Late last year, under the streets of Bradford, a remarkable new development opened: Sunbridge Wells.
Sunbridge Wells is a collection of bars, shops and cafés in Bradford city centre. It occupies the basements of several buildings on Upper Millergate and Ivegate, as well as a tunnel under Sunbridge Road. Though the buildings have existed for many years, this is the first time that they have been connected together into one large warren of tunnels, passages and entrances. It opened late last year, just before Christmas, following a protracted renovation and construction period with many delays.
The site is split across three levels; up top, is a Laurel and Hardy theme bar in the art deco style. Below that, a cocktail bar called Alibi, and then in the basement is a large bar, pictured above, called Wallers Brewery. This gets its name from a brewery on the site in the early 20th century, and it is the biggest of the bars that make up Sunbridge Wells.
There’s also a gin bar, a tapas bar, and a 1920s-themed club, in addition to several other small shops and cafés. The basement connects to a tunnel that runs under Sunbridge Road to Aldermanbury, giving access to Bradford’s Centenary Square.
I popped in there for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It was a Saturday afternoon at about 5pm (following a Bradford City home game), and the whole place was packed. Wallers Brewery in particular was packed to the rafters and we ended up having a drink in the Laurel and Hardy bar, which was busy but at least you could swing a hamster in there if you had to.
This isn’t out of the ordinary either. On weekend evenings, there are often queues of people waiting to get into the complex, because it’s so full. It’s been a massive shot in the arm for Bradford’s night-time economy, especially when combined with the bars that have opened on North Parade over the past few years. For a long time, Bradford’s night life was poor; now, there’s a good choice of small bars with their own identity and focus. I’d like to think that Bradfordians, who would normally go to Leeds for a night out, would be more happy to stay in their home city now.
Work to do
I do have a couple of criticisms about Sunbridge Wells. Firstly, it’s a bit of a maze, and there are currently no maps and few signposts. That’s due to change, thankfully, but it’s still easy to get lost. The second is that there’s very limited level access. Indeed, some venues inside are completely out of bounds for wheelchair users. And whilst it caters very much for adults, rather than families, I wouldn’t want to try getting a pushchair around it.
But it’s still a work in progress. Later this year, another bar will open inside, called the Rose and Crown. This will be named after an old pub on the site; its sign was uncovered as part of the renovation works and will be re-hung after it’s restored.
I’ve no doubt that I’ll be back there again soon. It’s fantastic that Bradford has such a unique place; especially one that shows off a side of the city’s history that has been largely unknown until now. And it’s great to see how popular it is, and how the often fickle local populace have embraced it so quickly.