Sadly perhaps, I’ve given the pubs visited (9,000+) over the last 25 years a simple score for beer quality, which isn’t at all the same as pub quality.
Tyne & Wear, and Newcastle in particular, has had more top scores from me for quality than any other CAMRA region outside Greater Manchester, which gets nearly three times as many entries. I reckon it has a good dozen classic pubs as well.
This seems a bit surprising, as a simplified view of The Toon is that of bare-chested lager and Brown Ale drinkers spilling out of fun pubs, and grim council estates with boarded-up places. 20 years on, “Our Friends in the North” has a lot to answer for.
Regular visits have a shown a rather different city, with some of the best culture, eating and pub-going around, long before the Millennium investment in Gateshead. Even on a grey day, it’s still a superb city to explore on foot, with the ultra-modern pubs contrasting sharply with the medieval core. Some nice art too.
First, breakfast. Never mind “We Want Plates”, filter coffee in school glassware is where it’s at in Newcastle now. Wonderful coffee and bagel, though, opposite the station.
Apart from lower-league Scottish football, I was in Newcastle to see Lanterns on the Lake team up with the Northern Sinfonia, and tick four new Beer Guide pubs. The area south of Monument contains both Grey Street and swathes of modernity contrasting sharply with the Bigg Market’s run-down appearance.
Pleased to Meet You is a recent conversion to a Gin Palace style bar, with more than a touch of Macclesfield’s Red Willow to it. Very smart, and not to the taste of every traditional drinker, but Mordue Five Bridges was good enough (NBSS 3), if not a patch on the beer in Bacchus.
Round the corner, the Old George was another historic building that would be the highlight of many a smaller town, with seating on several different levels and lots of historic features.
Even at £2.50, I resisted the Bass, wishing to savour it in the Crown Posada that evening. The Allendale Pale was good enough (NBSS 3).
No gig review, but seeing Lanterns on the Lake play the main Sage was a treat, even if I thought the Northern Sinfonia backing was a bit hit-and-miss. The delicacy of their wonderful new LP was lost a bit in the mix. Great venue, and you don’t get tubs of almond ice cream at many gigs I go to these days.
An early finish at the Sage meant an hour in vibrant Quayside. The discovery the Posada has discontinued Bass hit me hard. There’s progress and there’s sacrilege. Newcastle used to be full of Bass, now you have to go to Tynemouth and South Shields for it. Still a gorgeous pub, mind.
Two more new Guide pubs impressed, both brew-pubs in the heart of late-night Newcastle.
The Bridge Tavern (easily confused with the Bridge Hotel and New Bridge) is packed, with only standing space near the shiny brew kit, whose Pale was, again, a decent NBSS 3.
Rather more characterful was Hop & Cleaver, a large enterprise alongside the Betty Surtees House, and appealing to all, but particularly fans of tunnels, exposed brickwork and hidden toilets.
Their own Pale was dry and tasty (NBSS 3.5), and there was plenty of seating at 11pm from which to enjoy a relaxed atmosphere rather at odds with the fancy dress fun outside.
Yet more impressive eating and drinking in the heart of Toon, with lots of craft at decent prices, even if I think the best may be west of here, in the traditional Bodega and Hotspur, and in Byker.