Published on September 5, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Tyneside’s pub scene is vibrant and shows no sign of slowing down with new initiatives putting us up there with anything, anywhere. Alastair Gilmour reports
Beer lovers in Newcastle city centre have been further spoiled by the opening of the Newcastle Tap on Neville Street. The pub completes a trio of great places to drink and eat within a few paces opposite Central Station, slipping snugly between The Head of Steam and Central Oven & Shaker.
Decidedly and unashamedly American in style – large and functional with design features based in practicality rather than decoration for decoration’s sake – Newcastle Tap features 24 beers (on tap, of course) with sixteen US and European craft keg offerings and eight cask ales, all gravity-fed to stylish taps from an upstairs cellar visible through a huge glass panel.
Food is simple – pizzas in either “classic” form or “tapped creations” freshly made and cooked at a designated station on one end of the long bar.
The pub marks the seventh in the Tapped Brew Co portfolio, a business set up by Derbyshire railway engineering colleagues Jamie Hawksworth and Jonathon Holdsworth which includes venues in London, York, Harrogate Leeds, and the magnificent Sheffield Tap, the former Edwardian first-class dining room on the city’s railway station. The Leeds and Sheffield outlets have their own, custom-built brewhouses, combining traditional English and Czech brewing techniques to procuce beers which are also available to the group’s other pubs.
One whole wall is covered in a mesh of staves from wooden casks, knitted intricately together in a mesmerising pattern that pub designer Simon McIlwraith from Newcastle-based Collective Design admits he had wanted to achieve for a long time.
“I’ve finally got the wall space to do it,” he says.
Further wall coverings display a clever use of timber and paint with a trawler, fishing net and its fishy catch removing any notion of getting too serious about drinking beer. The American theme is underscored by swivelling barstools (and no brass foot rail, but a foot-high long length of plain grey concrete) while up in the rafters, exposed service ducts, trunking and steelwork do their jobs. And you’d expect to see yellow and black stripes on the pillars of a multi-story car park rather than in a slick pub, but it’s a clever way of bringing essential load-bearing structures into play.
The counter surface and table tops are finished in highly desirable West African Aruba wood.
Beers and descriptions are displayed on a railway destination-style illuminated board – Thornbridge Magic Rock, Primator, Bernard and Celtic Marches are numbered like station platforms.
Collectively, it all works beautifully.
THE CHILLINGHAM, NEWCASTLE (pictured top)
Tap takeovers are now commonplace in pubs. They’re a chance for breweries to show off their latest creations, they create excitement in the pub, and drinkers get a chance to try something they perhaps haven’t been able to before.
The trouble is, blink and you’ll miss them – tap takeovers are so popular the beers have generally disappeared within a day or two, or over a holiday weekend.
Anarchy Brew Co’s current initiative at The Chillingham in Heaton, Newcastle, couldn’t be more different. We’re now into the second month of sampling the full range of the Morpeth, Northumberland, company’s beers. And there are a lot of them to taste, from Boot Boys, Sublime Chaos, Blonde Star and Strait Jacket to Anti-Venom and Live Free… Or Die.
The Chillingham’s long-serving general manager Micky Conroy explains the reasoning behind a two-month brewery takeover as opposed to one of two days.
“We’ve found it’s better for our customers and for the brewery to get to know the brand thoroughly,” he says. “We have people come in all the time and ask for the beer we had on a day or two ago and it’s gone. Holding a tap take-over over two months rather than a weekend like most pubs, means we get great support which works well for everybody.”
The Chillingham, owned by the Sir John Fitzgerald group, underwent a refurbishment last November and the large-fronted pub is as sparkling as it’s ever been since it was built in 1882 as the East End Hotel (becoming The Chillingham Hotel in 1907).
“You have to know who your customers are,” says Micky. “We’ve kept one room as a traditional bar with a pool table and juke-box, we’ve got a comedy club and have a function room upstairs fitted out for corporate bookings and training courses. And you’ve got to see my wall of whisky; I love it and am planning to make it even bigger.
“We offer a flight of three different whiskies and stock everything including Glenfiddich Project XX which tastes of summer fruits and candy floss.”
THE NORTH TERRACE, NEWCASTLE
The North Terrace, facing the Town Moor on Claremont Road, Newcastle, had been in the doldrums for too long but its potential was fairly obvious – and that’s what tempted two Heineken employees working in London to take it on.
Elliott Fulton and Keir Carnie, trading as Locked Inns, have now thrown the pub’s doors open following a significant investment by Star Pubs & Bars, Heineken UK’s leased pubs business. “Thrown open” quite literally as the main front door had been blocked up for as long as anybody could remember while previous ownerships preferred to use a side door.
Physically, the place is recognisable, apart from the tasteful décor that Elliott and Keir insisted on a hands-on approach at every stage, fearing that a pub group “clone” might be in the designers’ minds. They needn’t have worried, and built a good working relationship with each other.
Distressed paintwork, exposed brick and white tiling come together well with an open kitchen – pizzas and salads all the way – showing every ingredient is fresh and seasonal where possible.
“It’s our first experience of running a pub,” says Elliott (originally from Tynemouth). “Nothing prepares you for it. Being a beer rep is easy by comparison.
“We’re really pleased with the way things are going, but we’ll know better when the students and lecturers get back. It’s a great location, next to Newcastle University, the RVI (Royal Victoria Infirmary) and Exhibition Park where Wylam Brewery are doing so well. Newcastle match-days mean the pub’s full all day and we’re expecting to build a midweek following with people staying around here rather than going into town. It’s trial and error to begin with.”
Beers will be on a local revolving programme with Brinkburn Street Byker Blonde and Brown Ale first up followed by the likes of Box Social Brewing’s Gentleman’s Nectar and Tyne Bank Silver Dollar. Lagunitas IPA is on keg alongside Terrace Pale, brewed in Edinburgh on Caledonian Brewery’s pilot plant which is normally reserved for experimentation. Amstel Lager and Red Stripe complete the lager offer while the caffeine buzz is courtesy of Tynemouth Coffee Company.
The former sealed-up front door is open – the North Terrace is starting to fulfill that potential.
THE OLD FOX, GATESHEAD
We all love a good, old-fashioned success story, particularly where pubs are involved. The first anniversary of the reopening of The Old Fox in Felling, Gateshead, passed during the summer and those 12 months couldn’t have been better for partners Karl Parkin and Jan Colman.
The pub has been transformed from standing still into a five hand-pull real ale, craft beer and music venue. Beers include Fyne Ales Jarl, Double Maxim and White Rat from Rat & Ratchet. Refurbishment remains a work in progress – which tends to happen when you do everything yourselves – with yet another phase, such as a new beer garden, surprising even the most regular of regulars.
Karl Parkin says: “We still have a lot more we want to achieve with this pub. We have some amazing customers who deserve the best we can give them.
Live bands play every Saturday night, a full band of buskers turns up every Monday and a quiz answers Thursday entertainment.