Published on November 9, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour


The straight and narrow

There’s no better experience than visiting a rural enterprise, writes Alastair Gilmour, especially when it’s a pub

It would appear that the vast majority of the population of Rothbury, Northumberland, has been in the nick. Not, we hasten to add, in prison, but the narrow alleyway that connects a residential part of town with the commercial High Street.

So, when Paul Johnson converted a former dress shop into a pub with partner Sarah McWilliams adjacent to the lengthy passageway, there was no other name to call it than The Narrow Nick.

Paul had previously established Gun Dog Brewery, then Acton Brewery, and founded a clutch of micropubs around Northumberland which he no longer owns. The Narrow Nick is his latest venture – with more in the offing – and anybody who ever tasted Gun Dog Golden Cocker would know that someone who could brew a beer of such exquisiteness would know how to present another brewery’s beer on the bar of his own pub.

The Narrow Nick majors on solid, traditional, good-for-something ales from the likes of Wylam and Big Lamp breweries. Gold Tankard, Galatia, Prince Bishop and Summerhill Stout from these two Newcastle outfits are perfect for towns like Rothbury which don’t have enough of the audience for hop-heavy and sour beers that city-centre drinkers enjoy that entices them to hop from bar to bar (although there’s enough of the more traditional being enjoyed to keep everyone happy).

“I go out with my trailer on a Monday morning and pick up what I need,” says Paul. “They’re brilliant beers and perfect for a place like this.”

During summer months, The Narrow Nick kept six handpulls turning over nicely but with winter around the corner, four will suffice. The pub opened its doors in October 2016 so in business terms, it’s still early doors. Paul says: “It’s going very well, really well.”

“Everybody in Rothbury knows the nick,” says Sarah. “It runs between the pub and the Co-op and there’s a part of it in the middle that narrows a bit so that’s called Fat Man’s Squeeze. We’ve named the gents toilets after that and called the ladies Narrow Knickers.”

The Narrow Nick is a former fashion shop with impressively high windows punctuated by stained glass and generous sills ideal for parking backsides. It’s a tastefully-decorated one-room pub featuring tables fashioned from wooden barrels, a counter top salvaged from the Percy Arms at Otterburn, and light fittings that once illuminated the Railway pub at Bedlington Station. Suffice to say, Paul is something of a recycler.

A ceiling-high fireplace recess previously covered up by the former occupant has been commandeered into another sitting area, while bookshelves (read one, borrow one, swap one) are set in what would have been a doorway in its townhouse days.

A lady from Verona in Italy who owns a house in Rothbury which she visits for the summer months, painted a picture of the pub frontage because she loved the place so much. The delightful watercolour now takes pride of place on one wall.

Paul says: “We get a lot of people coming here who wouldn’t go anywhere else. It’s a completely niche market where tourists and locals mix very well, creating a buzz and a lively atmosphere.”

It’s notable how many passers-by wave at whoever’s behind the bar, with the sort of look that signals “see you later”. Stonking beers and a selection of 36 gins are the attraction. Fat Man’s Squeeze is another story.

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Alastair Gilmour

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