From nowhere, Middlesbrough is a major pub destination. It’s not just Mrs RM and I who can attest to this extraordinary transformation; read Simon’s report here first.
The town has a challenging reputation nationally, although frankly I’ve never noticed the famous smog or the late night anti-social behaviour. This won’t be a popular view but I actually found the atmosphere at the Riverside the best (and loudest) of all the 92 League grounds, and the ‘Boro dominates the town in a way only matched by Burnley and Newcastle.
Being built almost from scratch in the 19th century, and run down in the second half of the 20th, it lacks much in the way of architectural highlights. Conversely, on our long walk from the Hospital area to Linthorpe Road we were surprised how pleasant most of the suburbs were.
The depopulation is very evident, with some of the quietest main roads into any major town, and large empty spaces between the University and the station.
I took the photo above from the top of mima, the modern art gallery, at 11.30 on Saturday. This is the central civic area and was virtually deserted, as it has been on earlier visits. mima itself is a pleasant building that makes a great effort but lacks variety of content, though the Congolese sculptures made from Belgian chocolate are something else.
The other town highlights have traditionally been Albert Park, with its wonderful Dorman gallery, and the Transporter Bridge. In the three years since we last visited the explosion of street art and pubs is amazing. There’s even an award winning café, the Olde Young Tea House, which has latched onto the jam jar craze.
And some emerging street art.
We visited several of the micropubs on Friday night. Dr Phil’s is the only one not in the small grid of streets just east of the town hall, and the one most obviously adhering to the Martyn Hillier formula (for better or worse).
The atmosphere was very convivial, and the Wall’s Explorer served by an expert pub owner who was very reluctant to serve me a pint from near the end of the barrel. The success of this place is also the problem, I don’t like standing in pubs (Mrs RM had the last seat).
There’s five small pubs in the centre, encouraged by site availability and Council encouragement, though whether you’d call these micropubs is something for other folk to debate. We enjoyed Sherlocks (top), Infant Hercules and Twisted Lip a lot, finding a mix of proper seating, chat and strong local beer to our taste.
The Twisted Lip is the most attractive place, a warren of rooms suggesting in which to enjoy Atom beer and idiosyncratic interior decoration.
There were TVs in the first two pubs, live music in the Twisted Lip, and keg and cocktails in them all. This is a really mixed bag of pubs, and was attracting a varied age range of drinkers to late-night ‘Boro, in contrast to the student strip on Linthorpe Road. I was dubious the town had the demand to support so many beer-driven pub, but their appeal is much wider than a hardcore micro like, say, Dr Phil’s.
That’s a good thing in my book, and the presence of a few modern touches means these are more all-rounders than Thanet’s hard-core micros. Perhaps ErlangerNick can put them to the test when he next pops over.
Teesside CAMRA have got their hands full working out which of these go into future Beer Guides (some are too new for GBG17); that’s the sort of problem they want. The east of town is a real ale desert though.
Yes we did have a chicken parmo, but we had a salad so it was healthy really.