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Tales From The Toon....

I got off the train at Newcastle's Central Station, and made my way to the station's Centurion Bar, the Grade 1-listed building which was originally a luxurious waiting room for first-class passengers, then British Transport Police cells, before being re-opened as the popular bar and meeting place it is today. It has been restored to its former glory with fantastic tiling and paintings adorning the walls. The friendly girl behind the bar asked me if I was in the toon for work or pleasure as I ordered a pint of Mordue Workie Ticket."Pleasure" I replied and she wished me a happy stay. 

Following on from that friendly greeting I noticed a couple of beer and listing mags. I wondered if there was any music on anywhere that evening and discovered that Julia Holter was on at the Sage across the river. I checked on their website, found there were still tickets, and so before I'd finished my pint one was purchased. Isn't modern technology wonderful?

I moved on and came to a new bar, Split Chimp. Now this bills itself as a micro pub, but based on the ones around home, it's big. It's massive. It is built into a railway arch and consists of a long room with a further one upstairs from where every now and again the crashing from a bar billiards table would interrupt the conversation around the bar. In terms of ethos, though, it is very much a micro, very friendly with 5 hand pumps. I opted for a pint of Clever Chimp, a light and hoppy 4% session beer, brewed just around the corner in another arch conversion by the Errant Brewery. I had a good chat with the lad behind the bar, who like our Tom, is a Wetherspoon escapee, and much of the moans he had about his former employer were exactly the same as I'd heard from Tom! A very pleasant place to while away the time, but then I thought I had better get checked in at the hotel.

I'd got a good deal at the Premier Inn on the Quayside, and duly checked in and bags dropped off, I headed out for some food. I went to the Broad Chare, situated on the street of the same name - 'Chare' is a local term for a narrow alley - and opted to eat upstairs. The Broad Chare classes itself first and foremost as a pub - and the beer is excellent - which just happens to have the only pub in Newcastle to have a Michelin Bib Gourmand in the 2017 Guide. But don't let that put you off, the place is friendly and the food excellent but reasonably-priced. Shame it isn't in the latest Good Beer Guide, but there is so much competition in Newcastle, although there were a couple of places I visited later in the trip that were not as good.

Duly fed, I moved on and crossed over the river in to Gateshead. There was time for a pint before the gig so I headed for an old favourite, the excellent Central which I had been in before on trips with football. I had a pint of the excellent Pennine Pale from the award-winning Allendale Brewery and enjoyed the eclectic mix of tunes coming from the jukebox. From there it was only a few minutes walk to the gig.

The Sage is a stunning building, by day a shimmering, almost ethereal presence, by night a glowing sentinel, overlooking the Tyne. I got there in plenty of time for Julia Holter, who was very good. I had come across her at the end of 2015, when her album 'Have You in My Wilderness' had been the album of the year choice for several critics. Her music is hard to define, with keyboards, drums, double bass, violin/viola and sax - so no guitars. A bit jazzy, ambient, electro, and a hint of Kate Bush at times. Enjoyable, but they only played for just over the hour. Still, it gave me time to get a pint back across the river.

I headed to one of my favourite pubs of anywhere, the Crown Posada on Side. Last time I had been here it was rammed, but tonight it was just steady. It is a lovely, narrow pub, with dark wood panelling and stained glass windows which make you feel you are in a place of great significance. It has some great beer, tonight, Matthew, I opted for a pint of Pennine Pale, which was even better than the pint I had in the Central.  This is a timeless pub, with a cracking atmosphere. I got chatting to a guy who had come down from Berwick to see Julia Holter, who spotted the vinyl I had purchased at the gig, and so we got chatting about real music and real ale, like you do.

The next day was the main focus for the trip, a visit to see my new granddaughter in Washington. I caught the Metro down to Heworth Interchange, from there it was a few minutes bus ride to my daughter's home in Washington. We had a great family catch-up for a few hours, visiting a lovely pub in the old village centre for lunch before I headed back to Newcastle. Great to see everyone again and meet my month-old granddaughter for the first time!

I got off the metro at Monument and decided to try the bar at the Tyneside Cinema, just around the corner. I ordered a pint of The Pursuit of Hoppiness from Brinkburn, and whilst I was enjoying that I decided to go next door and see a film, something I'd not done for years. I saw 'I, Daniel Blake', the latest from Ken Loach. I thought it was brilliant. If you want a feel good film with a happy ending, it's not for you. But if you want to see how the system can screw up the lives of decent people, then check it out.

I sampled a few of the pubs on and around Grey Street, surely one of the most attractive thoroughfares in the country. In fact, all over the city there are some superb buildings and views, with the Tyne bridges and steep roads all conspiring to provide some brilliant photo opportunities. In terms of the pubs, I particularly enjoyed Lady Grey's, Pleased to Meet You, and Fitzgeralds, all offering a warm welcome, with all offering a fine selection of ales from both local breweries such as Tyne Bank and Mordue and from further afield. I had a bizarre experience in the Duke of Wellington where I caught a rare sighting of a beer from the Landlords' Friend brewery from Luddendenfoot. Now this is one you don't see often around the pubs of Calderdale, so this was a surprise!

I headed back down Grey Street, and with time moving on, I decided to call in the Crown Posada. I had a pint of Pennine Pale, which seemed very much the beer of choice for most of the customers. I had a good natter with the lads behind the bar and enjoyed the songs of Deanna Durbin, who was playing on the turntable - no juke box or piped music here! And before I left, I had a pint of Titanic Plum Porter, which was on top form!

The following morning, I went over the Gateshead Millennium Bridge to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts, which is situated in an old flour mill aside the Tyne. Now this is free to get in, and gives you the chance to view some modern art which, whilst not perhaps for everyone, can give you the opportunity to see some fascinating creations. I particularly enjoyed the exhibition from Italian artist Monica Bonvicini, reflecting the interaction between architectural design and us humans. There are also some stunning views over the river and city from the 4th floor viewing gallery. A great way to while away an hour or two.

Time to start making tracks, so I went back to collect my bag from the hotel. I stopped off at the Crown Posada for a farewell pint, had a good natter with the lad behind the bar who travels in from Hexham every day, and reflected on my visit.  And I noticed another brewery from my area had appeared on the bar, Avant Garde from Beer Ink from Lindley, which seemed to be selling pretty well. Good to see Ryan getting his beers out there.

So, a really excellent couple of days! Great to see the family and great to spend some time in one of the friendliest and most interesting locations this country has to offer.

I can't wait to get back....


Crown Posada, Newcastle





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