THE ONLY thing we argued about was the colour,” says Steph Cliffe, laughing with husband Matthew about their efforts to turn an empty shop unit into The Assembly, a new bar which is in the vanguard of a changing drinking scene in Cross Gates.
The couple eventually plumped for something called Pinstripe. A splash of this luxurious deep petrol blue lends an elegant, dignified air to this new bottle shop and bar which alongside nearby Locus Bar has created the same kind of relaxed café bar circuit already enjoyed by drinkers in Horsforth, Meanwood, Chapel Allerton and elsewhere.
“It’s a labour of love,” says Matthew, Cross Gates born and bred, who for years worked in the bars of Call Lane before deciding to strike out on his own. After some searching, including looking at town centre properties, the couple settled on this former tapas restaurant right beside the suburb’s central roundabout.
And after a few weeks of renovation – and some brief arguments about paint – The Assembly finally opened its doors a little over two months ago, offering local people an on-trend blend of quality craft ales and interesting cheese and charcuterie boards. “We thought hard about the name,” says Steph. “But assembly means ‘getting people into one place for a common purpose’ and that reflects what we want to do.”
It seems to be working. The bar is packed most Friday and Saturday evenings and at other times there is a steady stream of customers, each responding to its free and easy ambience and enjoying the simple pleasures of good food and beer in cosy and intimate surroundings. “People can come in on their own, with friends, or bring a paper,” says Steph. “Dogs and children are welcome too. The response has been amazing.”
There is a clear emphasis on local produce. Yorkshire beers are regulars on the bar, Lishman’s of Ilkley supply the Yorkshire cheese boards, the coffee is from Armley’s own Leodis and the pork pies are from renowned butcher Wilson’s, a stone’s throw away in Austhorpe Road.
From a good choice on the bar I choose the 5.5% Club Tropicana, packed with mango and pineapple, from famed Welsh craftsters Tiny Rebel. The selection changes regularly, but you can expect to find choices from the likes of Northern Monk, Vocation and Goose Island. Cans from Magic Rock and North Brewing are stacked up in glass-fronted fridges behind the bar; gin bottles are lined up above.
“People want something a bit different and are prepared to pay more for it,” says Matthew. “They are quite aware that the bar is independent and we don’t have the buying power of the big chains.” Even so, he admits he wouldn’t have thought of doing this five years ago. “People are coming to realise that this is a great place to live. And it’s just six minutes to Leeds on the train. There is a lot of optimism here right now.”
For the couple, opening a bar is just one of two major life-changing events in the span of a few weeks, as Steph is expecting their first child any day now. “It’s really exciting and scary,” she says, sipping at a glass of water. “Of course, I can’t have blue cheese, cured meat or beer!”
Meanwhile, Matthew is run off his feet. “I’m working more hours than ever before, but we’re so happy with how it’s going. “People are saying this is exactly what Cross Gates needs.
“That’s such a humbling thing.”
Terminus Parade, Cross Gates, LS15 7JZ
Type: Independent bar and bottle shop
Hosts: Matthew and Stephanie Cliffe
Opening Hours: Noon-11pm Tue-Thur, noon-11.30pm Fri-Sat, noon-10.30pm Sun
Beers: Choices start at Goose Island Four Star Pilsner (£4), with changing selection of craft beers from £4.80-pint.
Wines: Decent choice, including organic wines, from £4-glass and £14.50-bottle
Food: Quality cheese and charcuterie boards
Disabled: Easy access but slightly cramped inside
Entertainment: Background music
Parking: On-street areas nearby
Phone: 0113 318 8486