Bar review: Varsity, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds

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American teen movies and US college football teams often come to mind when you think of the word Varsity.

But aside from the American Pie cliches, the term also has rowdy student bar connotations earned through more than a decade of the enduring Varsity chain.

Leeds’s very own Varsity, which is nestled in the Merrion Centre, in Woodhouse Lane, isn’t short of a reputation for excess itself, as for many it acts as a cut-price prelude to the mammoth Oceana nightclub next door.

Inside it has that unintentionally weathered feel to it, the wooden parquet flooring is worn, some of the leather booths have seen better days and the grey wood panelled features dotted around the place make Varsity look a little drab in the cold light of late afternoon.

The bar itself is a long, wooden sideline to the main seated area which in fairness features some nice brown and cream couched areas, high wooden tables and stools nearer the bar and a low-backed orientally influenced sofa section which is stepped up opposite to the bar.

Dolled up for Christmas, sporting tinsel from the retro pub light shades and lit by snaking fairylights and spotlights, Varsity is a pretty inoffensive middle ground between a bar and a pub.

The menu at Varsity is broad yet unspectacular, with a range of classic cocktails, along with good selections of beers and wines.

There are around a dozen cocktails to choose from, with all the usuals available at £6.99 each or £13 for a pitcher, though you should note mixes feature in a two-for-one deal every day before 10pm.

A row of fridges houses countless bottled beer and cider selections, while there are plenty of draught choices including Kronenbourg, Fosters and Brothers cider which can be flavoured with any one of three fruity syrups.

Otherwise there are more than a dozen varieties of red, white and rose wines on the menu and four sparkling wine or champagne bottles for those in the mood to celebrate.

The frugal among us can make the most of the ‘buy two large glasses of wine and get the rest of the bottle free’ offer.

If you are in any doubt as to who the target clientele is, take a look above the bar and see how the Varsity ‘V’ has been spelled out using a display of VK and Smirnoff Ice alcopops.

We decided to give the cocktails a go with a couple of tangy raspberry Chambord, rum and mint Spiced Raspberry Mojitos and two strong but refreshing vodka, gin, rum, tequila and triple sec Long Island Iced Teas.

We followed those with a bottle of Budweiser beer and a pint of Brothers pear cider, which brought the bill to a good value £21.48.

Varsity is hardly a sophisticated champagne bar.

Despite this, there is a slightly surprising second line of business here.

On Barfly’s visit there were a few worse-for-wear 60 plus regulars sipping pints with shopping bags in tow in the main bar area. I suppose this isn’t especially surprising considering it sits across from a Yates’s and the older-aimed Picture House pub, so Varsity seemingly assumes a broader pub appeal during the day.

You can’t really argue with the fact that Varsity fits its pre-nightclub mould, with its chart music soundtrack, broad, offer-filled menu and relatively modern - if battled-scarred - furnishings. But overall there is room for improvement.

Date:22nd May 2017.
Picture James Hardisty.
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