Long before the remains of Richard III were dug up and turned into a tourist attraction, Leicester has been a destination for its bars, whether you’re after a creative cocktail or a craft beer.
One of the newest arrivals is the small but beautifully formed 63rd & First which opened in Highcross Street, next to the main shopping centre, in October. The cosy 20-capacity bar was set up by bartender Dave Tsouvallaris, taking its name from the Manhattan street address where Tom Cruise did the Hippy Hippy Shake in cult movie Cocktail (and where the first-ever TGI Friday’s opened). The interior takes inspiration from classic bars in New York City, which are often squeezed into small spaces due to high rents.
Dave has a background as a flair bartender, starting his career at TGI Friday’s in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands. As well as being a director of bartending events specialist Flair Inc, his achievements include winning the Prepare To Flair competition at London’s Roadhouse. He and the bar team can make any classic but have put together a menu offering just over 50 different cocktails. It lists plenty of seriously good classics as well as “Crowd Pleasers” including a June Bug, with Mahiki Coconut Rum and melon and banana liqueurs, and a Bubblegumtini with Stolichnaya Vodka, blue curaçao, lime juice and a bubblegum syrup.
With prices around £8.50 to £8.95, the menu also has lists of tiki, fizz and frozen cocktails as well as a selection headed “Bartender’s Choice”. I enjoyed the perfectly balanced Banoffee Old Fashioned (pictured) which adds a sweet twist to the classic, mixing Buffalo Trace bourbon with white crème de cacao and banana syrup, topped with a banoffee foam and digestive crumble. The bartender remembered I said I wasn’t normally into sweet cocktails so he dialled down the sweetness slightly.
There is a good choice of alcohol-free cocktails, priced at £4 to £4.50, such as a Virgin Mary, a classic Shirley Temple with grenadine, and The Bean with fresh espresso, cream, orgeat syrup and sugar. The Speedwagon is a dessert in a drink: vanilla ice cream, Oreo Cookies and cream. Aside from cocktails, the bar offers Freedom Lager and Pale Ale, Peroni and Chang beers, Orchard Thieves Cider and a small list of wines including prosecco and champagne. Open Wednesdays to Sundays from 4pm, it operates till 2am on Fridays and Saturdays and midnight on the other three days. Get there early to ensure a seat.
63rd & First, 52a Highcross Street, Leicester LE1 4NN
Other Leicester bars, old and new
With a name meaning “barrel” in Norwegian, Tønne opened just over a year ago in St Martin’s Square in the former premises of wine bar 45 St Martin’s. It offers 10 beers on tap, including some Norwegian ones such as Lervig from Stavanger. The interior has a bit of a Scandinavian log cabin feel, with lots of wood and sleek design across the tables, seating and the bar itself as well as deep green walls and comfortable banquettes. There are more craft beers in cans and bottles, aiming to offer different brews from the mainstream, plus three cocktails such as an Old Fashioned on tap. It is open every day apart from Monday, from midday until as late as 2am at weekends.
Tønne, 1-3 St Martin’s Walk, Leicester LE1 5DG
33 Cank Street
After six years, 33 Cank Street is still leading the bar scene in Leicester. Owned by bartender Kal Ruparell, it is serious about cocktails but with a fun and playful approach. Offering all the classics as well as original recipes, its menu features a flavour wheel to help customers choose their perfect drink. Creative highlights include Nectar of the Gods, which is a barrel-aged Negroni with Amalfi lemon honey and a grapefruit prosecco foam, and Buckfast at Tiffany’s, combining Buckfast with a Rockstar-Energy drink reduction, rhubarb bitters, lime juice and aquafaba. Kal also opened a bar and restaurant called 100&Six last year in Queens Road in the Leicester neighbourhood of Clarendon Park.
33 Cank Street, Leicester LE1 5GX
Close to Leicester’s Curve theatre in the Cultural Quarter, Manhattan34 has been serving up great cocktails for about six years. Taking inspiration from the end of Prohibition in 1934, it has elegant Art Deco styling with stripped-back brick walls and other natural materials. From classics to plenty of original cocktails, it has a tempting menu of drinks such as the Jekyll & Hyde mixing a London dry gin with amaro, lemon sherbet, blackcurrant, grapefruit, angostura bark and orange. My go-to drink is the barrel-aged Vieux Carré, a classic made with VSOP cognac and rye whiskey plus a sweet vermouth blend, Bénédictine, Angostura Bitters and aromatic herbs.
Manhattan34, 34-38 Rutland Street, Leicester LE1 1RD
45West Bottle Shop & Bar
This bar and shop was opened about five years ago by Leicestershire’s 45 West Distillers, the makers of Burleighs Gin. As well as being a retail outlet, it is a bar specialising in gin (of course) as well as other spirits, wine, beers and cocktails. These cocktails have an emphasis on gin, ranging from classic recipes with a twist to original creations, using fruit juices and syrups that are made in house each day using ingredients from Leicester Market. Favourites include the complex and bittersweet Hotel Street which combines Burleighs Signature gin with Cocchi Torino sweet vermouth, Bénédictine, orange bitters and Earl Grey.
45West, 4a Hotel Street, Leicester LE1 5AW
The Legendary Lab
Round the corner from 63rd & First, this centrally located bar was opened last autumn in the former premises of restaurant The Fish and The Chip by trained chemist Ulrich Katusevanako and Amie Cull. Described as a “unique chemistry bar”, it specialises in serves in beakers and test tubes, with special effects such as bubbling, smoke and colour-changing. With an extensive menu, popular choices include the Cloud To Sea which is made with white rum, lemonade and your choice of syrup from grenadine, strawberry, candy floors or peach – delivered in a beaker for pouring over a glass containing candy floss and dry ice for long-lasting bubbling and smoking effects. Table options include large metal drums, inspired by Ulrich’s work in the cosmetics industry.
The Legendary Lab, 19-21 St Nicholas Circle, Leicester LE1 4LD www.thelegendarylab.com