Nearly 20 years ago today, Mojo taught Leeds to play
Much has changed since MOJO first opened its doors to the city almost twenty years ago. Where once Leeds’ original dive-bar stood alone, with its notorious cocktails and late night vibes providing the only reason to visit Merrion Street, it has since become increasingly surrounded by like-minded newcomers making the Northern Quarter a thriving corner of town.
As Leeds expanded, so too did MOJO, with openings in Manchester and Liverpool spreading their unbeatable penchant for hosting great times across the North. MOJO now intend to develop further by heading South and taking this Leeds success story to London.
Thankfully for the home crowd, the familiarity of what made MOJO’s much-loved reputation remains. There seems little reason to alter their winning formula of damn fine booze, effortlessly cool tunes, laid-back chatter and inclusive parties, all of which are as evident as ever inside their original two floor vital space.
The one addition MOJO has made is a lip-smacking food menu that only accentuates the bar’s rugged beauty. In keeping with the relaxed quality feel of the place, this is grub that fills the belly and warms the heart. Burgers, wings and sides are all hand-made in-house using top produce from selected butchers, bakers and flavour-makers, and the result is an unpretentious joy that both comforts and elevates.
Capturing the bar’s rock & roll traditions, the menu plays with classic US diner favourites and brings them to modern England. Beef, pork, chicken and bean delights are lifted by inventive additions of sauces, spices, smokes, slaws and spreads, of which many combinations read like an edible edition of the cocktail lists that made MOJO famous.
The fun continues for the greedy and the brave, who can take on giant portions and fiery heat by ordering The Behemoth burger or the Mad Dog Challenge wings respectively. The latter recently proved its credentials in a feature on a Leeds TV parody of Man vs Food; you can guess the winner.
MOJO’s increased focus on food coincided with the changed use of Merrion Street from a car-chasing alley into an attractive patio cafe area, allowing sociable outdoor seating and eating. Sunny days have been soaked up since midday thanks to all-day opening, whilst burgers and booze in the cosy interior may help fight off the coming winter chill.
Taking their street food literally, MOJO have taken their wings and flown to pop-ups at Belgrave Feast and Leeds Food & Drink Festival, amongst others. Occasional initial public scepticism of a bar ingrained in drink now serving food has been won over by the obvious whole-heartedness that has gone into this venture and the joyful flavour-punching produce. And for those not wanting to take to the road or the venue, there is a deliveroo service perfect for an evening treat or a daytime cure.
As much as Leeds and MOJO move on, they each equally retain their roots. Whilst the Northern Quarter has become a thriving destination, many go there and remember what MOJO do better than anybody else; serve up that friendly vibe of a lively old-time joint where everybody knows your name.
As clientele changes, generations grow with this place, and fittingly MOJO have this year given regulars special plaques on their chairs to commemorate what keeps this city celebration going strong two decades on; the people. And the people’s loyalty is repaid handsomely with tasty food added to the legendary drinks, faultless music and infamous parties. MOJO version 2015 sure have got their mojo working.