Blind Tyger, Leeds

Blind Tyger Leeds

Sandinista founder Si Ord has created a “drinking den” in Leeds specialising in well-crafted cocktails

Si Ord made his mark on the north’s bar scene with his Latin bar and cantina Sandinista which he opened in the northern district of Leeds city centre over 11 years ago. He went on to create Leeds cocktail bar and music club Smokestack before taking the Sandinista concept to Manchester. He has now fulfilled a long-nurtured ambition to open a speakeasy-style cocktail bar, which he has called Blind Tyger after one of the nicknames for speakeasies during US Prohibition in the 1920s.

“It’s something I’ve had running around my head for several years,” he explains. “I always wanted to open a cocktail bar in Leeds that offered the kind of service that most people venture down to London to experience.” He says the city has been “stepping up its game” over the past year, with the opening of The Maven, The Alchemist and Angelica. “I felt it was time that the northern district of Leeds city centre caught up.”

The 80-capacity Blind Tyger was created out of back-of-house space at Sandinista after relocating the kitchen, offices and toilets. It has its own outside entrance with a text-riddled staircase that leads up to the dark and opulent little bar. Designed by Si, it has cosy booth seating lining the walls which are decorated with William Morris-style wallpaper. Quirky ornaments and trinkets fill the shelves, while retro furniture and lighting have been sourced from shops and junkyards as well as vintage specialists Andy Thornton and Urban Cottage Industries. As with his other sites, music is important, with a mix of swing jazz, electric blues, chilled dance and subtle hip hop.

The cocktail list has been created by Si and the team which also includes general manager Tom Finnon, head bartender and assistant GM Craig Mahon, and Kim Nicol, who was head bartender at Matterhorn bar in Wellington, New Zealand. They have created a range of classic and original cocktails, listed with the dates they were created, each priced around £6.50 to £7.50. “We wanted drinks that are accessible but a bit more interesting and use different and better-quality base spirits,” Si adds. “But we wanted to stay away from pretentious cocktails that take 20 minutes to make.”

Modern drinks include the Rosie Lee, made with gin infused with rose, eucalyptus and English tea, mixed with Cocchi Vermouth Di Torino, Cocchi Americano Rosa, maraschino liqueur and Dr Adam Elmegirab’s Aphrodite Bitters. Another original drink is the Bloomsbury Blitz, made with Tanqueray gin, apricot brandy, Earl Grey honey water, grapefruit, caster sugar and egg white.

Vintage-style cocktails include the Lady Randolph, dating from about 1860, which combines maple-smoked WL Weller bourbon, Cocchi Barolo Chinato fortified wine, oloroso sherry and peach bitters. Another is Creature Fear which combines Tapatio reposado tequila, maraschino liqueur, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, sea salt and lavender blossom.

The bar stocks a good range of tequilas and other premium spirits, including lesser-known brands, although Si says they are looking to create their own distillations as well as liqueurs, syrups and bitters. “We are looking for products that you are not going to find in your average bar,” he adds. There is also a carefully selected range of wines from the Old and New Worlds.

The selection of craft beers is also impressive, such as Bristol Brewing Factory’s West Coast Red, Brooklyn Brown Ale, Harviestoun Engine Oil, Kernel Black IPA, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Sierra Torpedo Double IPA, Odells IPA, Pacifico Clara and Quilmes. The regularly changing range also includes the bar’s own brews, created with a kit at Ilkley Brewery with support from brewer Luke Raven, previously a director of Sandinista. The first brew was a heavy porter for the winter months.

Blind Tyger is open daily from 5pm to 3am on Fridays and Saturdays and 2am the rest of the week. Despite the hidden entrance, the place is not so much a 1920s speakeasy as a “19th-century drinking den”, Si explains. “I wanted it to feel serious with a high level of service but comfortable and not intimidating. I didn’t see the point in replicating what everybody else is doing. It’s very different from anything else in Leeds.”

Blind Tyger, 5 1/2 Cross Belgrave Street, Leeds LS2 8JP
Tel: 0113 246 0770

Who did it
Vintage furniture: Andy Thornton
Vintage lighting: Urban Cottage Industries

Originally published in the February 2014 issue of Bar magazine

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