Bar review: Bilbao Bar, Granary Wharf, Leeds

Bilbao Bar, Granary Wharf, Leeds. Picture by Simon Hulme.
Bilbao Bar, Granary Wharf, Leeds. Picture by Simon Hulme.
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Basque country is similar to Leeds apparently.

That’s the message emanating from Leeds’ newest city bar, Bilbao Bar, that aims to bring a slice of sun-drenched Spain to good old Yorkshire.

The Basque expats behind the Granary Wharf offering, situated in one of the bar district’s dark arches that looks across to the Doubletree by Hilton, are intent on giving Loiners an experience of traditional tapas, wines and cocktails.

Amid the current heatwave you can see where the comparisons begin and the industrial past and central river might add to that. Fortunately in Leeds they will certainly find a yearning for culture and new experiences.

You certainly get that in this urban pocket of Espana through its airy open plan layout, red, white and black colour scheme and traditional menu.

The bar is a compact venue drenched in natural light through floor-to-ceiling windows. Stools and raised tables greet you on either side on entry, with the bar itself on your right and a lengthy black banquette to the left beneath oversized industrial grey metal lightshades.

The white stone-topped bar sits underneath a contemporary chandelier that features red cords with glowing bulbs hanging from a black panel above, while a broad blackboard bearing the cocktail, coffee and house wine menus sits behind it.

Quirky cushions that look like driftwood and aged white wood-topped tables give a sense of that relentlessly warm Basque weather, which Leeds admittedly isn’t all that accustomed to.

Bilbao Bar’s quite open kitchen, the cured meats and cheeses on display, and the wine crate-style decoration that adorns the kitchen and bar also add to that exoticism.

It’s an interesting and inviting little space that has brought a noticeable yet subtle theme with it. The only real design downside, particularly at this time of year, is its lack of a beer garden.

The drinks menu is broad and covers all the bases, while maintaining its sense of Basque style.

At the tables you’re presented with a lengthy list of bottled beers from all over the world and one Westons cider, as well as two draught choices – Spanish Estrella Damm and Dogfish Head DNA UK beers.

A broad selection of more than 30 red, white and rose wines costing from £3.50 for a small glass can also be found here along with a handful of champagnes, sherries and dessert wines.

A handpicked array of 11 Spanish-inspired cocktails including Vermouth Bilbao Style and classics priced at £6.50 adds to the variety.

We went for a couple of refreshing £3.80 pints of Estrella Damm beer and bottles of Pilsner Urquell and Modelo Especial world beers, which brought the bill to a relatively reasonable £14.90.

Certainly as an early evening bar/ restaurant Bilbao Bar brings something new and has a varied drinks menu that befits its Basque roots.

How its approach might change into the late evening may well be key to its success however, as a slightly less suited Pink and Katy Perry pop music soundtrack on our visit left us wondering how this airy tapas bar can make it as a fashionable nightspot.

That’s something to consider at least, but what’s for certain is that Bilbao Bar brings something new, vibrant and exciting to Leeds whether Yorkshire is basking in the sun or drenched in rain.


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