from £6 upwards, includes martinis, long, short and even ‘hurricane’ varieties. There are also a couple of draught beers, unlike in Mojo, with Estrella Damm, Cobra and Symonds cider among the choices, while the fridges are crammed with bottled beers and cider, wines and champagne.

We went for a couple of painstakingly put together cocktails, with a deliciously fruity rum and mint centred Strawberry Mojito and a ginger beer and rum fueled Dark ‘n’ Stormy. The expert bartender took real pride in the mixes although the Mojito in particular was lacking on the spirit side as it did taste a little weak.

With the addition of a couple of bottles of Modelo beer, our bill came to a relatively reasonable £20.80.

Overall The Reform has some things to shout about. Its varied menu, pizza offers and funky soundtrack make this a nice place to be but on our visit the promise of cocktails and dancing was only half fulfilled.

Pub review: Town Hall Tavern, Leeds