SATURDAY 19th FEBRUARY 2000; I Love Leeds
I'm over the worst of the cold, and we drive up to Leeds as part one of our family half term mini-holiday. I have loved Leeds since I worked for the DSS (95 - 97) and spent a couple of days a week there for two years. It's a year or so since we visited- and I can't believe the number of new wine bars, clubs, cafes and restaurants that have opened. The place was booming from about '96, but it now seems amazing that all these places can thrive -where do the people come from to fill them all?
The wealth and hipness is spreading down from the centre of the City to the formally seedy areas around the indoor market and bus station. Back alleys where I saw prostitutes taking winos for a quick thrill (not that I was deliberately watching, you understand) are now home to trendy little skate-board shops and vegetarian chill-out bistros.
But there is one major disappointment. The Duchess of York is closing at the end of March. I don't know why; I guess with the gentrification of the city centre, the rent has gone up beyond the reach of a scruffy little pub that just happens to be one of the key music venues in the North. Oasis, Pulp even Nirvana all played here long before they hit the front pages or even the music pages.
I tended to go there about once a month when I was staying in Leeds a lot. I saw bands like Embrace play to 30 people; and Mansun who weren't even top of the bill yet within nine months had a number one album and were Top of the Pops regulars. One of the great things about the Duchess was its size, or lack of it, which meant that support bands came off stage and straight to the bar, the dressing room being occupied by the headliners. Hence you could easily find yourself at the bar having a chat with the lead guitarist of Mansun, (who seemed a very nice, normal young guy at that time at least), his sister, and his sister's friend, who was rather pretty and obviously fancied him something rotten.....
Dinner and room at the Crab and Lobster near Thirsk- we've had lunch there before, but last year they opened a small hotel in a Georgian house next door to the pub/restaurant. It is absolutely brilliant, with each room done out in the style of a famous hotel from some part of the world- we are in the African room, complete with spears, monkeys, and so on. It is like being part of some eccentric friends' house party, with mega G&T's before dinner, a hidden beer tap in the hall (free, open all hours), and a 12 foot high stuffed Bigfoot guarding the staircase. The food is pretty damn superb too*.
* 2020 notes - the Crab and Lobster at Asenby is still excellent!