Been down Call Lane one too many times? Feel like a Leeds local because the bar staff at the Packhorse know your name?
See your city in a new light as we reveal ten of the quirkiest places in Leeds.
Put simply, you don’t know the underground music scene in Leeds until you’re a member of Wharf Chambers. Located in the funky, ever-changing Kirkgate district, this little club hosts all manner of events, from music gigs and documentary film showings to open-mic story-writing events. Membership is only a pound and the drinks are incredibly cheap, but it’s the grimy, punky atmosphere – a sense of a squatter’s living room – that makes Wharf Chambers such a cool secret venue.
23-25 Wharf Street, LS2 7EQ – wharfchambers.org
If you’re looking for a better-heeled breed of secret, the fact that The Maven is the worst-kept secret in Leeds doesn’t make it any less of a thrill to discover. A few short steps from the main clubbing drag of Call Lane, this bar is a need-to-know venue, its unmarked entrance tucked between an amusement arcade and a pagan body piercing shop.
The theme is prohibition-era bar meets gothic wonderland, the dimly-lit interior ornamented with animal heads and creepy old-fashioned portraits. The well-experienced bar staff will make almost any cocktail you request, but make sure to avoid The Maven at the weekends when it can be a bit of a crush to get a drink.
1-3 Call Lane, LS1 7DH – themavenbar.com
Holbeck Underground Ballroom
Venturing towards the south side of town, you’ll be more than surprised to find a fantastic little theatre among the industrial scrub of garages and graffiti. The Holbeck Underground Ballroom is a unique performance space where all shows are ‘pay what you decide’, coffee is free and beer priced at a more-than-reasonable £1, proving that theatre doesn’t need to be an elitist activity. With its unique atmosphere and location – a series of old railway arches – the HUB is possibly the best secret theatre in the North.
67-71 Bath Road, Holbeck, LS11 9UA – slunglow.org/what-is-the-hub
Tall Boys Upstairs Bar
Everyone knows Leeds is full of great craft beer shops, but you might not know that one features a minature upstairs beer café where you can drink their crafty delights on the premises. It feels like a little piece of Brighton in Leeds, with old schoolroom chairs and art books, and the café is currently featuring a wall-expansive installation by art-innovators The Plant Room. With its great view over Thornton Arcade, Tall Boys is the only place to go for a midday 7-percent pint.
17 Thorntons Arcade, LS1 6LQ – tallboysbeermarket.com
West Yorkshire Playhouse’s wardrobe department
— Sarah S. (@smishpixie) October 18, 2014
Do you ever tire of Halloween and fancy-dress parties, that last-minute rush to find an outfit that isn’t horrendously tacky or embarrassing? Last Halloween, the city centre’s only fancy-dress shop had a queue down the street and bouncers on the door – clearly the general public isn’t aware of the best costume hire in town. Located just above the appropriately-named bar The Wardrobe, the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s wardrobe department is open to the public and features an extensive array of unique, startling and never-stranger outfits. Ever fancied going to a party as a bloodied fallen angel or mutilated rabbit? Now’s the time to start.
6 St Peter’s Square, LS9 8AH – wyp.org.uk/about/hire/costume
Leeds’ business district is a fairly barren area and not somewhere you’d think of for a boozy night out, but there’s a little-known oasis lurking between the high-rises. Open less than a year, Wino is slowly getting a reputation for its eclectic wine selection and inspired sharing platters (including marinated octopus and truffle-honeyed cheese) and those in-the-know are reaping its rewards. Don’t be put off by the heavy closed doors – you’ll find great wine and warm service from its sole bartender Sakina inside.
69 St Paul’s St, LS1 2TE – winoleeds.co.uk
7 Greek Street Social
The most self-consciously secret venue on the list, 7 Greek Street Social has MI6 level of hidden access – aspiring customers need to locate the secret phone box, dial the secret number and speak to the barman to get inside. The fact that the bar has a brightly-lit sign saying ‘SHHH’ only reinforces that its creators are loving the theme of secrecy. Once inside, you’ll be rewarded with a crazy collection of cocktails, proving – as The Hedonist Project did last year – that nowhere does cocktails like Leeds.
7 Greek Street, LS1 5RW – 7greekstreet.com
The Leeds Library
You’ll feel like a character in the Harry Potter books if you manage to gain entry to the most secretive library on the planet. You’ll feel even more magical once you get inside, this 250-year old institution featuring a stunning interior and incredible selection of books. With a £120 membership fee, it’s only for the hardcore fiction fanatics, but look out for upcoming events where you can fully investigate what is surely Leeds’s best-kept secret.
18 Commercial Street, LS1 6AL – theleedslibrary.org.uk
The massive sign above the door makes this one less of a secret, but it’s certainly a hidden gem. Zaap may be the trendiest Thai restaurant in Leeds, but My Thai has been slowly creeping forward as the best Thai in town – and definitely the best value for money. Those who already know My Thai behind the Merrion Centre will be excited to discover its sister restaurant on York Place. With a much larger seating area and bigger menu, there’s plenty of spice to be discovered.
43 Wade Lane, LS2 8NJ – leeds2.thairestaurantleeds.co.uk
Who would have thought an Egyptian temple existed in Leeds, let alone in the rundown district of Holbeck? A true oddity, this pharaoh-styled old factory once housed the largest room in the world and is still an impressive sight to behold. Last year, Temple Works experienced a cultural boom, hosting art instillations, film festivals and even a fire-breathing wrestling event called ‘The Violence Party’, but there’s little on the agenda for 2016. It’s an easy enough venue to hire, so if you ever fancy creating an art installation or music festival, make sure you don’t let this stunning building go to waste!
Marshall Street, Holbeck, LS11 9YJ – templeworksleeds.com
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Main image: Sarah Grice / Flickr / CC