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The Garage, Leeds

The Garage has gone from start-up venue to the winner of our prestigious Best Small Club award in the space of nine months. No beginner's luck, it's the product of something rather special; a venue popping up at the perfect time in the right place to supply something wanted to a club scene that really knows its stuff.

Leeds is no stranger to high-end venues. Mint Club (winner of this prize in 2010) — with its larger brother fittingly titled Mint Warehouse — is one local favourite. Stinky Pete's, The Warehouse and The Wire (among others) are all called upon regularly to host the city's most respected club nights; the likes of Louche, System and mono_cult.

It's no secret, then, that this West Yorkshire city is considered by many the UK's second centre for clubbing behind only London, and no surprise you've voted in your droves to crown this hidden basement underneath a karaoke bar one of Britain's favourite venues housing less than 1000.

Mobilisation of a strong population of night owls might have contributed to the success of The Garage in this poll. However, Leeds is by no means easily pleased; the club's rise to recognition is indicative of its ability to impress some of the UK's most discerning dancefloor addicts. So why is it so special?

“It reminded me of a club in the old sense, with real character and, most importantly, with real characters,” says Greg Wilson, one man who does know a decent club when he sees one. “I like the fact that there are nooks and crannies, and the room that doubles as a record shop is pure genius! You can see that there’s a lot of care and attention gone into things, from the DJ booth through to the flyer design — there’s a real sense of craft and ingenuity about it all.”

Its title might allude in part to the name of Larry Levan's legendary NY disco dance institution of the '70s and '80s, Paradise Garage, but this venue is no cheap pass-off, donning a dual identity very much of its own. Started by Back To Basics resident Tristan Da Cunha, Steve Hawkins and Iain French (Frenchy) as a drinking hole that doubled up as a record store, it's since grown into The Garage (the club), Waxwerks (the store) and way beyond the expectation of its makers, into one of the city's best loved spots for decent dance music.

“The idea was to have a bar with a boutique-style selection of finely chosen vinyl on the walls in a space that could be multifunctional and perform as a shop and a space where we could hang out,” says Tristan. “As it panned out, Steve had this awesome garage space under one of his other businesses OK Karaoke. He threw a couple of parties in the space with Lowbrow and they really worked.”

Realising that the venue had enough space to function as a full-blown club was the cherry on top. “Good vision, good timing and good fortune all played a massive part in how well it took off,” adds Tristan. Indeed. Tucked off in a discreet location in the financial district of Leeds, the look and feel of The Garage is in direct contrast to the chic wallpaper and bespoke artwork (by Victoria Topping) of the adjoining Waxwerks shop.

Buried down in the depths of a dusty, bare-brick basement space, it's a raw aesthetic to match the underground soundtrack supplied by sequential nights — new and old — including Back To Basics, which celebrated its 21st birthday at the club in November, alongside Hush House, SetOneTwenty, BeatStreet, Disco Til I Die and Throwing Shapes.

Besides its music policy, while watertight, cataloguing only the crème of the crop of house and techno talent, one distinctive design feature in particular has helped The Garage stand out. Gerd, Nicolas, Steffi, Linkwood, Jef K, Laura Jones, Matt Tolfrey, Chez Damier, Maurice Faulton and Luke Solomon (among others) have all manned a set-up stored within a console/DJ booth fashioned out of the carriage and bonnet of a vintage red Chevy. Powered by a meaty Thunder Ridge soundsystem, it has no trouble driving the dancefloor. Never mind The Car Wash: The Garage is the new sound of the city. This time in Leeds!


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