Leeds – ‘the unofficial capital of the North’ – is hardly short on bars, restaurants and music to suit all tastes. But where should a rock fan new to the city go to sate such appetites? If you’re heading to Leeds for the Alice Cooper gig in October, why not make a day (or even a weekend of it) and check out these places to scratch your rock ‘n’ roll itch?
Alice Cooper, who plays at the First Direct Arena in the city on Monday 7 October with fellow legends The Stranglers and MC50, arguably had a massive influence on the culture of Leeds. The goth scene that crawled out of the city's gutters in the 80s was partly inspired by Alice Cooper's macabre take on rock. The leading goth bands combined punk rock with a love of Alice, David Bowie, glam rock, horror movies, fetish wear and goth literature to create what became known as 'goth', a sort of dark flip-side to the rise of new wave pop. Leeds was home to the Sisters Of Mercy, the March Violets, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Salvation and more.
Where better to catch the great man this time around?
This Alice Cooper tour – the Ol’ Black Eyes Is Back tour – marks the 50th anniversary of his debut album Pretties For You, which came out in the summer of 1969. In the following years, Alice Cooper would become one of the most influential figures in rock.
His use of make-up, inspired by Bette Davis's character in classic movie What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, brought a sense of theatre to rock that influenced everyone from Kiss to Slipknot. His shocking stage show and 'bad taste' lyrics led to the rise of 'shock rock', while the band's debauched image made them heroes to a generation of sleaze rockers and hair metal acts.
Johnny Rotten (nee Lydon) auditioned for the Sex Pistols by singing the Cooper song I'm Eighteen. Lydon later claimed that "Killer is the best rock album ever made which, of course, followed the masterpiece Love it to Death." Joey Ramone later claimed to have used the chords for I'm Eighteen to write his first ever Ramones song.
The first wave of goth took their cue from Alice Cooper's morbid fascinations, make-up and his love of a good pair of leather trousers.
50 years on, his influence on rock continues. With support from two other legendary bands in The Stranglers and MC50, it promises to be an unmissable night.
Here's how to make the most of it...
Where To Eat
Need some pre-gig ballast? The Belgrave in Leeds’ vibrant Northern Quarter has got you covered. Spread across three floors, the 300-capacity space offers a range of canteen-style fast food, live music, comedy, and two bars serving cask ales, craft beers and cocktails. Fill up on Dough Boys pizza – your first two slices are half price during the day – or one of the venue’s award-winning burgers. Take your bites and beer out to the roof terrace for views across the city.
This busy, city centre bar features a broad menu inspired by American diner and truck stop fare, but without the tackiness of some ‘retro’ joints. The burgers alone are worth coming for – inspired by wild and wonderful New York recipes, these beauties are stacked high and loaded with 100% British Beef. Naturally there’s chicken too – wings and thighs Southern fried or roasted – plus plenty of succulent options for vegetarians. Live music and one of the city’s largest pub courtyards don’t hurt, either.
Nestled just on the edge of the city centre, this much-loved bar is unpretentious and has a genuine pub vibe, while offering some excellent food. Offering high-end plates without the hefty price tag, it’s a cool place to just hang out and fill up before heading out to a gig and the messier, late-night bars. One of the best Sunday Roasts in the city centre, too.
Fancy some of the best veggie Indian food in town? Inspired by the street foods of South India, this place has won plenty of plaudits since opening its doors in 2014. Traditional meat-free recipes with a modern twist are on offer here, and they have an excellent selection of craft beers to wash it all down.
Where To Drink
A wide range of craft beers and array of whiskeys set against a soundtrack of alternative, punk and metal tunes – what’s not to like? A popular spot for after-show parties, you may find yourself ordering drinks next to the band. In keeping with the best dive bars, no card payments – ‘Johnny Cash Only’, as the sign says.
No visit to Leeds is complete without venturing to the Duck & Drake. One of the city’s longest serving live music pubs, this a distinctly no-frills spot that has excellent local bands and a wide selection of CAMRA-approved ales. If you’re in any doubt about its Northern credentials, you can even have a pork pie with your pint.
A popular guitar shop in the city centre for more than 25 years, Northern Guitars has moved the guitar business upstairs and added a café bar on its ground floor. The cool space is adorned with vintage music posters, local artwork and photography, and hosts live music in the evening. Have a beer, buy that guitar.
This bar has both kinds of music – rock and metal. A long-standing favourite in the city centre, it offers a good selection of cocktails, shots and beers to get you pumped pre-gig, or keep you going post-gig – it’s open until 5am on the weekend.
Need to be shown the way to the next whiskey bar? A little rough around the edges in a good way, this spot proudly bills itself as ‘the best alternative bar in the city’. Another excellent choice for the post-gig crowd, you can imbibe here until the wee hours of the morning.
Where To Stay
If you’re on a budget, this city centre hostel is a good option. Created by artists, the unique space features funky décor and is just a 10-minute walk from the train station. A private room will sleep up to three guests.
On the other hand, if you’re pockets are a little deeper and you want to feel more like a rock star, try this cool spot. There are dramatic chandeliers and dimly lit corridors, while the dark colouring of the rooms creates a brooding and decadent atmosphere. Sounds appropriate, right?
Best Hangover-Curing Breakfast
You’re probably going to need a good, replenishing breakfast after drinking until some ungodly hour, so head to this ‘little piece of Yorkshire’ to restore the balance. A bakery, café and bar combined, it offers all-day breakfasts for less than £8, piled high with sausages, eggs, beans and bacon. Vegan and veggie versions available, too.
Run by Age UK, this place offers simple, no-nonsense grub at a wallet-friendly price – breakfast butties and Full English being the order of the day. Plus, it puts all proceeds back into helping older people in the community, so you can feel good despite your thumping head.
Best Record Shops
If you’ve got some time to spare before getting back on the train, why not peruse a couple of the city’s excellent independent record shops. Part of the Leeds music scene for some 30 years, Crash Records carries a wide range of vinyl and CDs specialising in rock, alternative, punk and metal.
Established back in the 70s and renowned as one of the north’s key independent record stores, Jumbo Records sells vinyl, CDs, books, magazines and an array of other music memorabilia across all genres. Can’t find what you’re looking for? This shop prides itself on being able to track it down for you.
Alice Cooper plays the First Direct Arena, Leeds on Mon 7 Oct 2019, with special guests The Stranglers and the MC50