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 sherry – and if so, good luck with work tomorrow.
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!
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.