Published on November 5th, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour


City set for duck flight

You can tell when an idea is a good one when you’ve laughed yourself silly at it over a late-night drink and you’re still happy with it in the morning – perhaps even happier. It’s what happened when partners Jan Colman and Karl Parkin floated the notion of calling their fledgling business The Wobbly Duck.

Now with The Old Fox in Felling, Gateshead, under that umbrella title plus Beer Street in Newcastle’s Forth Street arches (run jointly by Karl and Pete Allen and dubbed The Wobbly Duckling), it’s time to bring the name to a pub proper.

Jan and Karl have received planning permission for The Wobbly Duck in a basement in Old Eldon Square in Newcastle with an expected opening date around the new year. The premises is Grade II-listed and comes with original features such as a huge cast-iron range complete with two fireplaces and an oven.

“We’ve got planning permission for change of use – it used to be a restaurant – and all we need now is the licence,” says Karl. “Planning took a bit longer because we had marked the existing kitchen area ‘cellar’ and they thought we wanted to dig down under the floor so everything was about to go to a different department.”

Jan is determined to make full use of the internal space and also capitalise on the “garden” area in front of the high and handsome John Dobson-designed terrace.

She says: “We don’t know if the range can be restored but we’ll make a feature of it somehow. The basement has two rooms and we also have the ‘garden’ area where we can put tables outside. We’re also hoping to be able to use some of the pavement which would be ideal in good weather.”

Both believe that a small pub in that location would make a useful stopping off point for people having a drink at the Haymarket end of town – say The Hotspur, Crow’s Nest or Mean Eyed Cat – before going on to Grey Street and the other end (and vice-versa).

Karl says: “I think there were five other candidates looking at the property but the council went with our suggestion as they were looking for something slightly different from a café or restaurant. It’s a great opportunity as there’s such a lot going on around there.”

Jan also thinks people are particularly comfortable these day in small pubs. “We’re in talks with the designer at the moment but want to have everything else in place before we commission anything.”

Meanwhile, The Old Fox and Beer Street are coming along nicely.

“Beer Street is gathering speed, it’s on the rise and going in the right direction,” says Jan. We’ve been at The Old Fox for three-and-a-half years; it’s doing great and we’re really pleased with things, but it’s still nowhere near its full potential.”

The pub cellar is kitted out with a small brewery where family member James Lombard brews his Vertigo Giraffe beers on an occasional basis. 

Karl says: “We have five cask ales with a mix of local and national beers. They all change regularly. People are apt to try different beers now although we can’t be as quirky as they can be in town.”

Regular events keep the place buzzing with a traditional weekly quiz, live bands at the weekends, busker evenings and even story-telling sessions which have raised far more interest that expected.

“They’re all well supported and we’re getting a different crowd all the time. It’s also encouraging that musicians use the pub when they’re not playing. It’s become a bit of a music hub by accident.”

Jan takes great pride in The Old Fox’s traditional values and the clientele it attracts.

“Sometimes you stand behind the bar, particularly when there’s music on and look at the level of talent that’s here,” she says. “It’s phenomenal.”

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Alastair Gilmour

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