Sela Bar Leeds: Inside the Lower Briggate bar and music venue that's celebrating 20 years in the city

Just over two decades ago, Sela Bar was nothing but a dingy basement filled with junk from the restaurant upstairs.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

But a family saw the potential in the space on New Briggate, and got to work transforming the cellar into their cool music venue and late night bar.

Mark Young, his wife Sona and parents Mary and Dennis completed much of the work by hand. And their much-loved Leeds bar is now celebrating 20 years in the city. 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mark told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “As we started building it, we came across things we didn’t know we would find - walls came up beautifully when we sanded them, we found bits of wallpaper from a time gone by which gave us an insight into the history of the place.

Mark Young, owner of Sela Bar, pictured with manager Emily Cullen (Photo by Bruce Rollinson/National World)Mark Young, owner of Sela Bar, pictured with manager Emily Cullen (Photo by Bruce Rollinson/National World)
Mark Young, owner of Sela Bar, pictured with manager Emily Cullen (Photo by Bruce Rollinson/National World)

“And as it developed, we saw the potential for a stage at one end, the potential for a really nice bar and space for people to meet.”

As Sela Bar was preparing to open, the family discovered the venue had been a jazz club in the 1950s. 

“That was amazing - it always had a vibe that it would work for what we envisioned,” Mark, a DJ, added.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Now renowned for its live music, Sela hosts regular jazz, funk and soul gigs, as well as spoken word and poetry, a monthly quiz and lively Friday and Saturday nights with resident DJs.

Gigs are pay-as-you-feel and the basement has hosted everyone from Corrine Bailey Rae, Brain Auger and the late Dr Lonnie Smith to up-and-coming musicians. 

Mark and his wife Sona, who founded the bar in 2004 (Photo by Mark Young)Mark and his wife Sona, who founded the bar in 2004 (Photo by Mark Young)
Mark and his wife Sona, who founded the bar in 2004 (Photo by Mark Young)

Mark said: “Being able to give young musicians the space to play a jazz piece to their friends, but in a real live situation, it gives them an audience and an opportunity. 

“We’ve got so many music students in Leeds which is so important - we’re one of the only major cities to have so many dedicated music education institutions. To be part of that in some small way is wonderful.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Sela is hosting three events on February 22-24 to mark its 20th birthday - a live band karaoke night with Louis Louis Louis, a takeover by Sela’s original resident DJs, Mark and Leon Johnson, and a special Noughties party hosted by Sela’s manager Emily Cullen.

Mark said: “Emily has been with us for a number of years and her importance to the bar, and the creativity she’s brought, is incredible. We thought it would be fun to acknowledge that with her own party on the Saturday.

“We’ve got an incredibly supportive team of staff and people that we trust. It’s been really rewarding watching them and the venue grow, watching it become a space that hosts different things.”

The bar is hosting three special events to celebrate its 20th birthday (Photo by Bruce Rollinson/National World)The bar is hosting three special events to celebrate its 20th birthday (Photo by Bruce Rollinson/National World)
The bar is hosting three special events to celebrate its 20th birthday (Photo by Bruce Rollinson/National World)
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Myself and Sona feel a lot of pride,” he added. “It’s astonishing that we’ve reached this milestone and it’s gone so quickly. 

“The fact that we’ve managed to last for 20 years highlights the support that our customers have given us - they keep coming back, and that’s why we exist. We still have regulars that visited in our first week.

“We’ve gone on a journey together and we’ve become friends with our customers over the years, and they’ve developed lifelong friendships with other people that they’ve met here.

"That’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”