Almost exactly two years ago, I experienced, pretty much for the first time, the sheer majesty of a drinking night out in Newcastle (despite it being only an hour and a half from Edinburgh). I wrote at the time “I’ve never been anywhere on Earth with a higher concentration of pubs, bars and clubs. It seemed like the whole of England was there, tottering about in their best shoes, or shirts, or both. Drink is the currency in Newcastle. Drink.” I doubt if the ‘high-heels and coat-free hedonism’ has abated much over the last couple of years, but something there is different – the party city now has its very own brewpub.
The Bridge Tavern is the first such establishment in Newcastle for thirty-odd years, so I’m told, and sits wedged between the iron trunks of the Tyne Bridge stanchions as if it had been coughed up at high tide. From the front, it looks squat and square, but inside is anything but – sprawled over multiple floors, with an outside rooftop-decking area underneath the bridge approach, within thrumming distance of overhead traffic. Operator Greenan Blueye spent half a million pounds on the refit, from the previous guise as the Newcastle Arms – and it really shows (the original frontage was restored as part of the conversion).
The 2hl brewkit sits at the back of the ground floor, across an open, wooden-floored bar. Installed in association with the Wylam Brewery, the kit apparently came from a cider maker, and looks an absolute picture, gleaming from the far wall. Head brewer is Joe Roberts, ex of Tyne Bank, Anarchy and Allendale; due to the close proximity to the public, he only brews at night – to avoid sloshing peracetic on those tucking into a club sandwich. It must be pretty rough on him, but I quite like the idea of the staff opening up in the morning to find a conditioned cask waiting by the bar, all traces of the brewnight cleaned and squared away. Stealth brewing – the new craft?
Walking around the Bridge Tavern, it just looks the picture. Modern, yet fitting with this fairly amazing old building. After a while sat outside, under the bridge, I realised why I had instantly taken to the place – it reminded me of the Rocks in Sydney, and the pubs I used to go in under the shadows of the Harbour Bridge,* when I lived over there. Without wanting to sound too much like Kevin McCloud, restorations are about more than just throwing money around, and artfully piling furniture and fittings into modern shapes. Places like the Bridge Tavern really work, and really make you want to visit.
*This is no co-incidence, as although the Tyne Bridge was built first (1928 as opposed to Sydney’s 1932), both were designed to resemble New York’s Hell Gate Bridge, which had opened in 1916.
The Bridge Tavern, 7 Akenside Hill, Quayside, Newcastle NE1 3UF MAP
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(huge thanks to Michael at Canny Brew for showing us around the city before our Tyne Bank Brewday)