Monday, 26 June 2017

BRAPA - Monkeying Around in Hartlepool

It is officially summer!  And that meant more 'sociable' pub crawling with folk who don't often get chance to partake in BRAPA events.  This time, it was my York friends who I normally drink with on a Thursday night in our legendary "dice-nights" (so legendary, they rarely involve a dice and hardly anyone knows that they exist in the wider world).

So, after meeting in York station, we took the spacious, cheap Grand Central train direct to Hartlepool, doing a bit of I-Spy (bring back Cluedo!) and listening to Rancid's latest album.  And it doesn't get much more punk rock than Hartlepool - you could easily have the Rebellion Festival here - and in terms of the ale scene, you only need to know three words - Camerons, Wetherspoons, Micropubs.

One of the many red Camerons Lions we saw
We wandered to our furthest point first, in the Stranton area, realising how huge Camerons brewery estate actually is.  It still wasn't 12 noon, but the pub opened at 11:30am though I suspect a lot earlier.

John, Krzb and Jig, ready for pub one.
1155.  Causeway, Hartlepool

This was a lovely step back in time, with a tiled corridor and multi-rooms.  As I walked into the main bar, unsurprisingly busy at this early hour, I set my face to "smiling BRAPA welcome" but it all fell a bit silent as we approached the bar.  I was particularly conscious of being stared at by three old duffers to the right, one of whom may or may not have styled his remaining bit of wispy forehead hair into the Camerons lion logo.  Luckily, I ordered a pint of Strongarm (one of only two ales on) and the pub breathed again and resumed their chatting, and a LOT of coughing, possibly one of the unhealiest looking and sounding pub crowds in 2017 BRAPA.  Krzb, to be contrary, ordered a pint of Shipyard (not the 'craft' US style thing that people seem to love) but a Marstons guest, but the barmaid, with elements of Eastfield's female singer and everyone from Coronation Street, gave him a Birra Moretti by mistake in a hideous glass.  Hobgoblin was hidden around a corner looking unloved.  The 'head' on the Strongarm was amazingly frothy and fluffy, wonder how many southerners have cried at this and asked for the sparkler to be removed.  It reminded me of when I ordered a pint of Guinness in Crediton back in 2001, and half of it was creamy white head, so I was instructed to "sup it off, and I'll top it up!"  Confused, I hesitated, and a flat capped local to my right shouted at me "DO WHAT SHE SAYS THEN!"  It was quite bizarre, less so here.  Still smiling at the three old gents, I led us to the room to the right, complete with pool table and a raised area making it feel like a gig venue.  Really liked this old pub, a bit tatty, but nowt wrong with that.  Boyzone's "Father & Son" played, and Ronan said we're gonna have to go, and he was right, as pub two beckoned.

Lovely bubbly bitter beer

Me "on stage", looking down into t' pool room.
 We got back onto the main road, passed the front of Camerons Brewery and came to a pub I tried to go to with Dad back in the days when Hull City were a proper club and had exciting fixtures like Hartlepool away, but got lost.  This closes 4pm strangely, so we didn't want to leave it til last!

Jig, me and Krzb (note it was a rare outing for the BRAPA 'third' kit on today - green)
1156.  Brewery Tap, Hartlepool

So we wandered in and there received a friendlier welcome, barmaid and one man who was relieved when he heard us ordering ale, as he'd been on coffee and said he no longer had to feel guilty at the prospect of being the only person drinking beer!  Mate, you're in Hartlepool, it is your right to drink gin in the street at 6am.  He obviously wasn't a local.  We got chatting with the barmaid but what was disappointing was that Strongarm was the only handpulled ale on.  I thought they'd be showcasing a good selection being the Brewery Tap, especially considering the merchandise adorning the back wall relating to Motorhead themed ale, Road Crew.  Oh well, "you can have a taster" she says.  Did she have a secret barrel?  Alas no, this was the keg version, but very flavourful and Jig went for a pint of it in the most OTT tankard seen north of the Watford Gap.   Even Adnams would be blushing.  As for the Strongarm, we commented we'd had it in the Causeway and through her big lipstick, she told us "it's gonna be a better pint in here!"  She was probably right, seemed quite different to me anyway.  This right hand side of the pub was the nicest, pubbiest brewery tap I've ever been in, beating the White Bear at Masham just.  Lovely memorabilia, proper panelled walls, red, bench seating.  Now if there's one thing we've learnt from dice nights, don't sit near a bookcase if Krzb's around.  I soon had to pass him a book about asthma, which was rather hilarious.   Glad I'd not seen this as a twild, I'd have never recovered from it  during my 'dark' asthmatic days!! 

How is your breathing?  Throb throb.

View behind the bar at the Brewery tap

Jig's crazy pint

Loveliest Brewery Tap ever.
In the build up to our trip, John had been tipped off about a pre-emptive pub called the Greenside but it was a bit far out and looked a little bit family-Marston-ish but I noticed one central that looked to have a bit of promise, so we went there next.

Hops and Cheese, Hartlepool

The gang reckoned it looked very closed, but I've not done 1156 pubs to not 'approach with confidence' so I crossed the road, turned the door handle, and guess what, we were in!  The pub was deserted but had a vague deli smell, not a surprise with a huge selection of cheeses and other snacks, with a couple a ales hidden away at the end.  The young lad seemed an affable chap, and smiled as I persuaded John (Sunderland fan( that ordering a stout called "Dark Side of the Toon" could be twisted into an anti-Newcastle thing, and I convinced him for just long enough to order it, but feelings he was sleeping with the enemy returned before we'd even sat down!  I went to the loo, just as the only other person in the pub, "Lady Cheese", was coming out, and I gave the poor girl a fright - she never recovered and looked at me nervously throughout after this.  You'd have to go back to the Sun Inn at Colton where they thought I was the pub ghost to find such reaction.  Funny really, it felt very much like a micro-pub, despite the size, but the couple were quiet and sat in a corner rather than the usual boisterous chat with clientele.  The lights were cheese graters, the bar was decorated in maps of the world (and an elephant), and although it busied up and was good, the pub had a gloominess about it, not helped by Coldplay soundtrack being piped into our brains.  Jig meanwhile, was rightly annoyed at the sexist toilet sign, specifying that MEN should "flush and close the lid!" I know from Yorkshire Bank that women are more disgusting in the toilet hygiene department.  Still, am confident that if this stays open, it'll be in the GBG before too long.

Obligatory Pumpclips

Deli area

Irritating loos.
 We crossed back over to the other side of town (if you can really split Hartlepool into two, you probably can't) and found ourselves approaching pub three ..... across a green yet also felt a bit like the approach towards the Layton Rakes in Blackpool.  That surely had to be a good sign, did it? 

A classic Krzb "jaunty angled" shot.
 1157.  King John's Tavern, Hartlepool

I didn't know King John was from Hartlepool, but if so, it'd explain a lot - anger management issues, ruddy complexion and fear of the outside world.  I know 'Spoons like to name themselves after a local celeb, and judging by the Jez Lowe song about the town, there's not too much choice.  Surely the "Sir Jeff Stelling" has a better ring though?  Anyway, this was a 'Spoons of better distinction than most, certainly than the two in York, everyone seemed to be on the ale, which is rare, and plenty of staff so no stupid long waits, and was delighted to get a pint of Double Maxim.  Sadly, it seemed to be suffering from that "Pint of Wetherspoons" taste my Dad talks about, so much so that his best mate, Bob Silcock, thinks that Dad really believes there is a beer called Wetherspoons!  Anyway, we sat in the raised area and ordered food, and a few Jalepenos and Curry Dog's later and the ale had a new lease of life.  Me and Krzb had a fun debate about the time when York City became the last club in the football league to sign the "kick racism out" bill.  It led me into being the most P.C, I'd ever been in a pub, and even if twilds were in the background nibbling at my feet, I'd have probably just given them a playful pat on the head.   I hate myself.  But joking aside, this was a good solid Wetherspoons effort. 

John under one of the most disturbing pub paintings ever

Beautiful Spoons carpet, and great view down to the bar.
So, with time on our side - even with Krzb popping into the local B&M for some multi-flavoured cheap custard creams, it was the moment of the day me & John in particular had been most excited about .... The Rat Race.  We could chill here, have a couple, and slope back onto the train back to York.  But this is BRAPA.  Best laid plans and all that?  

We saw the "closed" sign from quite a distance, but it was only when we got up close that we realised they'd gone on holiday!  


Well, everyone's entitled to a holiday, but couldn't they have left someone in charge?  Someone on Twitter told me the owner said it was a struggle to find someone to run it is his absence.  Consolation?  Not really.  Someone else said if I'd checked their Twitter, I'd have known it was shut.  But it's a sad pubby world when you can't assume a pub will be open on a summer Saturday afternoon.  Maybe it is a further limitation of the micropub concept.  I can't imagine rocking up at a 'Spoons or Ember to see the sign "sorry guys, we've just fucked off to Marbs for a week".  

At least Martin Taylor cheered me up with his comment ".... you should've e-mailed, phoned AND sent recorded delivery letter before visiting.  Pubs aren't run for customers you know!"  So true.

OH WELL, if Rate Race stays in GBG for 2018,  I'll be back, and as I sat in the inferior yet perfectly fine 'Spoons called Ward Jackson supping on my desultory pint of Trooper (I'll never understand the universal  love for this ale). I figured I've still got Hartlepool Headland to do, that Greenside might get in the GBG, and Hartlepool is an easy place to get to from York.

We had another half in the Hops & Cheese too, it had more ales on (a superb one from Hawkshead, and seemed a bit livelier and brighter by now, I tried not to jump out at any girls!) and after another relaxing Grand Central journey, me & Jig finished with a traditional York Tap pint.

Great day out, thanks to the York lads, now for one last push to get the '20' up for June on Tuesday.  See you on t'other side of the hills.


Friday, 23 June 2017

BRAPA - Who's a Jolly Nailor then?

It was one of those ridiculously hot no-chance-of-getting-to-sleep nights, probably last Sunday, 11pm, and I was sat on my bed in just my pants (try not to picture the scene) listening to the Aussie girls chatting Neighbours on the brilliant 'Neighbuzz' Podcast, like any normal 38 year old male would do, when I wondered what else I could do at the same time......

So with my attentions still mainly on Vaya, Kate and CJ (plus that singing girl from Oldham who pretends she's from Manchester to sound more urban), I pulled out my trusty Good Beer Guide, turned to Greater Manchester, and over the next hour worked out that the vast majority of pubs were do-able on a Tuesday night, providing I didn't mind getting home at 10pm for the sake of 27 minutes in a pub!  A BRAPA revelation.

Fast forward to Tuesday evening and the first step of that GMR dream (unless you count Castleton) was underway as I took the train to Atherton via Manchester Victoria for my next alphabetical tick.  The heatwave had ceased in Yorkshire by now, but being a step behind the rest of humanity, those crazy Lancastrians were still basking in it.

A 15 minute walk down a main road, surrounded by funeral parlours, dog surgeries and abandoned garages followed, and although the side door looked very closed, the front was angrily shouting "come inside you soft Yorkshireman".

The Sky Sports sign was a bit of a turn off

Probably a less threatening view of the pub
 1154.  Jolly Nailor Inn, Atherton

I'd been to Atherton before, and it'd seem lazy to compare this pub to the Atherton Arms with side rooms, but it really did feel like it, perhaps a bit more homely and comfy.   Traditional, yet newly refurbished, the first person I saw was a man at the bar with a St George's Cross tattoo on his lower leg.  He turned to look at me, scowling and growling like that MGM Lion when he realised I wasn't a person he knew.  But his female companion apologised for blocking the ale pumps, which is more than I could've hoped for.   Martin Taylor had joked that he'd sent someone to track me, and when I saw a man on a shopmobility scooter ridiculously facing the wall (in the same way my blind cat used to do), I wondered if it was true!  I ordered a Fyne Avalanche beer cos it sounded 'cooling', though it was nice and well-kept, it seemed slightly warmer than I like and wonder if, even with the best will in the world, it is hard to keep ale cool in this heat.   I sat in a nice bench seating area facing the bar, the barmaid was one of those chirpy moon-faced 18 year old girls who's heads are full of boys, make-up and fidget spinners rather than whether the Thwaites Cask is drinking well.  Despite the ominous Sky Sports banner outside, all that was on TV was the local news reporting from the Royal Cheshire County Show, but this just descended into farce with the female presenter perving on a French man selling cheese.   A band called Asis were playing soon, they are a bit like Isis with a better bassist.  There seemed a love of live music here.  Then, a friendly looking chap appeared and said hi.  To my total horror, he then murmured that he was Martin's cousin!!  He wasn't, but he'd seen the Twitter comments and thought he'd play a joke on me - it worked, totally gullible I am.  So who are you?  I said, turning to my "Twitter Pub Men I-Spy" Book.  Well, it was Deeekos, so I turned the imaginary pages to find him located 'twixt "Curmudgeon" and "Erlangen".  He solved my query on the lack of Allgates beers here, told me how to pronounce Atherton (it's "ATH-erton" not "A-Therton", hope that clears it up!)  And he also half-assured me that his CAMRA branch hadn't just changed all their pubs to piss BRAPA off, which was nice.  So I took my glass back to the nice young lady, said thanks, stepped outside, and Deeekos had already disappeared down a side street like the pubby enigma he is.  Good stuff, all that in 32 mins.  Back in York for 9:10pm, job done!

Looks like the most air-brushed pint ever!

Shopmobility man facing the wall for no reason

The "outlook" is good at the Jolly Nailor, ha ha.
So where next Tuesday, I hear you all desperately asking.  Well, the next alphabetical one, in Billinge , is pretty much impossible on an evening, and Bolton I'm leaving due to Hull City / NFFD potential next season, and with me on 9-5, I'm having a look at the likes of Broadbottom and Bromley Cross (wherever they are!)  but if not, something a bit more direct on that Castleton line (Rochdale, Mills Hill etc.).  The GMR world is my oyster.

But before that, Hartlepool tomorrow with my York friends.  Monkey suits at the ready, it is going to be fun!  


Sunday, 18 June 2017

BRAPA - Blog on the Tyne : Newcastle Summer Adventure

With a seemingly endless supply of quality real ale outlets, Newcastle is a great place for a boozy day out, and under the circs, it is no wonder Ant (PJ from Byker Grove) has had to check himself into rehab.

It was the 4th annual 'work' summer day out, and with Yorkshire now complete, we had to think beyond our comfort zone.  Oldham just didn't appeal enough, and I ended up moving the day to Newcastle, a bit controversial as the L**ds lot had a longer day, and a potentially more expensive ticket than me.

At one point, it looked like we'd get a record number of people of a BRAPA day out, but inevitably, people made their excuses and we left with a nice manageable group of 5.  Joining me were ever presents Rich Ellis and Jason "Angry Arnold" Garrett.  Piper Corday made her 3rd appearance, and Chris Hastings his second, a special mention to him for his sheer enthusiasm considering he's a Sunderland man.

They joined me on the train after breakfast, and before long we were in Newcastle itself.   As my GBG App led us uncertainly to our first pub, I had to put up with the usual "are we there yet?" whinging from Rich and Chris, Jason commenting to me it was like taking kids on holiday.  And there was no Mossley-esque hill climb this year.  It was still before 11am and we stood outside like a bunch of idiots, not realising the pub had secretly opened already ......

Me, Pipes, Chris and Rich ready for pub one.
1149.  Fitzgeralds, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

Although it didn't look too exciting from the outside, some of my favourite pubs in the North East are Fitzgeralds owned, and they must be one of the better chains out there.   We were surprised to walk into this incredibly well kept, brassy, polished front area, which sloped down to a bar - it was almost gentleman's club, you could imagine Phileas Fogg discussing a wager with Lord Guinness over a game of billiards whilst Bertie Wooster fires breadrolls off a badminton racket into a chandelier.  Piper commented we'd have dressed up if we'd known how posh this place was.  Down at the bar, a great range of quality NE ales to choose from, but considering we were the first customers of the day, the barmaid was uncommunicative and not exactly welcoming.  Would it have been different if I'd been on my own?  Do groups scare staff?  Due to the nice weather, we sat on some tables out the front of the sloping Grey Street (I was worried I was drunk already!), and the gang (three of whom had never been to Newcastle before) were surprised how quiet it was, expecting the place to be full of loud, tanned pissed-up slags and men with vests and whippets, even at 11am, which shows you shouldn't judge a place on what the media tell you!  

Walking in, feeling under dressed

A classic North East pale ale

Jason's shirt looms large on Grey Street.
Rich was already moaning we were drinking too slowly (it was 11:20am) so Chris downed his pint, and we walked just around the corner to our next pub, a mini landmark......

1150.  Old George, Newcastle 

Although it looked like we were walking into a pub, we first had to negotiate a cobbled alley with an old record shop and a gift shop called the 'Glamorous Owl'.  The pub itself was obviously a very old building, and up the stairs we went to a low ceilinged bar area.  If the barmaid in the last pub had seemed a bit unfriendly, they were practically hostile in here - again I suspected they just thought it was a group of pissheads on tour (which of course, BRAPA totally isn't - usually) but jeez, a smile or anything shouldn't be beyond them.  Thought people were friendly in the North East?   I ordered a fitting ale called "Heatwave" and I'd mentioned earlier how it'd be nice to find a courtyard similar to the one at Cricketers in Horbury.   Well, this had exactly it and with no other drinkers still to be seen in Newcastle, we had the place to ourselves.  Just as well, as is the way when Rich Ellis is around, conversation soon turned quite un P.C. and I was soon describing how BRAPA would deal with a terrorist threat which seemed to involve holding a GBG in front of my chest and saying "alroight mate" to my assailant.   It was only just 12 noon, but time for pub three.

A myriad of steps in the Old George

In the courtyard

Dummies - closest thing so far to seeing other drinkers in Newcastle
What I reckoned was the longest walk of the day was a lot quicker than I thought, back down Grey Street, past the wonderful Crown Posada, and located in the shadow of Tyne Bridge (or at least a big road bridge that might or might not have been Tyne Bridge, it was all very confusing), was our next pub.   Not to be confused with the Bridge Hotel, or the New Bridge, though does suggest the city has a bit of a bridge fetish.

Says Newcastle Arms, but am sure it was right pub!

One of about 20 photos Jason took, problem when you are holding a fag at same time!
1151.  Bridge Tavern, Newcastle

More good ales, a proper bookcase containing proper books, but perhaps the trendiest pub of the day in terms of food menus, reserved tables, a 'roof' terrace, etc etc.  At least the staff seemed a bit friendlier, and there was a fair few clientele already supping their prosecco and eating their horse burgers or whatever Geordie's do in the 21st century.  Jason tripped down a step, and despite having a reputation for being the angriest man in our office, he took it with decent humour and only semi-threatened to twat everyone in the pub and then burn it down(!)  We found an outdoor area again, this time under the Tyne Bridge and squashed in behind some middle aged hipsters to 4 of those rickety silver chairs which no one's ever got comfortable on.  I spied a separate bar upstairs where the loos were, with a roof terrace, and a young barmaid smiled in a bored way as she realised everyone already had their drinks.  It was a bit of an anti climax, I interpreted roof as "you'll be on the top of Tyne Bridge" but it wasn't the case, and we sat at Mr & Mrs Holstein's table who weren't arriving til 3, and the amount of trendy beards up here was enough to make North London blush.  Luckily, my ale (brewed on site - Tavernale) was my pint of the day or I think I'd have been a bit frustrated by this place.

Beer of the day

Bookcase shot - note how the customers hide their faces from the BRAPA lens

Under the bridge shot, looked better in real life.

Jason's shirt upsetting background hipster hitman, probably.

My 'edit' would've been funny if I'd spelt "Pils" properly.
It was boiling hot by now, too hot to be debating which bridge was which, I was concerned about how I couldn't see the next pub despite being stood at the pushpin on my GBG App.  But then I turned around and it was there, one of those old but non-pubby looking building without a proper inn sign, do I expect too much? 

Shit pub sign, but finally located it!
1152.  Hop & Cleaver, Newcastle

We ambled in to find a dimly lit front bar area leading to an airier modern bar and courtyard, one of those where you have no idea whether they were trying to appeal to the young crowd, or the curmudgeonly older drinker, or everyone, and just fell a tiny bit short on all counts.  The assembled company were complimentary of it I must say, it had a lovely old atmosphere like something that'd been refurbished but they couldn't erase the centuries old history of the building - a faint whiff of pretension hung in the air.  At the bar, our barman looked like he'd just woken up under the bar and started serving, rubbing eyes, yawning, seeming to forget beers, prices etc - the poor lad was suffering but tried his best.  I then struggled with that age old BRAPA problem "where the hell are the loos?" and a wide-eyed European lady oozed out of a gap in the brickwork (possibly, "most helpful foreign BRAPA ghost of the year" 2017) and told me it was through the courtyard, in this other building which seemed to house a brewery and several other rooms, possibly a former stables it felt like to us, as I took the others on a "guided tour" of it later on.  So, all in all, a bit of a confusing place but I can begrudgingly see the appeal.  

Sleepy barman pulls the ales.

I thought bourbons meant biscuits, but I was wrong.

Bricked up toilet fire place

The spooky stables 
4 pints in this heat and a walk up those legendary steps from the Quayside back towards the station was quite an effort, I tell ya!  Again, the pushpins on my GBG App were trying to embarrass me in front of my work friends, but the next pub was closer than we thought.....

1153.  Split Chimp, Newcastle

Despite three different people recommending this place to me, I was still a bit skeptical - but it was healthy micropub skepticism, you know the type where you know that due to the 'micro' aspect, it could be a bit limited, especially arriving in a group of 5.  Not a bit of it, this was easily PUB OF THE DAY!  And what made it, from the off, was the first proper good barstaff experience of the day.  Such a good chap.  I'd seen one of my all time fave ales, Titanic Chocolate and Vanilla Stout.  "But dare I have it on such a hot day, 4 pints in?" i debated out loud.  "It depends if you are weak willed!" said the barman, the kind of "pubby bantz" that had been missing all day.  Of course I had to have a pint of it now!  He then told the others the ales come from wooden casks, and if people come in asking for Fosters or Carling, he tells them where to go!  It was heartwarming stuff.  As a group, we all turned to each other and said "pub of the day" as one.  We can't all have been wrong.  We sat on some colourful cinema seats, the loos had some great Viz cartoons, Jason inhaled two pork pies and enthused on their quality.  This is going right up there with my favourite Toon pubs of all time.  I even got a Split Chimp beermat.

Legendary barstaff photo.

Jason enjoys his pies on sticks (perhaps)

I'd promised the others a "Si Secret Bonus Pub" and I thought it was quite a good clue to tell them it began with a "B" and ended with an "A".  But this just led to everyone thinking Id opened my own Micro pub called The BRAPA.  But of course, if I did, it'd have a zero tolerance on all people so wouldn't do very well business-wise.  I'd maybe allow cats in though.

No, of course you experience blog readers know the pub I'm talking about, the wonderful Bodega which went down well with my 4 BRAPsters, as I knew it would.  Before that, there was time to recreate a former Newcastle Utd fan incident.....

Although I'd had enough beer by now, the hardened drinkers wanted another one (at least) so we popped in the Head of Steam just across from the station ......

The main point of that experience seemed to be for the yearly ritual of Rich/Jason telling me off for leaving early, but am glad I did!  

On the train back, I had to change at Darlo' because my ticket wasn't valid on that train, and back in York, I felt sober again once the drunken hoardes of racegoer scum joined me in KFC for a cheese and bacon meal.  

Another great day on the BRAPA trail, and I'll be back on Tuesday night for something outlandish as work are actually letting me leave at 4pm!   Greater Manchester here I come.