The offer was there, but Mrs RM rejected my invite to a weekend in Middlesbrough, due no doubt to a prior commitment to reorganise the airing cupboard (whatever that is).
She missed a top trip to the UK’s capital of cheap fun. My clean and simple room at the Gresham (not as posh as it sounds) cost £20 a night, for once not a false economy. If they charged £25 they could afford decent sound-proofing.
The Gresham is close to the ruins of Ayresome Park and an impressive collection of Asian restaurants and chicken takeaways along Linthorpe Road. Dosa Houze (with a z) gains bonus points for calling me “weird” for my unique application of complimentary pickles and chutneys to my keema chaat. I always ask for “everything” when given a choice.
Five minutes from Dosa is the UK’s top cluster of self-proclaimed micropubs, centred on Baker Street. See Pubmeister’s recent post for his take on the Infant Hercules.
As with my visit last year, the impression is of a collection of modern bars with a welcome nod to craft and cask, far removed from Herne-approved micropubs. But if the Teesside Gazette thinks they’re micropubs, they are.
On Saturday night I popped in The Chairman late on to find the sort of crowd you find in Revolution or All Bar One in Cambridge, dutifully ignoring a DJ fixated on Soul II Soul.
Rekorderlig and Frizzante on tap dominated, with two taps labelled Craft 1 and Craft 2 without any obvious indication of what they are. I had a half of an OK Arbor, the sort of beer that always suggests the owners know something about beer even if the punters don’t care much.
So average beer, posing tables and ’90s disco – what’s not to like. Nothing at all, and Mrs RM would have loved it.
Saturday night was frantic, though some way short of the “Streets of Gomorrah” impression you get from BBC documentaries. Sunday, in contrast, was as quiet as a January in Newbury.
Bottled Note had a few folk in, mainly students enjoying what looks the most authentically micro of the newbies.
From a less craft-conscious range, the Maximus was spot-on, the classic rock at the right volume, and a student anecdote about being shot in the foot unusually amusing. Again though, as much Jim Beam being sold as cask, but I’m glad students come here for their Jim Beam. Otherwise I’d have missed the classic lines;
“Beans and sausage sandwiches are top”
“I prefer crabsticks”
“I won’t eat anything I’d lose to in a staring contest”
“That rules out prawns. And snails”
The very dark Slaters Pick was even quieter, just a table of five ale drinkers in deep political debate, and a couple of staff. This had real character though; bare boards, clutter, more classic rock. It would fit nicely into the Mill Road Run in Cambridge.
The barmaid had to turn the clips round to identify the Mallinsons, which never raises hope, but it was cool and tasty (NBSS 3.5), perhaps the beer of the weekend.
So two quietish pubs on Sunday, but excellent beer and cheer in both. That’s already better than a few large towns I could name.
For a number of good reasons, not least beer quality, the Beer Guide doesn’t give you much of a feel for the ‘Boro at the moment – just two early micros and a venerable old Spoons in the GBG, with nothing traditional left. For tradition, you need to stroll the High Street and realise what a bastion of Draught Bass this must once have been.