Aspire, Leeds’ prestigious event space, came alive to the sound of music and cocktail shakers on Thursday as The Cocktail Experience came to the City for the fourth year running.
Sixteen of Leeds’ finest cocktail bars and a whole army of suave, sophisticated mixologists took to two floors, all set to wow the party-goers with their heavenly creations.
The DJ booth was already pumping out dance tracks as I arrived to a vision of grandeur, thanks to this iconic event space: tall, cavernous arches bathed in violet lighting, each cocktail bar set out in stands, each stall showcasing brands with incredible, attention-grabbing displays. There was something fabulous to look at everywhere you went — fairy lights twinkled, confetti sparkled, glasses clinked, and the atmosphere was warm and bursting full of cheer and excitement. It was perfect.
I headed upstairs to begin this cocktail experience, my starting point being the award-winning Fourth Floor Brasserie and Bar from Harvey Nichols. Sleek, white leather sofas added a modern twist to the historic backdrop; a perfect spot to sit and taste-test the signature and somewhat sexy Midnight Spice cocktail.
With a brand like Harvey Nick’s there’s a certain expectation of excellence and of course they delivered. It may have been my first pit stop but this was actually my favourite cocktail of the evening: Ciroc Vanilla, Ancho Reyes Chile liqueur, pineapple juice, lime juice, blackberry and ginger syrup – winner.
I took my time admiring the attention to detail of each stall, knowing full well I wouldn’t be drinking 16 cocktails. I wanted to try those that enticed, whether that be by the name, the display, or simply because the drink looked phenomenal.
Next I went for The Glitter Club, an offering from Boar Lane’s Be At One bar. The magical concoction had almost iridescent qualities when you the glass was held up to the light; a shimmery blend of Beefeater Gin, Pomegranate liqueur, raspberry syrup, lemon juice, egg white, gold dust and Prosecco.
My penultimate cocktail of choice was the one I most anticipated and I approached bar Fibre’s display feeling like I’d tumbled back to yesteryear – possibly as far back as my parents’ childhood Christmas memories – as Fibre brought to life the magic of a traditional toy shop. I gazed up, comforted by the classic rocking horse and nutcracker figurine, the soft fairy lights and the heavenly scent of gingerbread.
How could I not try a Gingerbread Martini when the festive season is upon us? Vanilla vodka, Jagermeister, espresso, gingerbread syrup and grated gingerbread crumbs. I ordered it because the whole notion made me feel like a 1950s child at Christmas and I truly love gingerbread, but the Jagermeister made it a little too strong for me to finish.
I ended my evening with a boogie by the DJ booth with an entertainer whose entire being was covered in shiny mirrored plates, and a kick-ass cocktail from Manahatta. Tequila is my poison and this NYC-inspired cocktail bar is one of my favourites, so I had to end my experience with a cleverly named sweet-shop creation called Tequila Me Softly, a close contender with Harvey Nichols. What isn’t to adore about an azure-blue cocktail that’s topped off with a floating, edible flower?
Truth is, The Cocktail Experience offered to take this crowd on a trip around the globe with their premium pours – from Mexico to the Big Apple, France to Germany and beyond. I could have spent an entire night amongst this lively crowd, sipping away at all the variations of cleverly-curated cocktail. What a way to open the festive party season! It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, that’s for sure.