A Cocktail Connoisseur's Guide To Leeds' Best Bars


A Cocktail Connoisseur's Guide To Leeds' Best Bars

Named one of the Top 10 Female Bartenders in the World, Sam Fish is co-founder of the Leeds Rum Festival, now in its fourth year, and the first ever Leeds Gin Fair. She is also operations manager for cocktail bar Mojo, which has bars in her home town of Leeds, plus Manchester, Harrogate, Liverpool and Nottingham. Sam lives with her fiancé Owen and their two-year-old son Erol in Kirkstall.

“The great thing about Leeds is it’s always been a late night city with a friendly, buzzy atmosphere. Now I’m a mum and get up at 6am with my little boy, my social life is nothing like it was before - but we’re lucky to have both sets of adoring grandparents nearby so we still get to go out. I love being in the hospitality industry and, like all bar tenders, I’m passionate about the scene and checking out what’s new and fabulous.

My personal all-time favourite, besides Mojo of course, is Wax Bar on New Briggate. It’s like the Cheers bar – when I walk in, I’ll always know at least three people there.

It’s a music led bar with a disco, punky new wave vibe, great cocktails and a really friendly atmosphere. It’s called Wax Bar after old-style wax records and the drinks bar is displayed on boombox shelves. My fiancé Owen works there and DJs once a week.

The Vanguard opened just before Christmas on Duncan Street and I love it. It’s the best place for delicious coffee and people-watching through the huge floor to ceiling windows. It has quite a Scandi feel during the day with its parquet flooring and light-filled space, but at night it turns into a really cool bar. The long barista bar literally slides away to reveal all the spirits, wine and beer and there’s a changeover from baristas to bar tenders.

The Vanguard is run by the same people behind The Domino Club, which opened a couple of years ago and is probably the best worst kept secret club in Leeds. You have to go through a barber shop, so it’s got a real prohibition speakeasy feel. But downstairs there’s a massive jazz club but with a super cosy feel, with delicious cocktails and lovely bartenders. It’s a great place to go for a date.

Matt Healy, who was runner-up on MasterChef The Professionals in 2016, took over The Foundry last year. Like me, he’s Leeds born and bred. It’s in an old warehouse in Holbeck, a beautiful building with exposed brickwork and a polished concrete floor. The Sunday roast is so popular it’s booked up until June! It’s a very simple sharing dish of roast beef or roast chicken executed perfectly. The snacks and small plates of European influenced food are delicious too.

I’ve worked at Mojo for nearly 12 years now and I love it. I’ve been able to grow my role with the Mojo brand; I started as a bartender when Mojo was one of the first independent cocktail bars serving classic cocktails like Negronis, Old Fashioneds and Tom Collins , then became general manager and now operations manager of all five bars.

I’m in charge of the back of house stuff like the staff and stock and checking we’re hitting all our targets. But I’ll always love being the host and running a bar, building a great atmosphere and welcoming people. I think everyone should have the chance to work behind a bar, because it brings you out of yourself and makes you learn how to make conversation with everyone. It certainly did for me when I first started as a nervous teenager.

Credit: Sam Fish, Leeds Rum Festival

I’d worked several rum festivals around the UK as a drinks ambassador and cocktail maker and, coming back from one in Birmingham, I decided it was time Leeds had its own Rum Fest. The city has such a strong hospitality industry and my co-founder and I had built up a network of rum contacts. We saw a gap in the market for a good night out in amazing surroundings – the beautiful and spectacular Corn Exchange in Leeds – but with an educational element of rum blending masterclasses, cocktail demonstrations, a chance to sample rums from independent producers and big brands and talks on rum’s rich history – sailors used to be given a pint allowance a day of rum!

When we first started, I was just so nervous. I was confident I could put on an impressive event but my ultimate goal was for people who’d bought tickets to have the best time. Thankfully, we succeeded. And this year we launched the first ever Leeds Gin Fair with a similar mix of DJs, entertainment – all hush-hush now – gin sampling, gin cocktail masterclasses and gin talks.”

Visit for tickets to Rum Fest 2019

Main image credit: Mae Mu on Unsplash

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