Published on December 8th, 2015 | by Alastair Gilmour


Inn with the new

We get a bit frustrated with the constant moaning about pubs failing, only to reopen as a Tesco Express or retirement home. 

This month the mantra is “29 pubs a week are closing”, next week it’ll be another figure, and while it’s a real worry, let’s look at the positives and what some people are doing to keep our pubs alive and kicking.

Pleased To Meet You on Newcastle’s High Bridge was a fantastic addition to the city’s craft beer and spirits sector. It’s a pub that makes you feel good about yourself.

Business has been so successful that expansion into next-door premises, downstairs and upstairs was inevitable. The new extension is high quality in every sense. Parent group Ladhar Leisure has a reputation for top-notch development with its pubs winning design awards and plaudits for its beer, food and cocktails.

“We’re focusing on what we do best,” says manager Tom Proud. “Quality in everything from craft beers to the cocktail bar, a menu overseen by David Kennedy, and even a new outside area called The Allotment complete with potting sheds.”

Huge changes include burrowing out the downstairs area, moving the kitchen upstairs and developing sideways along High Bridge. Ladhar Leisure has been transforming the city’s leisure scene with stylishly appropriate venues such as Lady Greys, Hop & Cleaver and Red House. Plans to transform White Hart Yard – due to reach fruition during 2016 – will raise the profile of great beer and terrific food even higher. It’s an exciting prospect.

HeartNorthThe long-closed Heart of All England pub in Hexham has undergone a £100,000 transformation and a name change.

The stylish Heart of Northumberland has brought something different to the town after experienced pub management team Jo and Alan Phillipson fulfilled a long-held ambition by purchasing the freehold earlier this year – then set about stripping the place out and rebuilding the fabric and a reputation.

The pub appears more condensed that it was in its previous life but a new lounge and dining area take up the back of the building (sadly not obvious on a quick lunchtime visit).

Large dining-style tables dominate the front room, though there is upholstered seating in the short leg of its L-shape and it has quickly become a popular and handy meeting place – and an asset to Hexham. Exposed brick and timber and a large fireplace bring tradition to the fore while wallpaper depicting birds of paradise provides curiosity value – a touch of fun and a talking point.

An extremely impressive bar line-up features Allendale Summit (4.8% abv), West Hefweisen (4.0% abv), Hadrian Border Secret Kingdom (4.3% abv), Timothy Taylor Landlord (4.3% abv), Sierra Nevada IPA (5.6% abv) and Wylam Gold Tankard (4.0% abv).

Factor in Stuart Donaldson, formerly of Newcastle‘s Hotel du Vin, Malmaison and Langley Castle, who heads up the kitchen, it adds up to one serious venture.

EyeTyneHartlepool-based Camerons Brewery has acquired yet another Newcastle outlet, following its takeover of the Head of Steam group of pubs two years ago. A deal for the Eye On The Tyne includes the purchase of the lease from Suffolk-based Greene King, plus the transfer of current staff which protects all jobs at the Newcastle Quayside site.

Camerons Brewery director and general manager Chris Soley said: “We know what an important social hub the Quayside has always been for Newcastle and we have been chasing an outlet there for some time. There are some really good operators on the Quayside, and we can run the Eye on the Tyne to further enhance the consumer experience in the area. We inherit a really good team of people and are going to run the pub exactly as it is until we really understand what our customers want.

“This latest acquisition is one of a number we’re planning over the coming months as part of our five-year plan, which involves growing the pub estate as well as our beer brands.”

RedKiteThe Red Kite at Winlaton Mill, Tyne & Wear, is open following a £275,000 refurbishment and the creation of 20 jobs. The pub is the Leamside Ale Company’s fifth pub in the North East and owner Daryl Frankland says he is determined to bring the group’s award winning standards to the tired local to transform it into an asset for the community.

“The Red Kite is unrecognisable and much more comfortable and cosy,” says Daryl Frankland, whose other pubs include the multi award-winng Kings Arms in Sunderland, The Courtyard at Washington Arts Centre, the Three Horseshoes at Leamside, Durham (which has its own microbrewery) and the Royal George at Old Shotton Village, Durham.

Food is a major feature at the Red Kite with the emphasis on providing restaurant-quality menus at affordable pub prices – and, of course, a choice of six cask ales.

Daryl says: “As at our other pubs, we’ll make all our meals using fresh, locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. And, with the exception of our bread and ice-cream, everything from the chips to the sauces is made from scratch on the premises.”

The Red Kite – once upon a time The Golden Lion – is now an attractive feature on the A694 and a welcoming spot for ramblers on the Derwent Walk. Dogs receive a warm welcome too. It is part of a £3.7m investment by Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars in Newcastle and the surrounding area this year.

Chris Jowsey, trading director at Star Pubs & Bars, says: “The Leamside Ale Company has been delivering great standards, great food and great service to North East pub goers for many years and we’re delighted that they are joining us in reviving the fortunes of the Red Kite.”

TwiceBrewedTwice Brewed Inn on the B6318 Military Road that connects Newcastle and Carlisle has been undergoing refurbishment. Work on the pub near Bardon Mill in Northumberland will have just been completed – ground floor at least – by the time Cheers hits the streets. The new regime is managed by Andy and Sue Smith who also run the Red Lion in Newbrough. Andy was also head chef at Langley Castle, so he’s a man who knows his way around a menu. In fact, that’s where some of the differences will be noticed first – apart from the fact that the old bar and lounge have been transformed into one and the counter itself has been slightly relocated. Real ales continue to pour with an emphasis on localness, including – a little bird tells us – regular representation from Allendale Brewery.

Twice Brewed Inn, set amongst some of the most breathtaking scenery in England and standing in the shadows of Steel Rigg – without doubt one of the most dramatic parts of Hadrian’s Wall – is extremely popular with walkers and visitors there and the other Roman sites at Vindolanda, Housesteads and The Roman Army Museum.

The next move is to convert the current 16 rooms into 18 – all en-suite – to cater for weary hikers. Hopefully they’ll be hungry and thirsty too.

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Alastair Gilmour

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