Last time I visited Durham was during their 2014 annual brass band festival, where I saw the astonishing Jo Hamilton preview new material to the accompaniment of bats in Durham Cathedral, seen here from Crossgate on Thursday night.
I was there to see Durham punks Martha launch their 2nd LP in the rather different setting of the Alington House Community Centre. Tiny but with equally wondrous sound and rather better beer than it’s neighbour.
Durham is hard to fault, and on each visit I find new gems, last time out the Claypath Delicatessen. I reckon the city has a higher percentage of pubs that have made the Beer Guide than any other (24 for me in a decade). I’ve seen it busier to be fair, with students having just returned home to their second homes in the Loire. Rather like Cambridge, the attempts at craft culture, like The Library, appear rather corporate.
Lower beer sales over a lot of pubs was reflected in some very average beer in the two new Beer Guide pubs, and that’s not the first time I’ve said that over the years. Few places have as wide a range of pubs though, several of them pleasingly basic.
The Elm Tree was (allegedly) omitted from the GBG some time back for failing to achieve acceptable standards, which is quite something for a Branch with the privilege of hosting the Newton Cap in Bishop Auckland (RIP). The Tree used to be a very loveable pit, and still retains a community feel without gentrification.
A good mix of the ages were enjoying mutual verbal abuse, Elvis Costell0 and interesting pub snacks. I enjoyed that Castle Eden Ale (NBSS 3) I posted about last time, large head and all. Proper seating and seats carved out of beer barrels. A Durham favourite.
Middle-aged men and women out drinking is a feature of Durham, and the North-East in general. Sam Smith’s corner classic Colpitts (top), however, was a male-only domain. Still more appealing than the Swan & 3 Cygnets though. Reassuringly, the OBB was the standard £1.90, meaning I had my change ready. Worth £1.90 just for a nosey around.
Allington House had a couple of well-judged polypins of beers from very local Hill Island Brewery, possibly just for my benefit, though the Scarg Ale had gone by the time Martha went on. Not surprising at £2.50 a pint, and surviving the heat than several GBG pubs recently. Wowser students drinking San Pellegrino, older hispsters on the Pavlov’s Dog oddly.
Slightly wowsy myself by time it got to Martha, the best live band in Britain today, and I’ve seen Midge Ure from behind a fence remember. Still, I hope the Guardian readers are enjoying their weekend in Suffolk with beer at a £5 a pint.
QUIZ TIME – Which much missed (by me) Best Bitter used to be sold here ?
* From Martha’s debut LP. New LP “Blisters in the pit of my heart” a modern classic.