Last autumn, anyone prone to regular bar crawls up Merrion Street in Leeds had cause for great concern.
The Reform, a staple night spot of 12 years’ standing, was to shut for a refurb and re-open as a ‘dive bar’ inspired by America’s Deep South.
Loved for its unashamedly popular mix of funk, soul, rock and new wave crowd-pleasers, it had a welcome reputation as a place where revellers could pursue care-free dancefloor antics until the time your alarm clock usually goes off.
But nearly a year after Mean Eyed Cat re-opened, it seems the spot is still a core haunt of those who are loath to hail a taxi before sunrise. And it’s also shown it has more than enough edge to compete with the many new additions to the Northern Quarter’s thriving night scene.
Apparently inspired by trips the bar’s owners have made to Austin, Texas, the dimly-lit club – which now takes its name from a Johnny Cash song – is decked out with wooden walls, a tin ceiling and a line of retro multi-coloured bulbs over the bar.
It’s difficult to look in any direction without seeing an image of the Man In Black. A large tattoo-style portrait of Cash is given pride of place opposite the dancefloor. Old school memorabilia complements this, as does the huge Ring of Fire painting which graces the window.
While the seating layout inside is mostly unchanged, offering comfortable sofas and numerous wooden tables and chairs, the transformation of the décor is impressive. It’s gone from genuinely rough-and-ready to glamourised spit-and-sawdust.
Walking into the club, the atmosphere is as comfortable and care-free as ever. For all the apparent new hipster trappings it still feels totally welcoming and unpretentious.
And tracks from Fleetwood Mac to Chuck Berry to Blondie or Aretha Franklin ensure the dancefloor is as busy as ever.
But what the bar is serious about is cocktails. Advertised on a classic cinema listings board are its many USA-inspired £7.50 concoctions. These include the Key Lime Pie (a very sweet mix of white chocolate liqueur, with vanilla and pineapple) or Boiler Maker (a very brave half a lager and bourbon).
And for the same price you can get an alcoholic iced tea or pizza – they offer tantalising Deep South flavours like Chipotle Meatball or Chorizo and Guacamole. There is free pizza with every drink from 5pm-9pm and you can roll dice to win six free drinks or money off your round. A good selection of draft beers are available, with the option of a growler.
Mean Eyed Cat can accommodate a Saturday escape or week night bite and pint. But to alter a line from the song itself, you won’t want to grab your “goin’-home hat”.
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