Although on the wane these days, the working man’s club was once a thriving institution in every northern English town and city. With cheap beer and live entertainment, these low-rent boozers filled with notoriously hard-faced patrons were the launchpad for many a glittering entertainment career. Les Dawson and Gary Barlow are a couple of stars who got their start performing for the bitter-swilling crowds within the walls of a working man’s club – walls usually lined with pleather banquettes and coated with nicotine.
Working men’s clubs were a lot of things, but upmarket they were not. In fact, their naff décor became part of their charm, and MEATLiquor‘s latest outpost in Leeds, which looks to the working man’s club for its design cues, riffs very successfully on the “so bad it’s good” idea. Shed oversaw the design of the London meat giant’s first northern outpost, using outdated furniture and fittings totally at odds with the sleek glass façade of the Leeds Trinity shopping centre in which the restaurant occupies two floors. Hidden behind the timber-panelled exterior, the work of another regular MEATLiquor collaborator, ilovedust, lights up the place. An illuminated 80 sqm installation takes old-fashioned polystyrene ceiling squares and replaces them with opal acrylic ones featuring 1970s Northern Soul club photos and gig posters. Thanks to the smoking ban which did for many of the real working men’s clubs, the nicotine stains that coat the interior here are achieved with a much more hygienic paint wash.