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Published on December 6th, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour

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The pub in all its glory

They’re big, they’re small, they’re new, they’re well established – let’s celebrate the pub, writes Alastair Gilmour.

FRONT STREET TAP HOUSE, MONKSEATON

Next door to Front Street Tap House in Monkseaton, Tyne & Wear – a former florists – is a betting shop. A fish-and-chip shop is a few doors down, a Chinese takeaway is round the corner, the local Metro station is barely 100 metres away and you can call into a newsagent on the way to the pub. It’s about location, isn’t it? 

James Benson opened the micropub in December 2018 and despite his assertion that most new businesses fail within 18 months, he and the pub are still here. 

“It’s all really good,” says James. “We’ve done a lot to the place since.”

New timber laminate flooring throughout has replace red-painted concrete and new tables and chairs have been installed, lending the place has a more “lived in” feel.

“We’ve even started a new wall of pumpclips so it’s all filling up nicely,” he says. “Our tap takeovers have been really successful with beers you don’t normally find on the coast from the likes of Ridgeside in Leeds, Turning Point from North Yorkshire, ShinDigger from Manchester, and some of the more unusual ones from S43 in County Durham. They all bring in new custom as well.

“I’ve taken on a full-time member of staff who has worked here since last April and a girl who does mainly weekends. I’ve even started paying investors back – family who helped out originally. Looking back over the year it’s been good and we’re really getting established in the area.”

James has continued his intention of regularly changing the framed movie and music posters on the walls and recently auctioned some off for Children In Need.

He says: “Cullercoats Shuggy Boat Blonde is pretty much the house beer on cask and keg and we have regulars from Two By Two and Almasty. We’ve started doing private functions – the travel agent down the road is hosting an evening in January where people can get to know what’s best in cruises, etc.”

With gins and rums also a speciality, the idea seems to be staying in Front (Street).

Front Street Tap House, Monkseaton, Tyne & Wear NE25 8AQ.

THE YARD, BLAYDON

The region’s newest micropub sits along a corridor and downstairs from a hairdressers, a gentlemen’s barber and a physiotherapist. The Yard, which opens mid-December on Blaydon’s Shibdon Road, is also handy for public transport – bus and rail – and promises local ales in a conversion that uses natural materials to promote a feeling of cosiness and warmth.

“We’ve done absolutely everything ourselves,” says Alison Cappen, who is running the pub with her husband Stephen. “Everything we’re using is second-hand and upcycled. We’ve been at it for months – it was a bank canvas – after looking all over the place for premises from Hexham to as far up the coast as Seahouses.”

A snug and bar area are complemented by a rear pergola which is double-glazed with a log burner. Beyond that is a landscaped garden area with full disabled access for the whole pub. Back inside, a fireplace has been brought back into use, with pew-style seating and a standing area created. A fully-fitted kitchen will create pizzas and eventually the pub’s signature dish, Yorkie Wraps. It’s an ambitious undertaking.

Alison says: “Our beers are from Hadrian Border who helped us set up the bar plus Box Social, Firebrick, Wylam and Great North Eastern Brew Co – all local and none of them very far away from here. We’ll also serve ‘proper’ coffee from Pumphreys – they’re local too. 

On the keg lines are George Ridley, a specially badged beer brewed from Camerons (Ridley wrote The Blaydon Races) plus Heinken lager, Beavertown Neck Oil and Lagunitas DayTime.

Alison has a very good relationship with the Changing Lives charity at Westerhope in Newcastle where she has sourced much of the furniture and fittings – including a set of curtains donated by a Malmaison hotel. 

“Changing Lives help put people back on track in all kinds of ways,” she says. “We’re also involved with the local churches in Blaydon and have sponsored the Christmas tree. We want to do as much as we can for the community.”

The first things customers see are a couple of large, graffiti-style paintings on the corridor and staircase. They point the way to something unusual. Blaydon is hip.

The Yard, Shibdon Road, Blaydon, Tyne & Wear NE21 5AE.

TIPSY TOAD, HEATON, NEWCASTLE

Darren and Paula Williams opened The Tipsy Toad micropub in November and since then it’s been “going great”. The couple also run The Pele in Corbridge, the three-storey ancient tower now deeply entrenched as a pub. And already there’s something of a circuit developing in Heaton, the Newcastle suburb.

“We’ve started seeing the locals settling in which is a good thing,” says Darren. “We’re near The Chillingham and Heaton Tap and we’re getting people coming from The Northumberland Hussar which is quite a walk away.”

The Tipsy Toad’s premises previously served bustling Heaton Road as a takeaway and the original aim was to offer homemade pie and peas, with a cheese board and pickles as back-up.

“But really it’s a drinking pub,” says Darren.

There’s no cellar as such but a rack of casks clad in cooling jackets does the job – beers are gravity poured from an ever-revolving range of beers from the likes of Firebrick and Tyne Bank breweries, but there’s a line-up of craft keg beers as well, plus a fridge full of bottles and cans behind the bar.

“Different people like their beer in different ways,” says Darren.

Then there’s more than enough of a selection of gins, rums and whiskies sitting on a back bar cleverly constructed out of wooden crates to give the appearance of an altar.

The working area behind the bar is fairly large for a small pub but Darren says he learned from The Pele’s tight squeeze and decided there would be some elbow room in the new place. 

“As for what to call the pub, we had thought about a lot of names and Paula came up with Tipsy Toad and it just stuck.”

The range of furniture is possibly the widest in any pub in the region – from tables topped with fairground images, to low Ottoman-style stools, leather bar chairs and high-backed driftwood pieces in another small room at the rear appearing like something out of Game of Thrones. It all hangs together nicely, though. 

Darren Williams certainly has an eye for a bargain – and how to create some out of nothing.

Tipsy Toad, 76 Heaton Road, Newcastle NE6 5HL (07565 801 463). 

BIRD IN BUSH, ELSDON, NORTHUMBERLAND

A year after fully reopening, the Bird In Bush has appointed a new management team. Owners Katie Bland and Steve Shaw are taking a step back from front-of-house duties to concentrate on other things.

Experienced operator Dale Messenger has been appointed general manager.

“I’m doing a bit of cheffing as well as running the pub,” he says. “We’ve got someone training (in the kitchen) at the moment, so we’re looking to the future.

Dale held a similar management position at Le Petite Chateau in Otterburn (formerly the Percy Arms Hotel) a weddings and special functions venue.

He says: “I’m still getting my feet under the table. It’s quite a different role coming from a multi-million pound weddings venue and I’m here to breathe a bit of life into the pub. We’ll start by concentrating on the local trade then introduce a few functions and community events such as a quiz night and charitable occasions to bring people back in and be part of the community. We’re going back to basics.”

The Bird In Bush is a Grade II-listed building sitting within the Northumberland National Park that can boast mid-1700s origins in the days when drovers’ roads crisscrossed the rugged, rolling landscape. 

Dale says: “We’ve still got First & Last Brewery beers on the bar – three and four at a time; a couple of pale and a couple of dark ones.”

He worked previously at As You Like It in Jesmond, Newcastle, so he knows what people want from a pub and how that particular pub can deliver what it promises.

He says: “My job is to identify the parts of the business we need to capitalise on. Is the signage right, do people know where we are, are we marketing in the right places? It’s so difficult these days with social media, you need to know who your customers are.”

The Bird In Bush and similarly named pubs such as Bird In Hand have been popular descriptors since the 17th Century, derived from the saying, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. 

As an addition to the region’s rich pub culture, this Bird In Bush is sure to fly high. Worth two of a lot of others, some might say.

Bird In Bush, Elsdon, Northumberland NE19 1AA (01830 520804).

THE GREY HORSE, CONSETT

Consett in County Durham was famed worldwide for its steel which once formed the backbone of the country’s construction work – notably Blackpool Tower and Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet. Folks at the Grey Horse and elsewhere in the town have never forgotten their history and heritage which has been celebrated with new signage at the pub created by Bob Olley, the North East artist renowned for his mining subjects and humorous drawings, paintings and sculptures of everyday life.

But it has caused some controversy, as Grey Horse manager David Wilkinson says: “Bob Olley understands how important identity is to a street, town or region, and therefore we felt he would appreciate how important a sign is to a pub. Initially there was a lot of criticism, and many (including us) felt it was too modern for the pub.

“But everyone has warmed to it. Once you realise that the horse depicted is made of steel with the steel works in the background you realise that it could only work at our Grey Horse. What we got from Bob was something truly personal and unique.

“It also ties in nicely with the Consett Ale Works branding. The Grey Horse is Consett Ale Works, and Consett Ale Works is the Grey Horse.

“My wife and I are from the Bishop Auckland area, but we’ve learned very quickly how proud the locals are of ‘The Works’. People talk fondly of the steel works, and the fact that written on some of girders produced there is, ‘You can see Consett from the top of Blackpool Tower’. It matters to people. “If we can keep the memory alive through the brand and the pictures in the pub, its a little nod to history, especially given how many pubs are being ‘modernised’ to fit a corporate profile.”

Earlier this year The Grey Horse was elected the Campaign For Real Ale (Camra) North East Pub of the Year, so this must have been a real thrill for customers, staff – and David Wilkinson in particular. Yes and no.

“My wife Sandra was devastated,” he says. “She wanted second place so there would be no pressure and we could all smile and concentrate on winning next year. After all, we have only been here a year.

“I was a lot happier. To achieve this in a year in the pub is something that shocked us, but something we’re very proud of. Our mantra in all the pubs we’ve run has always been, ‘We do what we do to create the pub that we would want to drink in’.

“A lot of credit must go to (pub owner) Jeff Hind for his trust in our ability to deliver a shared vision of the Grey Horse, but also to Consett Ale Works which we are proud to share an identity with.”

The Grey Horse, Sherburn Terrace, Consett DH8 6NE (01207 502585).

SOUTH CAUSEY BREWERY & DISTILLERY, STANLEY

One of the country’s leading weddings and functions venues installed a small brewery and even smaller gin distillery during 2019. Producing beer at the luxurious South Causey Inn is under the careful eye of highly experienced brewer John Taylor – and he has now persuaded its owners to create a small pub inside the brewhouse.

“We’ve started opening the brewery tap from four in the afternoon until seven o’clock,” says John. “It’s five days at the moment plus 12 till five on a Saturday and Sunday. I’ve changed my shifts to accommodate that because I know it’ll work – and it’s got a lovely atmosphere. We only sell here what we make here, so it’s simply beer and gin.”

Phil and Susan Moiser, who own South Causey Inn and have developed it over ten years from an equestrian centre, are also pleased with the development.

“We love it, it’s really good, really pretty,” says Phil. “Were looking to the spring and summer when we can hopefully open the doors out wide.”

John Taylor, a restless soul, is booked on a three-day start-up distilling course at Brewlab in Sunderland to get to grips with the basics and to find out how distilling and brewing are viewed differently by Customs & Excise.

He says: “Our monthly Brew Club is going well and we’ve already had Brewlab here doing a presentation on yeast which was absolutely fascinating. They’re back in February with a talk on distilling then in March it’s traditional beers of the North East with a look at Vaux Brewery.”

South Causey Inn offers brewing days as part of wedding packages where the groom – or bride for that matter – gets the opportunity to brew a favourite beer for their special day. 

“We’ve got our new Christmas ale coming out which is likened to Terry’s All Gold with plenty of orange in it, plus a craft keg lager which I’m excited about,” says John.

Current South Causey beers are Blonde (4.4% abv), IPA (4.4% abv), Dark Brown Ale (4.0% abv) and XB (5.0% abv) with a selection of home-produced gins which will increase in production during 2020 when an attractive copper still will come on stream.

No holding your horses here.

South Causey Inn, Stanley, County Durham DH9 0LS (southcausey.co.uk)

GUNNER TAVERN, NEWCASTLE

The area around Newcastle Central Station – Neville Street and its offshoots – has turned into the city’s most diverse cask ale and craft keg circuits. That’s the opinion of not only discerning drinkers and diners but also Janine Latchford, who manages the Gunner Tavern.

The area is now an enviable beer and food adventure with the Town Wall pub and The Forth around the corner; Victoria Comet a couple of doors along, then Central Oven & Shaker, Newcastle Tap and Head of Steam.

Janine previously managed Lady Grey’s on Shakespeare Street in the city – a bustling bar with high expectations and few quiet moments, so she is well placed to run a complex operation like the Gunner Tavern.

She says: “We didn’t originally aimed at one type of customer but wanted to appeal to craft beer drinkers aged from about twenty to forty. But we’ve also been getting a really wide range of customers since we opened in July such as people attending Arena gigs – we had our highest weekend take when Liam Gallagher was on – plus the 02 Academy, Central Station passengers, match day supporters and loads of students; all ages really. 

“We get on well with the other pubs, particularly the Town Wall. We share a lot and customers love it. We’re getting busier all the time and Sundays are just getting better and better. We’re dong a collaboration with 71 Brewing, then hosting a Women In Beer event and brewing a beer of our own.”

Until mid-2019 the Gunner Tavern was Gotham Town but its delightful woodwork was carefully stripped of its black paint by hand, paint stripper and wire wool. Exposed brickwork, tiling and huge people-watcher windows which open up in summer are enviable features.

“We have plans to expend on the food and install a small sandwich shop and deli in the new year,” says Janine. But we still want to be a wet-led pub. It’s Gunner be great.

The Gunner Tavern, Newcastle NE1 5DF (0191 731 7087)

MR TIGHE’S, BEBSIDE, BLYTH

Cheers reader, beer lover and musician Brian Keegan has composed a love letter to a micropub near Blyth in Northumberland which has stolen his heart.

He writes: “There is a gem of a little craft ale bar in Bebside called Mr Tighe’s, tucked away between Porkies and The Fat Butcher on Front Street. Owner Claire Dalgarno-Todd opens this unique little place dedicated to music on Thursdays to Sundays. There is live music every Saturday night and Friday nights while Sunday afternoons are given over to buskers where everyone is encouraged to get up and play if they can tear themselves off the sofa in front of the wood burner.

“Claire has six keg lines featuring Anarchy, Wylam, Chasing Everest and others. James Denton and I started going to Sunday buskers earlier this year and because of Claire’s and her customers’ encouragement we started a band – 13 Miles North*. After a couple of support slots at Mr Tighe’s, 13 Miles North have our own gig on December 7. To celebrate how much they love the bar and playing at buskers we wrote a cheesy rock song called Sunday Afternoon Rockstar. 

“We’re very good friends with Zack from Chasing Everest, who also helps at Mr Tighe’s. A few weeks ago after a few drinks in the bar – which we know is where all great ideas originate – we asked Zack if he would help us brew a beer. 

“Every Chasing Everest beer is named after a song, so we thought why not Sunday Afternoon Rockstar? Thankfully he was up for the idea and a few weeks ago he started brewing. Sunday Afternoon Rockstar is a 5.0% abv Mosaic Pale brewed with Cascade and Citra hops and is available at Mr Tighe/s from December 7. 

“Why not get yourself along, try the beer, enjoy the atmosphere, and don’t forget to bring your guitar or whatever you play.”

Mr Tighe’s, Bebside, Blyth NE24 4HW

*Brian Keegan is from Gateshead, 13 miles south of Bebside…


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Alastair Gilmour



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