As Bar Remedy approaches its first birthday, Terri Bailey speaks to the man behind the ‘Cheers’ of Leeds.
Our eyes met across a crowded room, but it’s not what you’d think.
Firstly, Simon Hunter is happily married to a very talented artist, and secondly, I had dropped into Bar Remedy merely to chat to the lad from Leeds who had successfully turned his pipe dreams into reality. And what a striking reality it is: a barber shop, with an unassuming jazz cafe-bar and pop-up restaurant thrown in for good measure. I mean, this guy really doesn’t do things by halves.
Stepping through the glass-fronted entrance, I felt like I’d instantly toppled back in time and place – France, circa 1930 – when everything had just a little bit more class and charm about it. The space may be limited, yes, but let me tell you, what Remedy lacks in square feet it makes up in romance and warmth – quite literally, as the place floods with red-lipped creative types, boys with phenomenal beards and people who will always just be way cooler than I could ever hope to be.
Simon has certainly set the tone for his clientele, with his laid-back demeanour and some pretty impressive body art; even as he weaved his way through the crowd and held out his hand to shake mine there was a relaxed air about him that I found infectious.
“Hiya, love,” he said, raising his voice above the din of chatter around us, his accent a comforting and familiar broad Yorkshire. “Can you just give me a sec? I need to nip out for some glasses. Do you fancy a glass of wine?”
I knew then that we were going to get on. Even before I’d interviewed this guy, two things were instantly apparent in just his opening gambit: firstly, the smooth operation of his business comes first, and if that means nipping out to the shops to buy glasses last minute, so be it. Secondly, hospitality matters – his offering of wine showed as much.
Whilst Simon resolved his wine glass shortage, I jumped at the chance to soak in the scene: beautiful, exposed-wood ceilings, walls awash with muted green tones and extraordinary paintings, drapes of soft, warm fairy lights to compliment opaline fixtures and dark wooden tables housing lone candles and groups of people, huddled close, all evidently enjoying the company of each other and their surroundings.
Crisis averted, Simon led the way through the sea of customers and created space on stools at his busy little bar for us to sit and have a chat. I’d only been left to my own devices for a few minutes but I was unashamedly enamoured of the gorgeous vibe of Bar Remedy, and the effect it seemingly has on those who wander there. I was eager to know his history and wanted to take him back to the start.
“I didn’t do great at school,” he confessed, “and I thought to myself, aged fifteen-and-a-half, what can I do? I didn’t really want to get my hands mucky and work in a garage as a mechanic so I thought – barbering.”
He’s been a willing servant to the barbering industry ever since, working hard as hell to build his business from the ground up. Ironic, really, that his career has probably gotten his hands dirtier than any car oil might’ve done, metaphorically at least.
In 2006 he opened up his barbershop in the Northern Quarter of Leeds, and over the years his business has spoken for itself in its popularity, and though he’s become somewhat of an industry leader, those words wouldn’t come from the mouth of this humble guy. On a strictly need-to-know basis, I questioned how one comes to the decision to extend from hairy heads, to hair of the dog.
“I didn’t want to be an old barber and I’d reached an age where the physical act of cutting hair bored me a little bit. I needed more fulfilment so decided to go for it and open a bar,”
Simon makes the birth of Bar Remedy sound and look easy, but I expect that’s part of his way. His eyes wandered the length of the room as he talked me through the true inspiration behind this little gem of his.
“Its a Parisian jazz cafè,” he told me, pausing momentarily to wave farewell to one of his regulars. “I went to Rome and drew my inspiration from a little bar over there. I just love the laid-back vibe; a cosy, intimate space with beautiful wine and nice music.”
And what he wanted, he got with bar Remedy, though he doesn’t shy away from talk of the sheer hard work it’s taken to get him here. As his bar approaches its first birthday, he was open about the challenges he’s faced.
“Its been the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he told me with a wry smile and a shake of his head. “I didn’t know the industry. I thought, ‘well, I’ve drank in a few bars so I must know it’. I didn’t. So going from a semi-retired barber who pleased himself, to having to work full time behind a bar, at my age, was a bit of a culture shock.”
And if he didn’t have enough to keep his days busy, Bar Remedy has just recently expanded further and Simon has teamed up with top-door chef James Key to bring European dishes to his eager midweek crowd; a mini dining venture that looks set to stay for the long haul.
“He cooks great food on a Wednesday,” Simon told me simply, speaking of what he tells me is the easiest string of his bows. ” They’re just good, honest, wholesome dishes with a slight rustic, French twang, and at £15 for two courses, it’s unheard of in the City, really.”
I watched on as he casually opened a beer bottle with his teeth, the million dollar question burning away as he did so. How does one man do it all?
“I’m not as involved in the barbering as I have been, but I should be and I will be again. I’ve had to give a lot of focus to the bar to make that work. It’s not easy, doing it all, but it’s worth it. I genuinely believe I have a beautiful little bar.”
And speaking of beautiful, the artwork which hangs proudly on his walls are the creative masterpieces of his wife, Nina, who, he says is always in the background as his driving force and motivation for a business he wholeheartedly loves and hopes to have around for many years to come.
“We’ve created a space where people can come, feel safe, relax, drink good wine, eat good food without the party town element and it works.”
And it does. But don’t just take his word for it. Go, stay for a while and fall in love with a teeny-tiny slice of perfection.