WALKING down the narrow hill that is Merrion Street at half past ten on a Thursday evening, the darkness seems to be laced with shady characters.
Headlights illuminate a crowd of leather-jackets and cigarettes half-way down the hill, clustered around the glowing red entrance of Mojo. Already I feel miles from the screaming, lager-and-mini-skirt infested bustle of Oceana and the clubbing centre of Headrow, just five minutes away.
"Mojo has atmosphere in bucket-loads where other Leeds bars struggle for a shot of the stuff."
The door swings open into a narrow corridor leading to a low-ceilinged, red-lit bar jam-packed with framed photographs of music heroes and gig tickets. Tom Petty is singing in the background whilst three bar-tenders shake up cocktails, dancing between customers and nodding to the music.
At the back, the three red-leather booths are taken by a group of girls, a couple and a jostling collection of suited men. There doesn’t seem to be a particular clientele, but nobody looks out of place. This cool yet unpretentious attitude is backed up by a screen above the bar that tells you what song is currently playing.
This screen not only prevents any person having to humbly inquire for the name of a well-known Dylan track, but it also means the songs become honorary guests at the bar. Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder and Mick Jagger are not only present in black-and-white frames on the walls, but they are talking to us, hanging out, waving from the next room. Above the booths, The Beatles have a wall to themselves. They smile benevolently down at the drinkers, bigger than all of us; their youth restored.
Mojo has atmosphere in bucket-loads where other Leeds bars struggle for a shot of the stuff. On my first visit, during a rainy afternoon a couple of winters ago, I was met with the same sense of old-fashioned, foot-tapping warmth and fun. The pictures, the music, the drinks all tempt you to stay. The only pitfall is the high chance of an incredible hang-over and a crippling overdraft waiting outside.
We pull some barstools up to the window and pour over the endless drinks menu (it has 11 chapters). Martinis, shots, classics, top shelf gourmet inventions, bellinis. The wine and beer options are modest in comparison, but wine and beer look modest in comparison, in this alcoholic circus.
The bar-tenders are also kind enough to counsel your decisions or fix up a whole new drink to accommodate fussy drinkers. I asked for something really creamy with as little cream as possible, and no eyebrows were raised. Instead, I was presented with a small glass that tasted like melted battenburg ice cream. Perfect.
This seems to be the ethos of Mojo - include everyone, share everything and serve it all in semi-darkness accompanied by classic rock-n-roll hits.
Ambience - 8/10
Drinks - 4/5
Service - 5/5
18 Merrion St,
0845 611 8643
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