Lazy Lounge: Raising spirits in Leeds
The Leeds bar scene has completely exploded. On every street, wherever you look, there are brand new bars offering brand new drinks and brand new food. It’s part of what makes Leeds such an amazing place to live, but it’s also pretty daunting.
So sometimes it’s nice to encounter the old, the enduring. There are few bars in Leeds more enduring than Lazy Lounge. Opened eight years ago in a time of financial prosperity, almost lost during the recession, and saved and taken over by then-barman Tom Bailey, who’s slowly but surely turned the bar’s fortunes around.
Lazy Lounge occupies a niche, both literally and figuratively. Tucked away on Wellington Street, it’s just a two minute walk from Leeds Train Station. Just in the opposite direction to everywhere else. Currently nestled next to an enormous construction project, the bar is a little bubble of calm in a sea of cranes and fluorescent jackets.
Along with its slightly offbeat location, the bar is also treading its own path with what it offers to customers. In a world where beer is pretty much the be-all and end-all, Lazy Lounge offers respite for spirit-drinkers everywhere. There are few places in Leeds now which don’t claim to be “craft” beer experts, rightly or not. So when owner Tom Bailey admits that he knows ‘absolutely nothing about beer,’ it’s actually pretty refreshing.
What Bailey does know about is spirits, specifically gin and whisky, and boy does he know about them; not with the calculated and shrewd precision of the hardened business owner, but with the child-like enthusiasm of a genuine fanatic. Alongside his patent adoration for all things gin and whisky, what you really pick up from talking to him is his predisposition as a collector. A recurring theme is his confession that ‘I liked it but I didn’t know enough about it, so I just bought loads.’
This attitude goes some of the way to explaining how Lazy Lounge potentially has the city’s largest selection of gins, over 145 varieties and counting, more than 100 different whiskies, and dozens of other spirits and wines. You’re not just spoilt for choice here, you’re basically knocked down and run over by the incredible range in front of you. The back bar in Lazy Lounge is a true love letter to spirits.
And it’s this genuineness which keeps customers coming back. Unexpectedly for a city centre bar with such a unique offering, the majority of their customers are regulars. ‘I do think we know most people’s names now.’ Bailey says. ‘We can have people’s drinks ready for them when they come in,’ but one also suspects that he’s being modest. Lazy Lounge’s successful wine, gin and whisky tastings, run by Bailey himself, are hugely popular with new customers and old, and are currently booked up all the way to April.
Along with the tastings, Lazy Lounge also has some excellent offers, crafted in a way which displays a real understanding of and commitment to their customers. Be it their ever-popular Lazy Hour offers which catch the eye of the post-work drinks crowd or the gin teapots enjoyed by 2,000 people last year, they just know what people want to drink. 2016 looks to be full of even more great deals as they introduce their Gin Flights, which allow you to try three different gins for just £9.99.
It probably also helps that Lazy Lounge is a great place to be. It’s got the luxurious Chesterfields, vintage wallpaper, chandeliers and a glass-topped piano, but the place feels more like a well-designed antiques store than a stuffy, exclusive gentleman’s club. ‘We’ve actually not had a refurb since we opened’ Bailey admits, but this in itself is impressive. Nothing about it looks dated, instead its genuine and enduring aesthetic oozes class, there’s no flat-packed instant-cool interiors here. ‘I like the fact that it’s not perfect,’ Bailey says, ‘it makes it more real.’
It sure looks pretty perfect, however, even to the discerning observer, and while the relative “oldness” of the place works is absolutely part of its attraction, Lazy Lounge is by no means resting on its laurels. Bailey is full to the brim with ideas and enthusiasm for the future: think gin festivals, huge outdoor parties, and collaborations. They’re constantly inventive, whether it’s refreshing and renewing their excellent food offering, or infusing their own gin with all manner of flavours. Their newest creation is an orange and ginger-infused gin, served with ginger ale. The experiments aren’t always so delicious, however: ‘We did try a cheese-infused gin last year. It was awful. Smelled like feet and tasted like death.’ Well, you can’t win them all. And it just goes to show that there’s no precociousness when it comes to the drinks selection. ‘We do have most gins’, Bailey says, which is quite a statement. What is the policy on what they sell, then? ‘We just try and have stuff that you can’t find in the supermarket. Not that I’m trying to be ostentatious or pompous or anything, we just want to make it a bit more exciting for people.’
It certainly is exciting, as is the future of Lazy Lounge. For years, due to its location, the bar has remained one of Leeds’ best kept secrets. Great for the adoring customer who wants to keep the place to themselves, less good for the independent business with big ideas. But all that is changing as more and more people discover this gem on the “wrong side” of town that has bravely stood the test of time. And what with the new high-rise opposite opening in 2016, Bailey’s optimistic. ‘If it brings business down here, that’s great. We welcome more people opening nearby.’ It looks like Lazy Lounge’s days as an outsider are nearly over, and we can’t wait to see what the next eight years have in store.