5 great hang-outs in Leeds

Charles Dickens thought Leeds ‘odious’ and ‘beastly’ – the French like it so much they started their iconic Tour de France cycle race there in 2014.

Grim industrial city or northern hipster hang-out? (Dare I say ‘Hard Times’ or ‘Great Expectations’? I dare.)  Sorry Chas, I’m thinking the latter, and give you five great places to prove it. You may never write a novel as good as ‘Nicholas Nickelby’ (and he was just 26, people – 26!), but you can hang out in all these fine places and pretend to.

Friends of Ham
Usually mobbed, always wonderful, Friends of Ham is a charcuterie-and-cheese-artisan-beer-and-wine bar – which is way too many hyphens and nowhere near enough thin slices of pig and a cheeky little raspberry ale. You’ll come for a drink, just to see what all the fuss is about, and two hours later will have been fully intimate with a huge plate of serrano, cecina, pancetta and finocchiona. You may also have discovered the Antique Oloroso sherryand if so, good luck with work tomorrow.
Friends of Ham, Leeds, Jules Brown

Laynes Espresso
Best coffee in Leeds? I would say so – served up by baristas of fearsome knowledge and equally fearsome whiskers and tattoos. The New Station Street outlet is a tiny pit-stop, perfect for a shot and a cake and a quick catch-up, but for longer, lazy, sofa-based hang-outs you want their coffee cart inside Belgrave Music hall, which brings us to…

Belgrave Music Hall
Part music venue, part refectory, part cool bar, all-round amazing space – and with the best roof terrace in the city to boot. Food is courtesy of pop-up kitchen spaces – so great coffee, pizza by the slice, handpacked burgers, Asian steamed buns and the like – and there’s live music, club nights, films, art shows and a whole lot more. Go up the grungy staircase to the roof – it’s worth it, promise!

Mrs Atha’s
This is my favourite coffee house in Leeds – and if you’re stuck somewhere in the middle of chapter 3 of your novel, you’ll be sipping single-estate caffeine in good company, since every second table seems to host someone staring into space, trying to figure out what happens next (take a writing tip from Raymond Chandler: when you’re stuck for a plot move, have someone come into the room with a gun). Anyway, Mrs Atha’s – lovely ambience, great for brunch and lunch, tea in china cups, cakes that sing, and staff that chat.

I like that you can still come into Art’s any time from noon for a coffee or a glass of wine. It was pretty much Leeds’ first café-bar, when it opened back in the early 1990s, and has become more of a bistro over the years. The food’s great and not expensive (particularly if you get in for the ‘early bird, before 7pm), but there’s still a café vibe that means hanging-out is very much part of the deal.

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