Published on September 6, 2016 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Big pubs, little pubs and a brewery tap
We take a look at how imagination, bravery and new pairs of eyes can transform our pubs
THE DOG & RABBIT, WHITLEY BAY
A former ladies dress shop now has so many customers that they’ve started queuing outside to get served. It’s not that Gabrielle in Whitley Bay has suddenly morphed into a centre of must-have fashion and haute-couture; the premises is now a micropub – and a micropub that’s shortly to have a microbrewery installed.
It’s quite simply the way of the world. Small high-street businesses are failing – and small high-street businesses are flying. It’s a paradox that’s not about location; it’s about the excitement that’s on offer.
Gabrielle is now The Dog & Rabbit, a tiny pub that promotes head-scratching at the Campaign For Real Ale’s assertion that 21 pubs in the UK are closing every week. The Dog & Rabbit is – to use common parlance – “jumping”.
“Things are going really well,” says former homebrewer Tony Patton who has run the business alongside his wife Julie for little more than six weeks. “Daytimes are good and Fridays and Saturdays are incredibly busy.
“It’s been very well received locally and we’ve actually got a lot of regulars now – even after such a short time. People are saying it’s what Whitley Bay needs.”
The Dog & Rabbit’s surroundings are rich, deep red; pew-style seating was built to order by a local charity; the mahogany counter was rescued from a hotel in Cumbria with the back bar specially constructed to blend in. It all works perfectly.
Four ale handpulls stand to attention – all featuring local brews from the likes of Box Social, Cullercoats, Acton Ales, Tyne Bank, Anarchy, Three Kings and the new Flash House Brewery. It’s a dog-friendly bar with doggy beer and doggy treats served with a presentation poop bag to take them home in.
“It’s got a proper community feel to it already,” says Tony. “One lady painted a small picture of a dog and rabbit specially for the pub. How lovely is that?”
The microbrewery could be up and running during September – the emphasis has been getting the pub operating first, so it’s anyone’s guess what the weekend queues will be like then.
Tony gave up his job with North Tyneside Council to follow his dream. Following dreams is always a risk, so the question about making the right decision might not be appropriate after only a handful of weeks into a new career.
The answer comes quick as a flash: “Totally, definitely, no regrets.”
WYLAM BREWERY, PALACE OF ARTS, EXHIBITION PARK, NEWCASTLE
Wylam Brewery has been successful in its application to Newcastle City Council to open its brewery tap on Sundays between 10am and midnight. Neither Northumbria Police or Environmental Health objected to the proposal.
Wylam Brewery opened at the former Palace of Arts in Exhibition Park in May of this year. It was a bold and imaginative move, but one that was initially met with a barrage of criticism from local groups. Some residents in nearby Jesmond submitted objections to the Sunday proposal, the thrust of them being concerns over the safety of customers walking home at nights and increased traffic build-up.
On the other hand, the Council received letters of support from the city’s Lord Mayor, the Tyneside Society of Model and Experimental Engineers – who operate close by – and the people who live nearby in the house in the park.
“The most-often asked question we get here is ‘are you open on a Sunday?’”, said Wylam Brewery communications and sales director Dave Stone. “For a lot of people it’s their only chance to have a day out with the family and a leisurely stroll through the park – and we’re offering a mighty Sunday roast. It’s the quintessentially British thing to do on a Sunday. We’re family-friendly and dog-friendly.
“Since opening (in May) we have had zero complaints regarding noise or anti-social behaviour. The reason we didn’t apply for Sunday trading in the first place was solely the fact that during our original consultation, the Model and Experimental Engineers expressed concerns that it might affect them adversely.
“However, since witnessing the clientele we attract to the brewery, our strict operating policy regarding vehicular access, and our opening on the May Bank Holiday Sunday – which they said was the best event they’ve ever held – they wouldn’t have objected to the original application had they known how beneficial it would be to themselves and to the park as a whole.”
Dave Stone also confirmed the success of the business since its move from Heddon-on-the-Wall in Northumberland. He said the brewery tap is “going great” and the brewery itself is working full-out, with its extended brew-length allowing brewers more opportunities to produce new beers. And, as expected, it’s becoming something of a tourist attraction with visitors from Chicago, Copenhagen and Japan in the last three months. “We’re on their beer to-do list, which is great.”
HEAD OF STEAM, NEWCASTLE
The latest Head of Steam pub has opened on Newcastle’s vibrant Quayside, bringing the group’s total to ten – and counting. The venue, located on the former site of The Eye On The Tyne on Broad Chare, has been developed by Hartlepool-based Camerons and represents a significant acquisition in the brewer’s rapidly-expanding pub estate.
The Head of Steam, which is renowned for its promotion of great beers in a relaxed atmosphere, has 16 keg lines with a selection of rotating craft beers from UK and world brewers, plus eight cask ale lines that feature beers and cider from around the region and beyond, and a selection of premium cocktails, spirits and soft drinks. The pub’s offer seems to go on forever with several serving stations and varying floor levels which add to the feeling of being in different parts of the same place. A dedicated beer tasting room can be used for meetings, events and parties.
Camerons’ food development chef Kieran Burke has created a new food concept which includes a brunch menu as well as a great range of British pub classics with a focus on fresh, local ingredients with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
Chris Soley, Camerons’ chief executive, said: “The location is perfect and we are really excited to have a venue in an area that is now associated with craft and cask beers.”
THE BORDER MINSTREL, HIGH GOSFORTH PARK, NEWCASTLE
The Border Minstrel has been a favourite of race-goers for as long as horses have galloped around the neighbouring track. Well… since 1927 when the 1764-vintage Gosforth House was renamed in honour of that year’s Northumberland Plate winner, Border Minstrel.
Today, the pub’s heritage is celebrated through a contemporary gastro pub environment headed by new manager Michael Downey who has taken a good long look at the food and drink offer. It’s open seven days a week – not only race-days – presenting locally-sourced produce and a range of traditional ales, craft beer and specially selected wines and spirits.
Design-wise, it’s particularly stylish, but manages to hang on to tradition (there’s even a pool table at the rear). The pub leans heavily on food, but nobody could argue with a bar-top proudly displaying Wylam 001 Simcoe, Wylam Galatia, Three Kings Billy Mill and Errant Dillon – all of them produced in the region.
The Border Minstrel is open from 10am for breakfast while a couple of the “big plates” on the main menu caught our eye – brisket beef hash with crispy hen’s egg, and Northumbrian sausages, mash and rosemary gravy. It’s a bit of a winner.
THE VICTORY, SOUTH GOSFORTH
There must be something about family bonding that saw two sisters both getting jobs in a Newcastle Quayside restaurant while still at school, then travelling together through Australia and Canada for a couple of years, and eventually taking over The Victory in South Gosforth, Newcastle. Together. Successfully.
Vicky and Rachel Blenkinsop have been running the celebrated pub for just over two months and couldn’t be happier with the way things are going.
“We’ve brought a lot of ideas with us from our travels,” says Vicky. “We’ve also got chef Sean Creighton here who we worked with on the Quayside and who has brought some totally new ideas with him from his days there and in Tynemouth.”
The menu is mesmerising – kale chicken Caesar, confit of belly pork, fluffy American pancakes, and a magnificent meat board for sharing.
A fine selection of ales on the bar shows that the pair have picked up a bit of beer knowledge along the way – Jennings Cumberland Ale, Deuchars IPA, Theakston Old Peculier (“we’ve just got that one in”), and Thwaites Wainwright. The Deuchars sparkles enough for Vicky to comment proudly on her and Rachel’s insistence on quality and perfection.
“We’re fanatical about cleanliness,” she says.
And it shows from bar-top to Gents. A victory for all of us, it seems.
THE GREY HORSE, EAST BOLDON, SOUTH TYNESIDE
Recently given a bit of a makeover, The Grey Horse is nevertheless the same fine pub it’s always been. The mock-Tudor exterior is magnificent and simply invites passers-by to come on in. The huge fireplaces are still in situ – nobody could get rid of them – and there’s the addition of some white tiling around the kitchen serving area and a fair coating of Farrow & Ball colouring.
And it’s good to see the wallpaper printed with book spines (which actually looked very convincing) has been stripped off to be replaced by – the real thing.
On the bar it’s BrewDog Punk IPA, Mordue Five Bridges, Dark Horse Born In The Borders, Tyne Bank Dark Brown Ale and Wychwood Hobgoblin which is as impressive a line-up as you’d want to accompany a menu that includes roast lamb shank, chicken primavera, or British beef, Rioja and chorizo slow-cooked pie.
The pub has a quiet confidence to it; it’s well laid-out for diners and drinkers with a small public bar area tucked away for televised sport and – no doubt – animated banter. And on a sunny lunchtime, a row of hefty benches on the pavement is perfect for sitting watching East Boldon go by.
Put your money on The Grey Horse.