Bar review: Below Stairs cocktail bar, South Parade, Leeds

Below Stairs, South Parade, Leeds city centre.
Below Stairs, South Parade, Leeds city centre.
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Firstly, this is not just a cocktail bar.

Below Stairs is an experience.

Two of cocktails on offer at Below Stairs.

Two of cocktails on offer at Below Stairs.

It also really is below stairs, as the name suggests.

First impressions

From first glance, the exterior from the street is not glamorous and can give off a somewhat seedy vibe.

And you would be forgiven for thinking you were descending into some sort of dingy rock bar as you navigate down the steps off South Parade.

But, as you walk through the door, prepare to be wowed.

The atmosphere

It’s overbearingly dark inside (disclaimer: we came on a bright evening), with inviting tables dotted across the space.

We arrive just after 5pm (it opens at 4.30pm) and it was already almost full. A host greets us as we enter and offers us a table, taking us through the menu and ordering etiquette with genuine buoyancy.

It’s all table service. Unlike the typical modern day cocktail bar, you’re not queuing 25 minutes for a drink here.

The drinks

Onto the cocktails, then.

But not until we’ve had a complimentary welcome drink: essentially a shot of whisky with apple flavouring each. Smooth and flavourful. The menu is impressive.

As the host explains, each cocktail has a short “story” accompanying it with it next to its ingredients as a sort of ‘description’, on the menu.

I went for a ‘Beachcoma Zombie’ (£8) which was apparently “inspired by the true origins of tiki cocktails and the simple joy of sitting by the beach with a delicious beverage in hand”.

It is made up of an eclectic mix of rum, Chinese five spice, absinthe, Yuzu Ginger cordial, pineapple and ale. Tangy, citrus-y, but tasty.

My other half opts for a ‘Congressional Club’ (£8.50), which bills itself as “a freshly baked Pecan Pie”... “in liquid form”, concocted from rum, cherry liqueur, pecan, gin foam, ginger hazelnut liqueur and walnut bitters.

The description was spot on.

It tastes like pecan pie, so much so it’s scary.

The verdict?

There's a good mixture of people scattered around the bar, illustrating its wide appeal.

During our visit, there’s a couple who appear to be on a first date, an intelligent pair chatting about work, a bachelor at the bar chatting to staff and an executive-looking birthday party in a booth.

It has a unique feel to it with its dim lighting, navy walls, large tiles on the ceiling and long bar and does feel like a bit of a secret in Leeds.

While the menus are fun and interesting, there are two (one card and one that seemed to be temporary, printed on paper), which is a little bit of overkill.

There were no napkins or coasters, which led to a lot of water sloshing around on tables.

The drinks are also expensive, as expected. And we didn't see any food offerings on either menu.

But if cocktails are your bag, you should be willing to overlook this and buy into the experience they’re selling here. It's worth the extra cash.