Published on May 2, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Back on track
A Hexham pub is responding to some TLC and IPA, writes Alastair Gilmour
If you’re convinced you’re seeing things, a pub with four very interesting ales and two classy ciders on each of its two bars might not be the best place to be. You could be convinced you’ve just seen a model train running around the wall above you then vanish into a tunnel, only to reappear seconds later.
And you’d be right – another sip of your Black Band Porter should reveal it’s a Hornby 00 Gauge Class 142 065 Northern Spirit 2-Car Pacer, similar to the ones that run on the Carlisle to Sunderland line not far from where you’re sitting.
Hallucinations aside, you’re in The Tannery in Gilesgate, Hexham, a pub that’s a lot of fun but is serious about its beer, cider, whisky, gin and food. A list of ales from Swannay, Hardknott, Harviestoun, Thornbridge and Firebrick reads like a 1950s First Division forward-line and is just as strapping. And the model train set is to be armed with a “petcam” which will transmit its journey on to a screen in the bar.
Tannery owner Dave Carr is a man bursting with ideas. He pulled the Brandling Villa in South Gosforth, Newcastle, up by its bootstraps in 2010 by introducing exciting beers, sausage festivals, doggy dinners and dog beer that hit newspaper headlines all the way to Beijing. But you can’t survive long on gimmicks; there has to be some sort of substance behind the blarney – and a consistently great show is what Dave Carr is a master at.
“I’ve got The Tannery pretty much where I want it now,” says Dave. “It’s a different place to run than the Brandling Villa but I’ve now got the best team I’ve ever had here and the pub is pulling its weight.”
He admits that after taking on The Tannery in 2014, it took a long time for his ideas to be accepted.
“I felt I was getting more like an executive pub landlord – and I didn’t like it,” he says. “I’d rather lift up all the rocks. I needed to put a bit of myself back into the pubs.”
Dave is a travelling man, visiting up to 20 cities a year – St Petersburg, Kiev, Barcelona, you name it – in the quest for what makes a great pub. In fact, we’re chatting a couple of hours before his flight to Madrid (“my favourite drinking hole in the world”).
The Tannery and Brandling Villa are hosting a Spanish Festival at the end of this month with food in the shape of Morcilla de Burgos, Jamon Serrano and Salchichon plus beers that include Basqueland Brewing Project Begi Haundi Stout, Alhambra Riserva and Imparable IPA from Barcelona Beer Company.
The Tannery has never looked better in three years under Carr driving; the former lounge has been renamed Frank & Bird’s Old Style Fermented Apple And Pear Juice Parlour; tables aren’t numbered for ease of food service, but inlaid with pictures of locals’ dogs and their names, so you could be sitting at Darcy or Gunner.
“We’ve actually got about 40 on the waiting list,” says Dave.
A Donald Trump dartboard gets constant use and two high tables with Scrabble boards inset like those draughts and chess sets in Belgian bars are simply great fun. Again, fun will only get you so far and the focus at both pubs is on a high level of food and drink.
“We’ve got some fantastic beers here,” says Dave. “I learn off the staff, there’s always something that’ll surprise you.”
The Brandling Villa is bracing itself for a five-a-side football pitch laid in the car park, complete with artificial turf and surrounding hoardings.
“We’re looking for other pubs to compete and maybe have a mini World Cup,” says Dave. “ But I’ve only got the goals so far.”
For a man who admits he has never been so excited in his life about a simple thing like getting a new van, goals are very important.