To fully appreciate The Box in Leeds city centre you probably have to go there on a Friday night when the place is absolutely banging. As things stand, circumstance has conspired to bring me here on an inclement Tuesday lunch time.
This is a good thing, because I don't normally drink cocktails at lunchtime and they just happen to have Espresso Martinis here... on tap. Yes, you read that correctly. The temptation is almost overwhelming.
It's bright and airy, light pours in through arches windows which reach from floor to ceiling (all bare concrete, pipes exposed, natch) that line the building and provide excellent people watching possibilities for anyone not glued to their mobile phone. There are booths around the edge and huge beerkeller-style benches down one side. The storm grey stone flagged floor from its previous incarnation - can you recall what was there before? (answer below) - has been replaced by chunky aged wood. Jarring deliberately with this sense of simplicity are metal rings upon which are mounted a series of huge TV screens. By day, they're churning out pop music (enervating or energising depending on your mood). Meanwhile, over toward one end is a raised area sporting two 21-foot long maplewood shuffleboard tables. There's even a tournament every Wednesday, with a bar tab as the prize.
What’s the menu like?
The menu caters for all comers. A Box Burger will set you back a reasonable £7.95, while The Sean Bean (a spicy bean burger - I wonder if he knows?) costs a pound more and the Chicken Chuf at £9.95 ensures 25p goes to the charity Children's Heart Unit Fund. There's also nachos, 'power bowls' for the healthy option, plus a host of sides but and all fairly generic stuff but not in a bad way, although the Bubble Waffles look like dessert heaven.
And the drinks?
Drinks-wise, we went for North Brewing Co's Pale, a slightly creamy, bitter-edged, hoppy beer with tiny bubbles and an finish that brings with it a hint of grapefruit. It's easy going at just over 4%. The craft ale offering here isn't huge - there's Jute Session IPA and Belgian White Blue Moon on tap - but competing with bars like Tapped is not what The Box seems to be about. Rather, they have created a space which appeals to a wide variety of clientele, with an offering which will do well with passing trade and those wanting to book a table in a place which at least offers a bit of elbow room even on the busiest of nights... and I've yet to see anywhere else which has Espresso and Pornstar Martinis on tap.
Service is good. Staff were attentive during our visit, even ferrying drinks to the few other patrons who happened to be in between noon and 1pm on Tuesday last, most of them with their heads buried in laptops of mobile phones.
Seasoned punters will be well aware of Headingley's The Box but its city centre counterpart is much bigger, bolder, brighter. It's been here since September and replaced 53 Degrees North, which offered swanky cocktails with dedicated gin and champagne bars and which was very much on trend and good at what it did but perhaps its appeal wasn't broad enough. The Box, meanwhile, has cast its net wide, hoping to snag city slickers by day and the crowds by night. It's relatively new to the city centre but trades on an already well established name, behind which stands the ever inventive Arc Inspirations (Banyan, Manahatta, The Pit). It's sport offering is not to be sniffed at: all Leeds games are screened here and it's possible to book tables for more than six in advance. Though this visit was by day, I'd love to go back by night and try those martinis on tap.
Address: Goodbard House, 15 Infirmary St, Leeds, LS1 2JS
Opening hours: 12:00pm-11:00pm, Tuesday - Wednesday 12:00pm-12:00am, Thursday 12:00pm-1:00am, Friday - Saturday 12:00pm-2:00am
Food serving times: Sunday-Thursday 12:00pm-9:30pm, Friday-Saturday 12:00pm-11:30pm