BRADFORD’S Record Cafe is one of the best bars on the local scene.
I came across it during research for my last book and found in its juxtaposition of fabulous beers, attentive knowledgeable service and vinyl records something very different which I knew would thrive.
So enamoured was I of this imaginative combination that I spent there the thick end of £30 on a triple live Fleetwood Mac album on heavyweight vinyl. And when I read that a new bar was going to bring this same intoxicating recipe to prosperous Chapel Allerton, I felt the stars had aligned towards another business success.
And yet my first visit to Alley Cats this week left me utterly non-plussed, at how an apparent attempt to replicate so simple a concept can fall so crazily wide of the mark.
Styling itself a ‘Cafe Bar and Music Emporium’, Alley Cats opened in April after an experimental first month as a pop-up bar. It’s a little detached from the throbbing heart of the suburb, close to the end of a parade of shops between Montreal Avenue and the Esso garage.
A grey garden fence encloses a corral of long narrow tables outside the front door, on a decking carpeted in artificial grass. A further rank of these tables stretches between the windows and the corner bar, where a bank of beer fonts dispenses the house pilsner (£4), Camden Pale (£4.75) and Stone Brewing’s Go To IPA which is an eye-watering £6. Guest ales and fridges stocked with canned and bottled beers extend the choice, the prices at least offering a significant point of difference to the Wetherspoons across the road.
The walls are bedecked in a collage of random legends – Elvis, Sid James. Homer Simpson and Damon Albarn all feature – and the spaces are filled out with beer advertisements, pump clips and old 7-inch singles.
It’s Tuesday afternoon when I call in, and for a while I seem to be the only soul in the place, so I start by flicking through the boxes of vinyl in the hope someone will appear. A little part of me is hoping to find some needful 12-inch bounty crying to be found – a Genesis live bootleg from Milton Keynes in 1982; In Through The Out Door in a mint-condition brown paper sleeve; Gaucho remastered.
You may not share my taste, but hopefully you’ll share my disappointment at this rag-bag of boot-sale schlock masquerading as a collection worthy of being thumbed through: dog-eared copies of Rod Stewart and Bryan Ferry LPs and no end of those dreadful Top Of The Pops albums with cover versions of seventies hits and big-breasted blondes on the cover.
A barman eventually emerges from the kitchen, with a slight look of surprise, as though the last thing he has been expecting is a customer. Nonetheless, I’m soon served and scanning the premises for signs of anything more interesting to listen to. There’s nothing, so I contemplate a toasted cheese sandwich instead.
The Record Cafe does real ale, fascinating records, and quality charcuterie; in each category, Alley Cats feels like a pale imitation.
Oh look, I hope I’m wrong. Perhaps there is something that I’m missing here. On one wall, is an album with the oxymoronic title Country Hits for Lovers and perhaps this is a clue that this is all a big in-joke, in a bar whose soaraway success will be underpinned by a beautiful post-modern irony which has floated serenely over my head.
Harrogate Road, Leeds, LS7 4LA
Hosts: Daniel Ayton and Kehan Cooper
Type: ‘Cafe Bar and Music Emporium’
Opening Hours: Noon-11pm daily
Beers: Alley Cats Pilsner (£4), Camden Pale (£4.75), Stone Brewing’s Go To IPA (£6) plus guest beers, bottles and cans
Wines: Small selection available from £4-glass and £17.50-bottle
Food: American influenced menu of grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken wings and burger sliders. Also available for takeaway via Deliveroo
Beer garden: Decking area to the front
Disabled: Straightforward access
Children: Not especially suitable
Entertainment: Vinyl records, video gaming plus occasional special events.
Parking: On-street parking only
Phone: 0113 345 1280