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Published on December 4, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour

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Right on track

What happens when great pubs and great beer meet in the middle, asks Alastair Gilmour

It’s not easy to find Draught Bass these days. In a world of brewery collaborations and diverse ingredients, it has somehow slipped under the radar. But seek and ye shall find – and thankfully, a pint of Bass at the Railway Hotel in Birtley, Gateshead, is a reminder of what great English Pale Ale can aspire to.

It’s on the bar of the Durham Road pub along with Daleside Bitter, brewed in Harrogate along with other North Yorkshire classics such as Monkey Wrench, Ripon Jewel and Old Legover (which has somehow managed to escape the political correctness police for decades).

It’s appropriate that the Railway Hotel serves handpulled Bass – both are revelations; slips of mind that never deserved to fade in the first place.

The pub’s solid brown façade of Ionic pillars and picture windows is an imposing sight. Inside, it’s absolutely sparkling, from its deep-buttoned upholstered seating that ranges in colour from forest green to rich red, to the impressive island counter and glorious gantry that separate barroom from lounge and games area more effectively than any partition.

A highly-coloured, domed stained glass skylight depicting the points of the compass catches the eye (orientated correctly, too), as do the tartan carpet at one end and polished timber flooring at the other. It all seems to hang together well.

A dozen or so mirrors adorn the walls with several advertising McEwans, William Younger or Bass Ales. Also dotted around are framed adverts showing old Birtley retailers from the days when you could buy a three-piece suite for less than £10 (that’s suite, not suit), plus other town images and railway paraphernalia. At the rear, a delightfully-appointed beer garden is a stone-walled haven. Joining our Bass is a bit of juke-box reggae which invariably lightens up the soul: “Don’t worry ’bout a ’ting, cos every little ’ting gonna be alright”. Together they’re more than “alright”.

Manager Karen Timney (who apparently knows everybody in Birtley) reports that the Railway’s trade is building nicely. Owner John Brearley had invited tenants to run the pub but realised that a managed house with a well-regarded local character in charge was the way forward.

“Karen loves the place and is very enthusiastic to make it really fly,” says John, who has also taken on another project, the Grade II-listed Swan And Railway Hotel in Wigan. “Like the Railway Hotel, it’s a pub true to its history and culture, at the same time right for the modern age, not a museum piece but a living, thriving pub appealing to a wide customer base – the essence of the word ‘public house’.”


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Alastair Gilmour



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