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City Varieties Circle Bar including the bar itself and the Grandfather clock.

National Beverage Day: Celebrating our historic bars

Everywhere you go in our buildings, there’s history in the walls and in the floors and in the windows and in the doors. Here at Leeds Heritage Theatres, we love to talk about the ghosts that roam our hallways and the celebrities that have sat in our auditorium seats. However, this National Beverage Day we want to dive into the stories of our historic bars. What secrets do they have to tell?

Written by Sarah Jewers, with input from Patrick Horner and Nev Jopson


The bars at The Grand

If you’re looking for a watering hole, The Grand has plenty to offer with its many bars, now even offering cocktails on tap. But while you’re queuing to be served, here are a few facts to think about.

The beer cellar at Leeds Grand Theatre used to be a stable for horses and a storage space when show fit-ups were delivered by horse and cart. The upper loft of the cellar remains, and it is completely wooden, with half of it cut down as it used to extend through three rooms, but now only goes across one.

The original goods lift for the bars in The Grand covered five floors and was installed soon after the building was completed, meaning luckily there wasn’t a poor soul carrying theatergoers’ refreshments up several flights of stairs. The lift managed to rack up 100 years of service before it was decommissioned and replaced.

A sign for a Leeds Grand theatre bar next to a stained-glass window.

A sign many patrons hope to see!

Leeds ‘Heritage’ Theatres extends beyond our beautiful auditoriums! The Stalls, Upper Circle and Balcony bars are all listed within heritage and very little work can be done on them. The stained-glass windows in the Stalls, Dress Circle and Upper Circle bars are all original, and a lot of work has gone into keeping them in situ.

The Dress Circle Bar is a favourite among staff and patrons alike because of its old saloon feel and is one of the best-preserved bars in the building. Its beautiful stained-glass windows and original wall panels make it clear that it was designed with the upper classes of Victorian society in mind. Before it was renovated, it was split between coffee drinkers and smokers, which is hard to imagine in 2024.

Stained-glass windows in Leeds Grand Theatre

An example of the maintained stained-glass windows in Leeds Grand Theatre.

A sketch of the plans for the new Dress Circle bar at Leeds Grand Theatre from 1974.

Plans for the new Dress Circle Bar in The Grand from 1974. Credit: West Yorkshire Archive Service.

If you visited the theatre before the 80s, it was likely acts were enjoying putting their feet up in a back-of-house bar inside the Green Room where staff and performers enjoyed discounted rates. The bar existed in what is now the House Keeping office with the stock and draught kept in the print room below it. All that’s left now are some happy memories and the odd sticker indicating where certain beverages were kept where you can now find our show posters.

An ode to the ‘Mucky Duck’

City Varieties Music Hall finds its roots in the public house culture of the Edwardian and Victorian working classes. For the bars of a venue that originated as a ‘singing room’ above The Swan Inn (or the ‘Mucky Duck’ to locals), it has been important during any renovation to ensure that the bars maintain the feel of a music hall bar, rather than the bar of a theatre like the venue’s sister.

The Circle Bar is thought to be one of the most ‘untouched’ areas of City Varieties. Photos of the bar date back to 1963, shortly before the bar was modernised, and conservation notes suggest no major alterations were made to the bar during the preceding 50 years, so these photos give us a good idea of what the bar looked like before World War I.

In a time when all glass used to be taken back to the beer cellar and sorted into colours, the Circle Bar used to have an automatic steampunk-looking bottle recycler. It was a giant spinning roller with spikes that would allow for the bar staff to place a bottle and it would spin and fall down a chute into a specific-coloured glass bin. If we put one in now, the staff working in the admin offices that now sit below the bar would get an awful shock!

Black and white image from 1963 of a woman stood at the City Varieties Circle Bar.

The Circle Bar at City Varieties in 1963. Credit: West Yorkshire Archive Service.

We’re so proud of our history here at Leeds Heritage Theatres that the walls of the Circle Bar at City Varieties act as a museum for the building over the years. When enjoying an interval refreshment, take a look at the walls and you’ll see the faces and names that make the building’s story as rich as it is. Comedian Sir Ken Dodd greets you as you enter the bar, a man who was the final performer in the venue when it closed its doors for the first time since opening for large-scale restoration in 2009. He then re-opened the music hall after the restoration in 2011. You’ll also find old posters and cast photos from shows gone by and you’ll see a signed photo of Henning When, who is coming to The Varieties in February 2025.

Framed photograph of Ken Dodd hanging in the entrance of City Varieties Circle Bar. Ken is wearing a tall rounded top hat.

Sir Ken Dodd's photo welcoming you into City Varieties Circle Bar.

Three old framed posters hung in City Varieties Circle Bar.

Three old posters hanging on City Varieties Circle Bar.

A signed framed photograph of Henning Wehn holding a replica of the football World Cup in the Circle Bar from 2017 on the wall in Circle Bar. Wall lamps and framed posters appear in the background.

The signed photograph of Henning Wehn hanging in Circle Bar.

Even the wallpaper tells a story. Wooden panelling was removed in the 60s to make way for iconic flocked wallpaper. When the bar was regenerated again a few years ago, conservators sought to preserve the original features and investigate what had been covered up when the panelling had been removed. Now, you’ll find a red floral-patterned wallpaper that creates a perfect backdrop for our framed antiques.

The newest member of the family

A blog about the bars in our beautiful venues wouldn’t be complete without a quick shoutout to our youngest member of the family. When Hyde Park Picture House reopened in 2023, it opened its new Café Bar where it serves hot, cold and alcoholic drinks, as well as sweet treats and cold savoury snacks.

You can sit in The Nook and watch the world of Brudenell Road go by, or you can chat about the film you just watched upstairs in our Community Room. In 50 years, we wonder what stories these walls will tell.

An image of a ceramic milk jug next to a ceramic popcorn box with cutlery in it, a mini ceramic Hyde Park Picture House, a ceramic mug and some piled up coffee cup lids next to a hot water tank in Htde Park Picture House bar.

Hyde Park Picture House Café Bar is a cosy place for a hot drink. Image credit: Tom Joy