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Leeds, via The Goa Express....

I was in Leeds the other evening for a gig, and that gave me the opportunity to visit one or two places where I had not been for a few years, plus a new one that has opened up since I was last in that part of the city....

It was a warm, sunny late afternoon as I walked up Briggate on the way to check in and drop my bag off at the hotel. I was staying for the first time at the Easy Hotel on Lands Lane. Before you ask, yes it is owned by the Easy Group who also own Easy Jet, my enquiry being politely answered by the lad on reception who made a good effort at pretending he hadn't been asked the same question scores of times before. Half an hour later, all checked in and bag discarded - hotel room, no window but functional and comfy - I was back out on the city streets, crossing over the Headrow and making my way to New Briggate, where my first port of call lay waiting. It was the first time I had been in this part of the city for a while.

My first port of call was the original North Bar, which I had not visited for over 3 years at least, although I have visited their other city centre bar on the corner of Sovereign Street and Swinegate several times in the past year or so. They also have a taproom at the brewery in the suburb of Sheepscar, with further bars in the city at Chapel Allerton, Meanwood, and Oakwood, whilst further afield they have sites in Harrogate and Otley. The former thoroughfare of New Briggate has now been closed to traffic and so a bank of tables and chairs were occupying the space in front of the bar, and several were already occupied. Inside, behind the glass frontage, the long narrow room was less busy with just a couple of solitary guys at separate tables. From a small range of cask and a larger craft selection, I ordered a pint of Sputnik from the taps and made increased the indoor customer numbers by 50%, grabbing a perch at one of the high stools opposite the bar. The Sputnik was most refreshing on what was by now quite a humid evening. There was a nice, chilled-out vibe about the place, with a decent soundtrack playing. I was getting to the bottom of my pint when one of the bar team asked if I would like a refill, and whilst I declined, I thought it was a nice gesture and said I might call back later (which I did).

North Bar, New Briggate, Leeds: chilled-out vibe

A few minutes walk away, following New Briggate around the corner, was a place that was a new one on me, although it opened in 2021. This is the Leeds outpost of Brew York, based about 20 miles to the east along the A64 in the city whose name they share. There they operate out of two breweries, the original one in the city centre plus a new state of the art facility in the village of Osbaldwick. It was quiet when I walked in, with no cask available till later, and so I surveyed the keg list which featured predominantly Brew York beers and opted for a pint of the 5% Juice Forsyth, one of a number of their beers - Goose Willis and Rhubarbra Streisand are others - that are named after famous people. The blurb on the brewery's website describes it as a juicy bonus fruited ale, and I couldn't disagree, as there was a shedload of tropical fruit flavours bursting through alongside a hop blend which featured Mosaic, Cascade, CTZ, and Citra. It was a little too fruity for my palate, to be honest. The bar was a little lacking in atmosphere even as more people started to come in, and if I was being picky, the surface of the window table where if, like me, you rested your drink as you sat at one of the stools overlooking the outside was a bit sticky and needed a good wipe over. But I may have just caught the bar on a bad day.

Brew York, Leeds

The next place I visited was one that  I have been to on a number of occasions over the years. This was situated on North Street a couple of minutes away - 5 if you include waiting for the lights to change at the pedestrian crossings to safely negotiate the busy roads in these parts. There were plenty of people both inside and out, many drawn here by the food. The beer, though, is equally a draw at The Reliance (opening picture), which is what attracted me there this evening. There were 4 beers on handpump, one being a house beer brewed by Acorn Brewery, but from the 3 guests, I opted for the 5.2% Marlborough IPA from the local Anthology, making it three 5% or above beers on the bounce at the start of the evening! As usual for their beers, it was on top form and I rated it a very good NBSS 4. Anthology were formed in Leeds in 2018 and I remember chatting to their main man Liam a few years ago when he was working across the city at the Cardigan Arms on Kirkstall Road and telling me that he had just started brewing. Over the years Anthology have become known for their hop-forward, flavoursome, and consistent beers. 

I grabbed a seat that had just been vacated by the window in the room off to the right of the bar as you enter. There is a further room up the stairs to the back of the bar, which they tend to use as a restaurant. I gave my daughter a call as I was enjoying my pint, and when I came off the phone half an hour later it had almost gone. I also realised that with time moving on I ought to get myself fed, so when I returned to the bar to replenish my drink I ordered a small plate of smoked haddock, Jersey royals, and samphire, which was very good and just hit the spot. It was an enjoyable re-visit to The Reliance; excellent beer, good  food, and friendly, efficient service.

Board room at The Reliance

I had time for another pint at least, so I walked the couple of minutes to my next re-visit, which I had previously visited on a quiet Monday lunchtime having stayed over in Leeds after seeing The National at the First Direct Arena. Unlike that time though, The Brunswick this evening was very busy, with the only available seating inside when I walked in being a solitary stool at the bar, which I opted for rather than sitting at one of the tables outside where there was more room. Unlike the pretty laid-back vibe at both the Reliance and North Bar, the atmosphere here was buzzing with a more indie/rock soundtrack playing as customers constantly came to the bar to order burgers (which suggested to me they must be pretty good). When it was my turn to get served I went down on the ABV and ordered a pint of the 4% Kirkstall Pale Ale on handpump from another predominantly Yorkshire-based selection which is a feature of many Leeds pubs. The beer was another good one, cool and refreshing, which I thought worthy of a 3.5 on the National Beer Scoring System scale.

I went upstairs via some rather steep and narrow stairs to use the facilities and walked into an empty room with plenty of tables, which I was unaware existed, and going by the hordes downstairs, not many other people knew either! I decided I would order an Uber to the Hyde Park Book Club as with no clear idea as to when the gig would be starting, I thought it made sense to err on the side of caution. I would have had time to order another pint at The Brunswick where I was enjoying the atmosphere, but at that point I wasn't to know.

The Brunswick, North Street: great beer and atmosphere

It was raining when I walked outside to meet my taxi, the humidity of the evening outside buckling to allow some, cooler air to come through. It only took a few minutes to get up to Hyde Park and arrive at the Book Club, which I had last visited a few years ago when I went to see Australian indie band The Stroppies perform in the small cellar bar. It was busy, with many people sitting outside despite the drizzle in the air. I went inside to check what time the band I had come to see, The Goa Express, were on, and so with an hour to kill I headed to the bar where I went for a pint of Mango Unchained from Manchester-based Shindigger, whose beers are actually brewed at the Tractor Shed brewery from near Workington in Cumbria. I drifted into a room to the left of the building and enjoyed this 5.2% keg beer which is pretty well-balanced and not as sweet as you would expect given the presence of uber-sweet mango.

The Hyde Park Book Club is a bit like a more bohemian version of the Brudenell Social Club, a mile or so away, and alongside hosting gigs and events it acts as something of a community centre, with lots of groups meeting here, as well as being a cafe that serves alcohol. As the stage time approached, I went downstairs to the cellar, where a solid mix of students and creatives made up decent proportion of what was a fairly eclectic group of attendees to the gig. As I surveyed the room as we waited for the band to come on, I realised I was certainly amongst the oldest there, but there were several other senior types who I assume like me enjoy listening to new music.

The Goa Express shuffled on to the stage a few minutes later. They are a young 5-piece band originally from the Yorkshire-Lancashire border country of Todmorden/Burnley, comprising brothers James Douglas Clarke (vocals and guitar) and Joe Clarke (keyboards), Joey Stein (guitar), Naham Muzaffar (bass), and Sam Launder (drums and percussion), starting out a few years ago when they were at college. Cutting their teeth in places like the the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge and the Golden Lion in Todmorden, they are now based in Manchester. Their music is a jangly, melodic, sort of indie psych-rock, with influences according to one article I read being "hypnotic psychedelia, fuzzed-up garage, and mellow blues", and has been played by Steve Lamacq on BBC 6 Music, amongst others.  Their tunes are catchy, their harmonies engaging, the band are tight, and not afraid to let rip from time to time and display their garage influences. They weren't on stage very long, as is often the case with young bands where they are building up to an album's worth of material, but I thought they were great, and that seemed to be the general view of my companions in the cellar, as we all trooped back upstairs when it was clear there was to be no encore.

The Goa Express: jangly and fuzzy

I ordered an Uber and only had a short wait in the drizzle outside the Book Club before he arrived. It was then back across Woodhouse Moor, passing through the vibrant student area around the University to the city centre, where I got dropped off on the Headrow. I headed back to the North Bar for a final half of Sputnik, and then it was back to my hotel for the night. I had thoroughly enjoyed my evening, good to re-visit some places I had not been to for a while, with an excellent gig as well.

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic

And here are The Goa Express with 'Second Time', a favourite from 2021:


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