Both my fella and I live in Leeds – Hyde Park, to be exact – and commute to work in York. I’m writing this blog with the intention of giving equal time to Leeds AND York, with stops around the rest of Yorkshire now and then. So far, it’s been pretty Leeds-centric, but now that the days are getting longer and warmer, the urge to stick around in York after the working day is done will start to hit more and more often. That was definitely the case on Friday, which was just about the most perfect English spring day imaginable.
I finished work around 3:00, which gave me a couple of hours to waste before Matt finished for the day. I decided to be a tourist and take in the York City Walls. I started near Clifford’s Tower and headed west, making my way around the walls, past the train station and up to Lendal Bridge. I headed towards the minster, stopping in to admire St. Wilfrid’s Catholic Church (not as glamorous as the Minster, to be sure, but still very lovely, and they don’t charge £8 for a look around) before settling down on a bench in the Minster gardens for a spot of people-watching. After that, I had a bit of a wander around The Shambles and tried to block out the tat shops and fellow tourists so I could try to absorb nearly 1,000 years of history. Ducking into the shrine of St. Margaret Clitherow helped with that. It’s just a half-timbered medieval house that’s been turned into a simple, quiet shrine to St. Margaret, who was martyred in the 16th century for harbouring Catholic priests. The lack of “real Yorkshire fudge” and Union Jack coffee mugs really helps you to get your mind around the history and the generations of lives lived on that narrow little street.
As you can imagine, all of this tourism can really work up a thirst. Luckily by this time, Matt was off work, so I met him and some of his workmates at The Phoenix. What a great little place – quiet and traditional, with a small, well-kept courtyard out back overlooked by the city walls. Inside are flagstone floors, working fireplaces (though I hope they won’t be needed for a few months yet!) and small, cozy candlelit tables. The Copper Dragon Golden Pippin ale was gorgeous, and the women’s toilet was sparkling clean and nicely decorated with a vase of fresh tulips next to the basin (don’t look at me like that! Nice toilets are important).
After a couple of pints at the Phoenix, we made our way back to the centre of town to The Evil Eye Lounge. This place is, in a word, strange. But I love strange. It’s hidden away behind a small off-license – seriously, if you didn’t know it was there, you’d probably never notice it – and it’s basically a Southeast Asian backpacker’s bar/internet cafe/cocktail lounge. In other words, the very last thing you would expect to find in York. There’s a covered patio out back, computers to rent by the hour upstairs, and in addition to the normal variety of comfy, mismatched tables and chairs, there’s a big bed to lounge on. This place has so much atmosphere that it almost feels as if the food and drink can’t possibly live up to it – and there you would be wrong, because they are both amazing. The cocktails are delicious, made with care by bartenders who are passionately into what they’re doing. Watching them work is a pleasure. And the food? Well, this is not the place I expected to find some of the most authentic, delicious Southeast Asian food around. They definitely don’t tone it down for the Western palate. According to one of the bar staff, the secret is actual Thai chefs in the kitchen who make the kind of food they would serve to their friends and families. Thai dishes are made with lashings of fish sauce and hot spices and my Mee Goreng was served with an amazing spicy, fishy relish of peanuts, chilies, and dried anchovies. Be careful, because if a dish claims to be spicy, it’s going to be spicy! I generally add hot sauce to everything and rarely find something I can’t handle, but their Thai Drunken Rice had me in tears the last time I was there (in a good way, of course). If hot spices, fish sauce, and anchovies turn you off, don’t worry, there is a delicious handmade teriyaki burger on the menu, along with some “Evil” falafels and even plain ol’ chips. Normally, I believe that a culture-and-continent spanning menu is something to avoid (imagine, for example, places that offers donners, pizzas, curries, burgers, and Southern fried chicken. Rarely, if ever, tasty, unless you’re barely sober enough to stand), but somehow the Evil Eye Lounge manages to be authentic and respectful of all the cultures and cuisines represented on the menu. It’s pretty remarkable, actually. In keeping with its loopy, surrealistic feel, The Evil Eye has a secret. There’s a table with a small drawer filled with notes, drawings, requests for advice, and wishes. I won’t tell you which table it is, you’ll have to find it yourself – and the same goes for our final stop of the evening, The House of the Trembling Madness.
Like the Evil Eye, the entrance is hidden away inside a shop The only clue to its existence is a hand-lettered sign in the window. This place is pure magic. It’s located in a small but perfectly formed 12th century hall with soaring timber beams (some of which, according to one of the bartenders, are rumoured to have come from viking ships) and antique benches and chairs. With only candles and the glow of the lights behind the small bar, it was too dim for photos, which is a shame because I can’t begin to describe how beautiful, mysterious, and romantic this place is. And the beer selection is pretty awesome, too. They’re one of only two places in the UK (the other being Leeds’ own North Bar) serving the delicious Brooklyn Lager on draught. I’ve heard tell of a possible microbrewery being developed on site, as well. The bartender here asked us not to tell everyone about it, and I think he was only half joking, because as soon as this place becomes common knowledge, you’ll have to fight for a seat. So, a compromise – drop me a line, and I’ll give you a clue!
75 George Street
The Evil Eye Lounge
House of the Trembling Madnesss
A secret – for now!