Historic Leeds arcade’s £5m revamp sparks plans for ‘high-end bar’

The Grand Arcade, Leeds. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
The Grand Arcade, Leeds. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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MANY readers will have hazy memories of dancing the night away and stumbling out of the Heaven and Hell nightclub in the early hours.

The venue within the Grand Arcade became a magnet for partygoers and students during the noughties but closed its doors almost a decade ago – and it was only recently that the site was brought back into use.

In its place now stands cocktail bar and restaurant offering Bar Soba.

And it seems another nightclub nestled within the historic arcade is set to make a comeback.

The Atrium club, which went on to become Casa Loco, could get a new lease of life.

City Buzz understands plans to restore the site are currently in the pipeline, after it has remained vacant for three years.

The plans could see the existing premises on the ground floor being refurbished, with a separate basement bar.

In the past five years, the arcade has undergone a £5m transformation to turn it into a new hub for independent businesses.

And it seems to be paying off, as this unit is the last spot available within the arcade. Tim Watts, property manager at ATC Properties Ltd, which owns the site, said: “We want to get the right operator in and have turned down offers from nightclub operators.

“We intend to let the premises to a high-end bar or food operator.

“This is the only vacant unit in the whole arcade, and is the last vacant leisure unit fronting on to the pedestrianised Lower Merrion Street.

“We expect significant interest in the basement unit when formal marketing begins.”

He added: “We have spent over £5m in the last three years transforming the arcade from a well-known, large nightclub destination with the like of Atrium, Gatecrasher and Rios, into a more retail, food and bar-focussed destination, attracting good quality local independents.

“Five years ago the arcade comprised of 12 mainly large units and today it comprises of 20 smaller units – all of which are occupied by local independent companies, many of which have established very good names for themselves and helped improve the area.

“We created smaller units the independents wanted and then hand-picked the businesses we wanted in the arcade.

“The arcade now has a buzz to it, and we have a waiting list of occupiers wanting to open there.

“Both ourselves as a landlord and local business actively engaged with the council to pedestrianise Lower Merrion Street.

“This street has now gone from a rat run into a street know for its independent food and drink operators.

“The Northern Quarter is now firmly establishing itself as the go-to area for local independents, which in turn is regenerating the area.”

The Merrion Street pedestrianisation has proved such a success that it sparked a similar concept on the other side of the city centre, as Greek Street goes car-free this weekend.

Gillian Soutar, marketing manager at Bar Soba, added: “Our venue in the Grand Arcade is a preserved piece of history of the music and nightlife in Leeds.

“We wanted to breathe life, music and DJ talent back to what was a Leeds institution.

“The Grand Arcade is a great example of the varied Victorian Architecture in Leeds and our glass atrium ceiling is a star attraction of the venue.

“As a small business ourselves, we were also attracted to the eclectic mix of independent traders within the rest of the arcade and the fact that the area is up-and-coming, particularly with the Victoria Gate development set to be completed later this year.

“A lot of guests don’t always instantly recognise that this used to be Heaven and Hell and I am sure this is largely to do with the fact that everyone’s memories of the venue seem to be very hazy – possibly as a result of their infamous ‘All you can Drink’ packages.

“As soon as you remind them though, the penny drops and they start smiling or laughing!

“Virtually everyone mentions that your feet used to stick to the floor and you get a few ‘I once got chucked out of Hell’ stories too.”

It’s great to see such an old Leeds building (almost 120 years old, to be precise) being given a new lease of life – and for it to come from top quality independent businesses in both the nightlife and retail sector is the icing on the cake.