Review: The subterranean drinking delights of Sunbridge Wells

Sunbridge Wells is in a series of converted underground passageways.
Sunbridge Wells is in a series of converted underground passageways.
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on the surface, spending an evening drinking underground doesn’t sound particularly appealing.

But add a dash of imagination, and the subterranean delights of Sunbridge Wells become altogether more alluring.

This quirky, hidden leisure spot in the heart of Bradford offers a real alternative to the plethora of production-line wine bars and brasseries dominating the West Yorkshire scene.

The complex was built in a series of underground passageways near the City Hall which were bricked-up and backfilled in the 1950s, lying forgotten for 50 years until a rejuvenation project. The tunnels once housed a legendary nightclub which hosted names like The Beatles and Rod Stewart on the roll of honour, something that is heavily referenced in the decor.

The sign at the main entrance is taglined ‘welcome to the world of pure imagination’. The nod to Willy Wonka was a surprise – I half expected an army of oompa loompas to come out to welcome us!

It’s certainly an adventure – the rabbit-warren design inside might be confusing at first but discovering its manifold treats is fun. We spent a good half hour exploring, admiring the decor and weaving in and out of the various bars – a mix of traditional pubs and quirky themed venues – before we settled for the evening at cocktail and music bar Alibi.

The atmosphere was soothing and the modern, jazzy, beatsy music pleasant to the ear. It was one of the more spacious venues in the complex, some of the others felt a lot more claustrophobic. Not surprising really. The low ceilings and tight design might not be to everyone’s taste.

We were there on a midweek, so it wasn’t exactly heaving but was certainly ticking over. The large group of middle-aged ladies on the table next to us certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The bar has been designed sympathetically, with nude original walls and a smattering of eclectic artefacts including mini Buddhas and giant beer kegs adding to its charms.

The drinks menu has a tempting selection of signature cocktails like Chocolate Orange Sazerac, Alibi Rum Punch and Raspberry Gin Cooler (priced between £8 and £8.50).

We’d settled into a plush sofa, but also liked the selection of small to medium booths, nicely slotted into alcoves.

The steady flow of punters, many looking as curiousity-filled as us, suggested this place is still somewhat of an unknown entity. But we’re already planning to go back for cocktails and dancing at Alibi. The multimedia nostalgia fest of the Laurel and Hardy bar and the art-deco 1920s Club will also be on my list of must pop-ins next time.

Alex Newman, partner at Irwin Mitchell in Leeds

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