Generalisations about beer culture pubs

Impressions of Pubs in Newcastle

Based on our week holidaying there we reckon Newcastle is a great city, a great place to drink, and we’ll definitely be going back.

For one thing, we loved the sense that there’s less of a stark line there between ‘craft’ and ‘trad’, posh and rough, town and suburb, than in some other parts of the country. The Free Trade and The Cumberland, for example, were both just the right side of grotty. There and elsewhere, basic but decent pints were available at reasonable prices, alongside more extravagant, trendier products, with no sense that one is better than the other.

Newcastle Breweries branded Formica tables.

At the Gosforth Hotel we had what might be our beer of the year, Allendale Pennine Pale, at £2.85 a pint, but we could have gone for pints of keg BrewDog Punk at £3.55 — about the price of Bass in Penzance — if we’d been in that mood. Prices were displayed clearly in front of the pumps so there was no need for embarrassing conversations or warnings over price. In fact, prices were plainly on show, as far as we can recall, everywhere we went.

All of this made for genuinely mixed crowds, even if there was sometimes a self-segregation into lounge and public bar crowds — literally where the partitions survived.

The Crown Posada was one of a handful of pubs that was so good we made time to visit twice. Even on a busy weekend night in town we didn’t have any trouble getting in or getting a seat. The beer was great, the service was fantastic, and there were cellophane wrapped sandwiches going at two quid a pop. It’s a tourist attraction but not a tourist trap. When we went back on Sunday lunchtime, though, we found it deserted — just us and a barman — and, as a result, much less charming.

The more full-on craft outlets — BrewDog, The Bridge Tavern brewpub — seemed out of place, superimposed rather than integrated, as if they might have been picked up in any another city and dropped into place. (If we lived there, we no doubt welcome the variety.)

An inter-war improved pub with 'Flaming Grill' branding.
The Corner House, Heaton, built c.1936.

There aren’t as many inter-war ‘improved pubs’ in Newcastle as in Birmingham (on which more in our next post) but we found a couple, manorial in scale, chain-branded, but otherwise doing what they were built to do nearly a century ago: providing un-threatening environments in which men, women and children can socialise together over beer, food and afternoon tea. They’re not much good for serious beer lovers — just lots of Greene King IPA, well off its own turf, but even that was in good nick when we did try it.

We came away with a clear impression of what seemed to us to be the dominant breweries in the region: Allendale, Mordue and Wylam were almost everywhere. We’d tried Wylam beers in the past and thought they were decent but we’ve noticed a renewed buzz around them on social media in the last year; now we see why.

Almost every pub we went in had one beer we really wanted to drink and most had a couple more we were keen to try, or already knew we liked. Across the board there was a tendency to provide a range from dark to light, and from weak to strong. Only in one pub-bar (the otherwise likeable Cluny) did we find ourselves thinking that the vast range of hand-pumps might be a bit ambitious — the beer wasn’t off, just a bit tired.

Light shining through coloured glass into a dark pub.
Stained glass at the Crown Posada.

But even if the beer had been terrible everywhere it wouldn’t have mattered too much because the pubs are just so pretty — stained glass, fired tiles, decorative brick, shining brass, layers of patina — and often set beneath the cathedral-like arches of the city’s many great bridges.

And, finally, not in Newcastle but a short train ride away in Hartlepool, we got to visit our first micropub, The Rat Race — the second ever, which opened in 2009. We stayed for a couple of hours, interviewed the landlord, Peter Morgan, and chatted to some of his regulars, and to others who drifted through. We think we get it now and, yes, we reckon they’re probably a good thing.

Interior of the Rat Race micropub.
The Rat Race. Yes, that’s Astroturf on the floor.

This is a part of the world which, to our eyes, definitely seems to have a healthy beer culture. If you decide to pay a visit yourself — and you should — do check out these local publications for tips:

  • Tyneside & Northumberland CAMRA’s Canny Bevvy newsletter
  • Independent magazine Cheers North East edited by local expert Alastair Gilmour

9 replies on “Impressions of Pubs in Newcastle”

Lovely stuff. Glad you found good quality beer (as I have), and some Mordue. Good observation about lack of distinction between Trad and Craft pubs, Free Trade a good example. Great photos too.

All sounds the most wizard experience, those pubs sound corkers -clear pricing and good atmosphere. Newcastle may have to be penciled in for my Northern excursion next year. Re the beers, I’ve only had a few Mordue and Allendale bottles and they’ve been definite first raters, Allendale especially.

Regarding Newcastle itself – was it an easy city to get around for walking and public transport?

Yes – centre is very walkable (although hilly!) and we walked out and back to the pubs in the Ouseburn district from the centre very easily – but there’s plenty of buses and the Metro too.

Be interesting to know the price of a pint of Punk in the actual Brewdog bar (was £3.55 a typical price for craft keg in the city, or did you not investigate that thoroughly?).

It struck us as cheap. Think (really off the top of my head) that it was c.£4.50 a pint at the BrewDog bar proper.

BrewDog proper bar is one of the more expensive bars in town.

Next time try The Bridge Hotel, The Bodega and micropub The Split Chimp.

All three serve very decent pints.

Mark — cheers for the suggestions. We did actually visit all of those expect The Bodega but didn’t mention everywhere we went or it would have been a 3,000 word post! Still processing what we thought of the Split Chimp. Certainly got the Micropub enthusiasts in Hartlepool wound up when we mentioned it…

The Bodega has a great ceiling, which I reckon you’d enjoy.

The Split Chimp has recently moved to a bigger ‘arch’ I think I liked it better in the smaller ‘arch’. But saying that I still like it, it’s a bit different from the other pubs and the owners are canny. Beer is always good too.

This post really makes me miss Newcastle, it’s a solid place for beer. I must admit I agree with your sentiments about BrewDog and Bridge Tavern (also including Bierrex). Every time I went to Newcastle, I’d always hit Split Chimp then immediately wander over to the more ‘craft beer’ loop, and have a few throughout Bridge Tavern, BrewDog, and Bierrex.

I feel real guilty (more ashamed and embarrased) now not visiting more of the real pubs there, but then again Durham (where I lived) had the Victorian Inn which is spot on.

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