The BarLifeUK tour of the UK’s bar scene is back, this time teaming up with Espolon Tequila, first on the list was Newcastle.
Newcastle is an often overlooked city when people discuss the UK’s best cocktail bars geographically sitting somewhere in between the Manchester, Liverpool & Leeds triangle and Scotland’s best means it is often missed. We have been guilty of ignoring it ourselves and this was BarLifeUK’s first adventure there.
In actual fact last time we were there was 19 years ago and we were chased through the snow covered streets by a baseball bat wielding taxi driver. We weren’t sure what to expect but our minds were open and our choice of cab drivers were more measured.
So with a bag full of Espolon Tequila and our partners in crime in the form of Espolon’s Mark Cato and Sarah Heaney we hit the streets to see what Newcastle has to offer.
Lady Greys: 20 Shakespeare Street, NE1 6AQ
It is tradition with OnLocation to start with a nice pint and we found a great pub in the form of Lady Greys. It’s a proper old school boozer full of wood panels, dark corners for those intimate encounters and a nice big horseshoe bar.
The beer selection was impressive and there were plenty of locals propping and supping away but what caught our eye was the impressive gin and whisky selection behind the bar. In fact there was a big sign on the wall boasting that their 26 gins on offer all came with the ‘correct garnish’.
It was a bit early in proceedings to try them all out so we settled for a pint of fancy American beer to kick things off. Lady Greys is definitely worth popping into for a beer at anytime during your Newcastle visit and if anyone gets through all 26 gins let us know how the garnishes hold up.
Pleased To Meet You: 41-51 High Bridge, NE1 1EW
PTMY is round the corner from, and a sister venue to, Lady Greys and whilst the beer selection might be as, if not more impressive than its neighbour it is a completely different venue. A big modern shiny open plan venue which is about to get even bigger with plans to add an outdoor area and basement bar.
They also have an impressive gin selection this time focusing on the tonic matching with over 14 different options on view, however it was the cocktails that were heading over the bar in great numbers. It seemed that the house cocktail Pleased To Meet You was the most popular so we gave it a go (Saffron Gin, Yellow Chartreuse, Licor 43, amaretto) and it went down well although our hosts Madeleine and Tom suggested another cocktail that was no longer on the menu, it was amazing and will no doubt be going back on the menu soon.
As we checked out the fancy chandeliers Madeleine took hold of the Espolon bottles and knocked us up a twist on the Espresso Martini which got us ready for the quick jaunt to the next bar.
Definitely worth a visit and we look forward to seeing what they do with the extensions.
Espresso Espolon – Madeleine Hutton
- 30ml Espolon Blanco
- 20ml fresh espresso
- 15ml cacao
- 10ml Kahlua
- 5ml agave syrup
Lola Jeans: The Arcade, Front Street, NE30 4BS
Lola Jeans is one of the newest bars in Newcastle and what a fantastic edition it is. Of all the bars we visited (and there are plenty more corkers to come) this is the bar you could transport to any city in the world and it would be right at home.
The venue is full of comfy sofas and arm chairs surrounding a mix match of tables beneath some impressive chandeliers (it appears Newcastle loves a chandelier). However it is the superb murals across the walls that really catch the eye with a massive mexican skull staring down the length of the venue from the back wall hinting at what lies beneath.
Bar manager Alex O’Brien led us downstairs and through a confessional style door into the newly opened tequila and mezcal hideaway. This small bar is full of personality with a nice and growing selection of Mexican spirits along with a blackboard cocktail menu featuring 8 tasty sounding concoctions. It was down here Alex made us his Espolon serve.
If you go to Newcastle you have to go here, that simple.
Death vs Gambit – Alex O’Brien
- 50ml Espolon Blanco
- 3 slices ginger
- 25ml Merlot reduction
- 25ml lemon juice
- barspoon Pacharan Zoco
Alvinos: 88 Pilgrim Street, NE1 6SG
One bar that came up again and again when we asked for bar recommendations for Newcastle was Alvinos. It was another bar that ticked a lot of boxes for BarLifeUK – comfy seats at the bar, decent beer and spirit collection, foosball table and pinball machine, outdoor smoking garden and friendly smiley bar staff.
However it was the cocktail menu that particularly took our eye and is one of the best we have seen in a long time. Presented as a comic book, each page was given over to a different spirit with a different character representing them. It was funny, easy to navigate, beautifully drawn and reflected the big poster covered feature wall as you walked in.
No doubt it was largely responsible for the amount of people ordering the great looking cocktails, if you want to see it you’ll have to be quick though as it’s being re-done in September. In between serving the customers Tim had time to knock up a light a refreshing twist on a Tommy’s Margarita for us.
Whatever their new menu is like we’re sure it will be amazing a worth checking out.
Timmy’s Margarita – Tim Ward
- 60ml Espolon Blanco
- 10ml dry white wine
- 20ml fresh lime juice
- 7.5ml orgeat syrup
- 1dsh grapefruit bitters
Popolo: 48, Sandhill, NE1 3JF
One of our 2015 Rookies is based up in Newcastle so we had to go to Popolo to see Luke. It is the biggest bar we visited on our trip and had a little bit of a Mojo feel to it when we entered.
The venue is full of wood and red lighting with a big bar on the far left wall with the most impressive spirit selection of the night. Like Mojo the music played a big part in creating the atmosphere with fantastic songs following each other out of the impressive speaker system.
A quick look at the cocktail menu and it wasn’t difficult to pick out the Beervadier as the drink we wanted (Camden Pale Ale, Campari, Cinzano Rosso, lemon, egg white, sugar and Regan’s bitters) which went down a treat as we settled down at the bar. Luke had a play with the Espolon and unsurprisingly came up with a music inspired drink, named after a line from an Alice In Chains track.
If you like good music and good drinks then get yourself to Popolo.
He’s Home to Roost – Luke Riley
- 40ml Espolon Reposado
- 15ml Tio Pepe dry sherry
- 15ml lime juice
- 5ml agave
- fresh coriander
- fresh pineapple
- birds eye chilli
Tiger Hornsby: Sandhill, NE1 3SP
There is a bar out there for everyone and the fact Tiger Hornsby was standing room only on a Wednesday night suggests a lot of people in Newcastle are fans. It we are honest it isn’t the style of bar we feel completely at home in but the 50’s hollywood style decor was certainly not half arsed.
After we’d got over the large silver leopard that sat in the middle of the room we had a look through the cocktail list and plumped for a Negroni twist with Sloe Gin, Aperol and Dubonnet. It became apparent why the bar was so popular when the drink arrived, not only was it a tasty cocktail but there was 25% off all drinks during the week.
No 28: 28 Nelson Street, NE1 5AN
The last stop on our night out was No 28, a little hidden away gem down a lane next to a market. As we walked up the narrow stairs the group decided a quick drink then it was time to head back to the hotel, it wasn’t long before we realised this bar falls into the category of bar where ‘just one drink’ is just not possible.
The decor is as if someone woke up from a deep sleep and sketched what had just happened in their dream. There is a gazebo up a staircase, a giant mirror with crazy wood surrounds and a full sized dalek underneath a large picture of nude women.
The physical bar itself was somewhere between Casita and Portobello Star which probably explains why we felt so comfortable there. Our bartender was fantastic (I can’t remember his name but that’s his fault for giving me a shot of Absinthe) and kept us entertained and watered for a good couple of hours before we realised what had happened. A great way to end the night and we suggest you end your night there too.
We arrived in Newcastle unsure of what the night had in store and left the next day with memories of a great night in fantastic bars with superb bartenders all within walking distance of each other. It reminded us of where Liverpool was 5 years or so ago and it is definitely a city to keep an eye on.
If you haven’t been there we strongly suggest you give it a look, it certainly won’t be 19 years before we head up there again in fact I doubt we’ll make it to the end of the year without another visit.