CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> Three Newcastle Pubs

Previous Pint Pleasures -April 11, 2005

guinness eileen

The Centurian, Central Rail Station, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne & Wear

guinness eileen

Head of Steam, 2 Neville Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne & Wear

guinness eileen

The Forth Hotel, Pink Lane, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne & Wear

I can't think of anybody these days who enjoys hanging out in airports. When I was growing up I used to find them exciting; but that was because of the travel bug with which I was born and the fact that I had yet to travel anywhere further than the next state. I remember being deliriously content to sit in a terminal at LAX for hours watching all those lucky people arriving and departing. When I started flying, first around America and finally overseas to Europe, I still found airports mildly exciting simply because I was about to depart.

Train stations are a completely different story, perhaps because so many of the great ones developed long before airports, back in the 19th and early 20th century when architects and designers strove to create an atmosphere of elegance and grandeur for the passengers. Fortunately this feeling remains today in a lot of classic train stations, including the Beaux-Arts style of Grand Central Terminal in New York City, the Edwardian/Baroque style of Victoria Station in London, the Art Nouveau style of Gare de l'Est in Paris, and even in the Spanish Colonial and Art Deco style of Los Angeles' Union Station.

Which brings me to the Central Station in Newcastle. Actually, it was a rendezvous that brought Andrew and me to this station when we were visiting the city earlier this year. We met some friends in the Centurian, which is probably the largest and most ornate pub I've ever experienced. The pub was once the First Class Waiting Room for rail passengers, with high ornate ceilings detailed with stained glass and elegantly tiled walls. At some point in the architecturally negligent 1960s the walls and ceiling were covered over with plasterboard and brown paint, and the room was then used for years as a storage room for the Post Office. Recently, when the plasterboard was pulled off, the original mid-19th-century elegance was rediscovered and restored, and the former waiting room was converted into a pub.

Although most of the Centurian's customers on this particular Saturday afternoon seemed to be drinking lager, we immediately lunged toward the hand pump at the far end of the bar. In no time flat we were sitting and chatting with our friends in our sumptuous surroundings as we sipped our pints of Bombardier (4.3% ABV, Charles Wells Brewery, Bedford, Bedfordshire). "Welcome to Newcastle," the pints seemed to say.

Later that same afternoon we stopped for a pint at the Head of Steam. This easy-going pub, one of 5 in a chain, is decorated with Route 66 paintings and features live music evenings in the basement. On this particular afternoon the pub seemed to be full of Badly Drawn Boys. As Andrew and I ordered our pints of Hedonist (3.8% ABV, Wylam Brewery, Heddon on the Wall, Northumberland) we chatted briefly with two of the BDBs from Sunderland and Washington about the day's football match -- until we were interrupted by the clamour of hoppy yelps of insistence: "MEEE! MEEE! MEEE!" After our previous talkative pints we weren't too surprised to discover the source of this insistence: our pints of Hedonist were demanding our immediate attention. Yes, this is an immediate ale which promises and delivers instant gratification: an ASAP beer. Get on it! Right now!

A few nights later we asked a taxi driver to drop us off in Newcastle City Centre near some cask ale pubs. Unfortunately our driver didn't make it into Newcastle very often, and he wasn't a cask ale drinker. So he ended up dropping us at O'Neill's, part of the Irish pub chain, which was not what we had in mind at all.

So we walked around for awhile in search of a cask ale pub. In Pink Lane near the Central Station we found ourselves walking into an unlikely choice. The Forth Hotel is a modern pub featuring dark brown walls and a bare wood floor, a DJ at one end, and cool looking people listening to loud but cool music: reggae and ska mostly.

But there on a handpump we saw something we'd been wanting to try for months: Workie Ticket (4.5% ABV, Mordue Brewery Ltd, North Shields, Tyne & Wear). As we waited for our pints to be poured we drooled with anticipation -- and it was well worth the wait. WOW!!! This is a totally totally totally cool beer! It's got everything in the flavour: malt but not too malty, a good spicy hoppiness, and lots of intricate body, like one of those voices I could listen to all night. I could dance seductively to this beer. I could dance in and out of the glass, around the rim. I feel like taking a bath in it. Could this beer cure my creative blank streak? Wait, wait, I'm reading in the bathtub -- this pint is like an early 20th century classic novel, one you can really get your teeth into, one which would inspire a budding young director to create his film noir masterpiece in black and white...possibly Emile Zola meets George Orwell with a visitation of Nelson Algren and a good solid foundation of wit: the Great British Novel this is, perhaps yet to be written, but with a definitely rosy outcome. Yes, this is a complicated but optimistic beer, a perfect beer for the beginning of the year 2005. Let this be a better year for the world, for everyone. Drink Workie Ticket now!

With beers like Hedonist and Workie Ticket, who needs any other excuse to rush up to Newcastle as quickly as possible? So grab your coat and jump in your car, onto the next train, onto a plane, whatever. Just leave those coals at home...