There’s been a long time for a lot of people to forget what makes Leeds’ independent scene so special. Over a year of restrictions and months of closures whilst the public stayed home have inevitably shifted the shops, venues, bars and eateries out of full sight and out of some minds.
Without the daily coffee, or the memorable show, or the shopping spree, or the big night out, many have lost connection with the places that give the city its diversity, vibrancy and character. Whether supported remotely or forgotten about, as Leeds reopens, there is a whole city of independents to rediscover. Here are a few old favourites to re-familiarise with and some newer arrivals to get to know.
For city workers and weekend shoppers, the coffee shop was a necessary ritual. As a welcome break or vital pick-me-up, that moment to chill and to chat was often a highlight of many a day. Leeds’ cafe culture had risen in quantity and quality to meet the coffeeholic demand, and after we’ve all been sampling our own home brews for far too long, it’s a genuine joy to be able to return to the best baristas: Laynes Espresso is the perfect coffee shop welcome to Leeds on New Station Street; North Star roast their own amazing coffee which can be sampled on site at Clarence Dock; Flamingos is an LGBTQ+ coffee house with a positive conscience and a community spirit; Kapow serve up the good stuff at their two cosy central stores; and there are many more places of style and excellence in Leeds ready to greet and meet friends old and new.
It’s easy to think that the homogenising of the high street and the effect of online shopping has removed the specialist independent from real life. But in Leeds a lot of places fought back and even after the last year they are still winning. Of course, for them to keep going strong all of our support is essential, but why would you not want to treat yourself to the unique products and service of these masters of their craft? Comic obsessive OK Comics, magazine and design devotees Colours May Vary and music moguls Jumbo Records are all amongst the best anywhere at what they do, and other experts in their field pop up all over Leeds, especially at independent meccas The Corn Exchange and The Grand Arcade.
Leeds is renowned for its nightlife and offers something for everybody’s tastes. From loud and lively socials to cool and calm hangouts, the absence of them all has hung an eerie silence over the city. Which makes their reopening all the more vital, as punters appreciate more than ever the quality of their regular establishments. With the likes of original beer aficionados North Bar, music maestros Mojo, craft beer and Indian small plates hybrid Bundobust, and modern brewers Northern Monk all founded here and loved far and wide, it brings home how lucky we are. After missing the presence of these places and the many more which surround them, Leeds will be showing its bar scene some well deserved love.
It may have been a good time to hone our home cooking skills, but it’ll never compete with the atmosphere and expertise of the world-spanning restaurants in Leeds. A takeaway here and there, perhaps even from a favourite eatery that we’ve been unable to sit in, went some way to sate our appetite, but it’s not the same. So now we look forward to the whole experience, at the grand setting and stunning Italian small plates of Stuzzi, at the street food inspired fun of Zaap Thai, at the vegetarian Indian delight that is Manjit’s Kitchen, and at the modern British tasting menus of friendly The Swine That Dines. Indeed, you can pick a different restaurant of great global cuisine every week all year and still have plenty more to get around!
Never a night went by without multiple gigs and theatre performances across the city. As events have been repeatedly postponed until crowds are allowed back, the heroes of the venues have remained positive and innovative, providing hope for Leeds’ gig-goers and culture-vultures. In return, tickets have been scooped up for shows that will surely be immense when we all return. Some outdoor spaces such as HEART are already putting on socially distanced concerts, whilst Brudenell Social Club has a terrific line up of music ready to go. Council-led stalwarts like Hyde Park Picture House and The Carriageworks theatre are further reminders that we’ll be spoilt for choice when this city of entertainment is back.
For shops and hospitality, times remain challenging, and the existing restrictions impact variously. Some are back open with limitations, others wait for further easing. But for them all, now is the time for us to remember and rediscover why we want them open, in Leeds, and in our lives.