As far as bars go, there is a fine line between earthy and grotty.
Being a bit rough-around-the-edges seems as much in fashion now as it has ever been, whether you’re a bearded hipster or the owner of a trendy bar – or both.
That stubbly style and unpretentious aura is very much in vogue at the moment on the Leeds bar scene, with weathered wood and cobbled-together mismatched furniture featuring in some of the newest on-trend bars such as The Social and the Belgrave Music Hall in the Northern Quarter for example.
But there is a line to be drawn between shabby chic and just plain unloved.
On Barfly’s last visit Elbow Room, in Call Lane, certainly fell on the grotty side. From cracked glass and tired furniture to toilets daubed with graffiti, it all felt a bit neglected. But fast forward nearly two years and the venue has brightened up somewhat.
After tackling what seems like an endless number of steps from Call Lane, you enter a two-tier bar space filled with plasma TVs, big screens, pool tables and a lively open kitchen.
The venue is a low-lit expanse lined with red leather banquettes and dotted with clean-cut black leather stools and black tables, dark sofas, simplistic seating for diners and hanging domed tin lamps.
Glowing black and white print pillars, a somewhat grand staircase leading to an oval balcony overlooking the bar and fresh cream and brown painted walls make this an interesting and comfortable place to be.
And although its worn-in wooden floor and the odd peeling faux leather stool are still a little unsavoury, they do illustrate how well-used this venue has been over the years.
A soundtrack featuring the likes of Iggy Pop and Kings of Leon adds to what is a lively, communal bar with a youthful undertone. There is even a playful countdown clock above the dominating plasma screen-laden yellow bar centre piece to signal drinks offers on certain nights.
Elbow Room stocks a succinct range of around 18 long, short and martini cocktails all priced at £6.95 along with a handful of £2.50 shooters. You can also choose from around half a dozen beers and ciders including Strongbow, Kronenbourg, John Smiths and strawberry Rekorderlig on tap, while there are dozens more bottled in the fridges along with a small selection of wines.
We went for a couple of cocktails with a sweet rum, cola and lime Cuba Libre and a very strong vodka and cherry liqueur Red Russian, before bottles of Sol lager and Bulmers pear cider, which brought the bill to £21.60.
Although this might seem a little on the pricey side, it’s worth bearing in mind that Elbow Room’s weeks are crammed with offers such as two-for-one cocktails and selected drinks from 5pm to 8pm every night of the week.
Unsurprisingly it’s all about pool and sports in here but its appeal is by no means limited to groups of rowdy young lads. On our visit there was a mixed crowd, with groups of guys, mixed groups, and plenty of couples having a cosy drink.
Open until midnight or later every night of the week, Elbow Room is certainly somewhere you can spend a good portion of your night, if not the whole of it.
Overall Elbow Room is a bar stalwart that is moving forward, while offering a soft, social, unpretentious alternative to its party-hard neighbours. It moves at its own pace, and long may that continue.