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 thoughts on “Impressions of Pubs in Newcastle”

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

    1. 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.

  3. 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?).

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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…

          1. 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.

  4. 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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