Next Great Neighborhoods: Leeds
Published: April 2009
By Valerie Waterhouse
THE VICTORIA QUARTER AND THE CALLS
Until recently, Leeds, in West Yorkshire, was a depressing relic of industrial Britain, a decaying cloth-manufacturing town with little future. But when the designer department store Harvey Nichols opened its first shop outside London there in 1996, it proved that the store's ad campaign—"Leeds, not follows"—was on the mark.
Leeds was desperate for a designer fix, and with Harvey Nicks at the helm, top London companies, from Vivienne Westwood to Savile Row tailors Gieves & Hawkes, installed boutiques in the beautifully restored glass-domed arcades of the Victoria Quarter. Nearby, the old Corn Exchange filled up with independent boutiques frequented by students and couture devotées, while the red-brick warehouses of the Calls area saw a surge of sleek bars, clubs, restaurants, and loft apartments along the river Aire.
To be sure, these newly hip areas are just blocks away from the land of lager louts and pure cheese. But Leeds has the kinetic feel of a boomtown, with new bars and restaurants opening every week. (The tritest phrase in Leeds is quickly becoming, "It's the only one outside London.") Like the young revelers from neighboring towns who descend upon the city on Saturday nights, those who remember the bad old days are making the most of it while it lasts.
RESTAURANTS Shogun Teppan-Yaki Granary Wharf (under the railway arches, just off the Calls); 44-113/245-1856; dinner for two $120. It's worth having to wear a bib to watch chefs cook meat, fish, and vegetables on giant hot plates as trains thunder across the trestle bridge overhead. The river Aire crashing through the railway arches in front of the entranceway (unlit and scary at night) is also dramatic. Café Vitae Granary Wharf; 44-113/243-7900; dinner for two $30. Here's a new one: a job-placement center—turned—café with computer terminals, black leather chairs, beech-wood floors, advice from career consultant Gena Wilkinson, and great coffee. Worth checking out even if you're happy with your line of work. Teatro Leeds Club & Restaurant The Quays, Concordia St.; 44-113/243-6699; dinner for two $110. Ex—Leeds United soccer star Lee Chapman and his wife, actress Leslie Ash, own this Conranesque waterside restaurant, serving minimalist Mediterranean food to hipsters and suits. Upstairs is a members-only bar and club, popular with Leeds's ladies who lunch. Harvey Nichols Fourth Floor Café & Bar 107—111 Briggate; 44-113/204-8000; lunch for two $45. Take those designer shopping bags and join Yorkshire's swanky set for a modern British/Pan-Asian lunch at the store's restaurant, with views over Leeds's brick buildings and slate rooftops.
AFTER DARK Warehouse 19—21 Somers St.; 44-113/246-1033. Clubgoers resort to wild outfits (think stylish cross-dressing) to make it past the bouncer at the gay/straight Speed Queen, housed at Leeds's oldest nightclub on Saturdays. Oslo 174 Lower Briggate; 44-113/245-7768. To get an early start, order cocktails and noodles at Oslo, a smokey, cavelike bar. Wednesday through Saturday night, DJ's heat up the dance floor with eclectic remixes and retro house music. Velvet 11—13 Hirst's Yard; 44-113/242-5079. Known for its anything-goes attitude, Velvet's diverse crowd reveals a lion's share of young eccentrics and label-lovers. More of a hangout than a club, the room has low leather seats, iron chandeliers, and coffee tables for snacks and drinks. Norman 36 Call Lane; 44-113/234-3988. Leeds's cool cats slurp noodles and sip Stella Artois in this brightly colored designer bar (the doors are made with slices of toast set in wax). Townhouse 2 Assembly St.; 44-113/219-4004. The higher you go, the hotter it gets at this three-story warehouse club. Students and casual young professionals swig lager in the bar downstairs or head to the top floor for a sweaty night on the tiles. The Wardrobe 6 St. Peter's Bldg., St. Peter's Square; 44-113/383-8800. Music fans go upstairs for live jazz, candlelit tables, faux leather seats, and an unpretentious atmosphere.
SHOPS Harvey Nichols 107—111 Briggate; 44-113/204-8888. London's fashionistas raised their tapered eyebrows when the snooty designer department store opened its doors here. Now, of course, it's part and parcel of Leeds's character. Everyone from Nicole Farhi and Matthew Williamson to Dolce & Gabbana is sold here—which helps make the salespeople's superior attitudes bearable. Strand 153—154 Briggate; 44-113/ 243-8164. Just up the road from Harvey Nicks, the Strand vies for the same designer crowd, offering on its three floors Parisian favorites like Chloé and Lanvin. Vivienne Westwood 15—17 County Arcade; 44-113/245-6403. The queen of British eccentricity opened an outpost in the Victoria Quarter two years ago, her only owner-operated store outside London. The boutique's wacky stately-home design—with crystal chandeliers, a gilt-framed portrait of Westwood, and a black ceiling—has made it a meeting spot for Leeds's edgiest crowd. Corn Exchange Call Lane; 44-113/234-0363. For a new take on the mall experience, head to the Corn Exchange, a historic building by Victorian architect Cuthbert Broderick that resembles a miniature Roman Colosseum. Among the funkiest of the recently revamped edifice's 37 boutiques and cafés: the Dark Angel (44-113/245-1112), for medieval-, Renaissance-, and Tudor-inspired gowns and frock coats; Retro Woman (44-113/244-8230), selling club wear and corsets by Leeds designers Sharmaine Kerr and Lisa Dunn; Dawn Stretton (44-113/244-9083), which carries Stretton's evening gowns; and the brand-new Citrus Café (44-113/244-4809), a juice and smoothies bar. Blue Rinse 9—11 Call Lane; 44-113/244-1411. Sixties looks are fashionable again at Blue Rinse, where students from the two Leeds universities fight over gently worn, decidedly non-designer shifts and miniskirts. Kirkgate Market 34 George St.; 44-113/214-5162. Funkily dressed students and old women in head scarves seek out fish, flowers, fruit, glitzy feather boas, and kitschy lampshades at the bustling market. It's one-stop Leeds shopping that's not to be missed.