Rod McPhee: The faces of modern Leeds

THIS week I had the good fortune to talk to someone I'd always wanted to meet – without ever really knowing who he was.

Ged Feltham is the bloke who set up Oporto on Call Lane, arguably the first of the really cool bars which evolved in Leeds during the 1990s.

These days it's hard to imagine what the nighttime city centre was once like – little more than a haven of rough pubs and red light districts – and the notion of 'bar culture' was a London concept you read about in magazines.

The idea of taking a beautiful old building, stripping down the floorboards, exposing brick, painting plastered walls minimally white and installing some rather sharp light fittings was unheard of.

When Oporto launched in 1996 it was one of the few haunts for the hip student/young professional crowd, along with nearby Cuban Heels and Arts Cafe, of course.

And for that reason alone we owe Ged a massive thanks, because without him Leeds wouldn't be the metropolitan hive of city living it is in 2008.

But Ged isn't the only one who deserves huge praise – there's Dave Beer who set up Back2Basics back in 1991 and is still going strong and Terry George who was one of the few people to fly the pink flag back when, like his hugely successful ventures Fibre and Mission, the gay association wasn't quite as fashionable as it is today.

Bar Oracle boss Stephen Hawkins and Kerry Ridge who ran ber cool Indie Joze cafe in Victoria Quarter, one of the first independent cafe/bars where you could buy great coffee and continental style snacks.

Born out of Vague was Kas and Suzy who set up the legendary Speed Queen, Karl Jukes who launched Glasshouse at around the same time and Steve Luigi et al who, through The Gallery, brought house and rave to Leeds almost two decades ago.

And it's not just bars, clubs and cafes either. We should also pay respect to the likes of James Steward who created the unique look of Aqua Couture and

Justin Deakin and Craig Nicholas Tate of Nicholas Deakins footwear – both unique and both created, notably, from a base in the Corn Exchange.

Then there's the guys and girls behind the Norman, Townhouse, North Bar, Velvet, The Faversham, HiFi (formerly Liquid), Mojos – all firsts in their own way and all massive Leeds success stories.

The list goes on and on. In fact, I know I'll have missed someone off (sorry) but they know who they are.

They're the people who set up business at a time when there was nothing around them but dereliction and danger. They're the people who had a passion for fashion, music, food, drink and socialising and saw their vision through to fruition.

They're people who took a risk, who stuck their necks out for Leeds, who stood to lose everything if it didn't work out – and it didn't work out for hundreds of entrepreneurs, but they all still deserve our thanks.

Not just because they sparked cosmopolitan culture in Leeds but because they made it unique.

Go to virtually any sized city these days and you'll find pockets of supposed cafe/bar, club and shopping culture. But it isn't, not really.

It's just a pale imitation of what Leeds was doing 10 to 15 years ago when everyone else mocked it. Now all the chain operators have jumped on the bandwagon and are milking the cool cash cow for all its worth.

But if you've lived here for long enough you know the truth, you know who represents the real deal and who the pretenders are and you'll also know that we should pay homage to a small group of visionaries who made this city what it is today. Thanks guys.

Grovel, grovel

A BIG sorry to superchef Albert Roux, whose praises I sang in last week's Notes from the City.

Unfortunately we didn't use his picture to accompany the article, instead we accidentally featured a picture of his brother Michel Roux. Apologies for the error.

Water shame

MORE bad news with the closure of Thai restaurant Noode (a personal favourite of mine) down on Dock Street, just by the River Aire.

One can speculate and debate the causes of their departure but one thing is for sure, setting up a venue on the Waterfront in Leeds isn't easy money, in fact it's damn hard work.

The rewards are great if you can pull it off but if you struggle then the high costs mean it's difficult to just get by for months and months – hence many of these business come and go rather quickly.

Sad for the entrepreneurs who lose money but equally a shame for the rest of us who've lost another cool place to eat and drink.

Not a shame

I ALMOST feel sorry for nightclub Gatecrasher who have just lost the third of the three high profile nights they once boasted.

Just a few months after Speed Queen departed, Hed Kandi has left for Mezz (formerly Rehab) stating that: "We had been looking to move our event to the Call Lane area of Leeds for a good while because we feel that is where most of our audience is situated."

Similarly Glasshouse briefly moved to the New Briggate venue last autumn but left just two months later with boss Karl Jukes stating: "Glasshouse has always had a bit more of an underground feel and perhaps it was just the wrong end of town."

And that's goes to the heart of it – Gatecrasher thought that the discerning, fashionable Leeds punters would trudge from the exchange quarter to the other end of the city centre to lap up the brand. And, of course, they simply haven't.