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Leeds: From bar crawling to tiger hunting

Leeds: From bar crawling to tiger hunting

In a glass case in the basement of the Leeds City Museum is a tired old tiger with a back problem.

It was apparently shot for lurking on the edge of a village in India and turned into a rug. When it was given Leeds Museum in the 19th they stitched it together with other bits of tiger skin to make a whole animal. However, they didn’t stuff it properly, but instead filled it with straw.

This taxidermy malfunction means its back sags, its claws point in 20 different directions and the pinkness of its mouth implies it has just dined richly on blancmange.

But while it’s not fearsome in itself, it is a sign of the fierce pride the locals have in Leeds.

When curators suggested re-stuffing the ‘Leeds Tiger’ they resisted, saying it would ruin its character. When they wanted to bin it, local newspaper the Yorkshire Post campaigned to save it.

From the scruffy to the magnificent, Leeds’ citizens love every corner of their city (at least the ones who live in London are always banging on about how great it is) – and it was my job on a brief overnight stay to find out why.

The museum also charts the rise of the city from pre-history to today. Leeds was a thriving market town in medieval times but the story really gets going during the Industrial Revolution when it exploded into a textile manufacturing powerhouse.

The council has responded to the collapse of that industry by steering it towards a 24-hour economy as the would-be ‘capital of the North’.

That is, of course, good news for anyone who wants a night out. The gay scene, focused on Lower Briggate, is small but was buzzing on the weekend we visited.

We started off in Viaduct Show Bar which serves up karaoke, dance and drag shows to go with the cocktails and free shots.

The night we were there one lad randomly stripped naked and jumped onto the bar for a bit of twerking. Losing his footing on a pool of beer, he slipped back, grabbed a glitter ball on the ceiling to stop himself from falling and ended up sprawled behind the bar, glitter ball in hand and dignity rapidly disappearing.

I dashed over to help but his friends were already peeling him off the floor. Last time I saw him, his hand was bandaged up but he was topping-up tomorrow’s headache with another alcopop.

Just opposite is another gay venue: Bar Fibre, a busy bar with a small dancefloor where the occasional straight guest seems to have as good a time as the regulars. Just next door Queens Court seemed quiet on the night we were there but we are told it is usually thriving with a bar downstairs and a nightclub upstairs.

Further afield there are more venues, plus a committed LGBTI community with support services, sport and social groups. You can find out about it all on the Gay Leeds site.

The city also draws shoppers from miles around. Trinity Leeds is the modern mall but you get a taste of a more elegant past strolling in the beautifully restored Victoria Quarter, now lined with luxury shops.

Across the road, Leeds Kirkgate Market is the largest covered market in Europe with 800 stalls selling everything from tacky greetings cards to a steak for tonight’s dinner. One of Britain’s best-loved retail exports, Marks & Spencer, started here as a penny bazaar in the 19th century.

But if you want a bit more culture, head out of the shopping area and over to the Leeds Art Gallery.

First off, the café is one of the most stunning places for a cuppa in the city. But that aside, it houses a collection of national importance. The galleries are a haven from the bustle where you can reflect on works by Rodin, Jacob Kramer and Barbara Hepworth.

Particularly highlighted is one of my favorite sculptors, in fact he’s one of virtually everybody’s favorites, Henry Moore. He’s a local lad, the son of a coal minder from nearby Castleford. The curvaceous lines of his abstract works are breathtakingly beautiful.

If, by contrast, you are looking for sharp edges, Leeds is also home to the Royal Armouries, where history buffs and kids with a passion for the gruesome can revel in all sorts of weaponry.

We checked in to the DoubleTree by Hilton. With our room keycards, they handed us each a warm chocolate cookie. It was a good start.

While the hotel is in the center of the city, right next to the train station, it is very peaceful, looking over a canal with pretty barges moored up. Our room was modern, spacious and comfortable with free wifi and an iMac TV. From there it was only five minutes or so to walk into the shopping area, the main museums or the gay scene so the location was perfect.

We travelled by train with East Coast. Standard Advance returns between London and Leeds, booked online at eastcoast.co.uk, start from £26 ($43 €31). Times and fares are also available from +44 (0)8457 225 225 or from staffed rail stations and agents. East Coast trains also run direct to Leeds from Edinburgh, York, Newcastle and other UK cities.