“SHALL we meet for a drink in The Woods?” has a sufficiently seedy air to make me wonder if the name won’t stick for long.
After all, this has been both Angel’s Share and Hummingbird, since a vacant lot, used variously for used car sales and giant paella cooking, was seized for licensed premises a few years ago.
Chapel Allerton is a suburb where millions have been splashed on bars and restaurants in this past decade or so, and The Woods enters a busy marketplace where the major bases are already covered. Real ale lovers go to the Mustard Pot and Regent, for craft beer and great food it’s the Pit or Zed, for lively atmosphere and Sky Sport it’s The Manor.
For a while, Hummingbird was the poor relation, and if the shoddy service I received on my one visit there was replicated for other customers, then it’s little wonder that it closed. And for The Woods to really thrive, and make inroads on the competition, it will have to tackle the very obvious handicap of being on three small floors, a drawback which neither of its previous guises quite overcame.
It seems that the plan now is essentially to treat the downstairs loosely as a sociable drinking area and the middle floor for dining. High-chairs, toys and games, and a colour- in menu emphasise that kids are very welcome here.
Meanwhile, the upper level has become an entertainment venue, with live music and cinema, yoga and pilates classes and a kids film club. In going down this route, The Woods is nudging into territory which is ably filled by Seven Arts, just around the corner in Harrogate Road.
Even so, owner Tom Edge is determined to emphasise that what’s happening here is quite different from the other bars in this crowded neighbourhood: “We wanted to create a unique venue that’s family friendly through the day and offers something a bit different in the evening – all backed up by great customer service and stylish, comfortable surroundings.”
I’m not sure it’s those last things. On the middle floor where we went for dinner this week, the style is low-budget Ikea, the levels of comfort substantially below those available across the road at the Pit.
You can eat downstairs, but the tables are so small and fixed so far apart that a couple dining would have to sit slightly away from each other to eat in comfort.
It’s cheaper though. £2.80 buys an entry level pint of Yorkshire Blonde from Ossett, one of four locally-brewed real ales on the bar. And that’s a real pint too, not an over-priced schooner like you’d get at Pit.
There are some other significant plusses – the wood-burning stove will keep customers toasty warm in winter; the covered patio area is a really sociable summertime place to drink; head chef Juan Carlos Mendes has drawn on his South American roots to create an interesting selection of wood-fired pizzas, hearty salads, local meats and fresh fish.
And I have to admire Tom’s efforts to create a bar with widespread appeal: “It’s a space that can be enjoyed by everyone. Whether you want a coffee with friends, a business meeting over lunch, to watch local bands or dance until late, there really is something for you.” Herein, actually lies the problem. In trying to satisfy everyone, it runs the risk of falling a little bit short of each of them. The pizzas are great here, but better at Casa Mia; there’s a fine venue for live acts, but Seven’s is bigger; there are good ales here, but the Mustard Pot does more; it’s quite lively and stylish, but not in Pit’s league.
Perhaps The Woods can make it third time lucky for this oft-changed site.
I notice from the Woods website, that on a Sunday it is open until “12am”, innumeracy and illiteracy combined beautifully into four little characters. To be clear, twelve o’clock is neither PM nor AM, whether in daylight or darkness, it is either midnight or noon. 12am and 12pm are just plain wrong, so stop it.
Name: The Woods
Type: Quality bar, restaurant and entertainment venue
Opening Times: 9am-1am Mon-Thur, 9am-2am Fri-Sat, 9am-midnight Sun.
Beers: Yorkshire Blonde (£2.80), Theakston’s Black Bull (£3.20), plus one guest ale. Sagres (£3.90), Murphy’s (£3.40), Symonds Reserve cider (£3.40), Strongbow Dark Fruit (£3.40) plus changing range of cask ales and bottled beers.
Food: Breakfast menu from 9am, followed by quality all-day selection of meat and fish dishes and pizzas.
Disabled: Access to ground floor bar
Beer Garden: Outdoor seating on ground floor, balcony area on top floor
Parking: On-street parking nearby, two hours parking available in Co-Op car park next door
Telephone: 0113 3070111