Backyard Bike Shop

Yesterday made an overdue return visit to Backyard Bike Shop, down next to the river. It’s a lovely place – a cosy cafe that does a small but quality menu, but switches to a cocktail bar after 5. Alas, we were too early for cocktails, but the food was delicious and the staff were friendly.

I normally have the avocado smash – predictable, I know, but the “will they do my egg how I like it?” is my standard cafe test. The lovely waitress explained their avocados weren’t ripe so, prompted to be more adventurous, I had the chick pea pancakes with dahl, and S had the courgette ribbons with goats cheese curd – both of which were utterly delicious.

Now to go back for their cocktails.

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Arch Sixteen Cafe

One of the lovely things about being back is seeing areas which were in decline when I left becoming regenerated. This is particularly true in Gateshead, much of which was in a fairly desolate state in my youth.

My friend S now lives in Ochre Yards, an estate of fancy new flats near the Hilton, and so any easy walk from the new bars on the Gateshead side of the river. The railway arches have also become home to a host of new businesses, including the butcher’s/wine shop Block and Bottle, and a fancy new tea shop. It’s also home to great wee cafe, Arch Sixteen.

A funky space that offers a range of coffees, cakes and sandwiches (the food offering looks good, though is relatively limited – though it does include several vegetarian offerings, and they plan to expand the menu).

It was a quiet afternoon when we popped in, which gave us a chance to chat to the proprietor Bob, who was lovely. He told us all about the different events the place hosts – ranging from freelancers’ networking to sewing nights and music gigs – and we were impressed by his commitment to really making the place a community hub.

Plus, I *love* a railway arch. Count me in for a return visit.

Small Town Inertia at the Side

A day off today, which I used to catch up with my old friend Simon, the photographer. Given our mutual interest in photography (his expert, mine… less so) we decided to check out the new exhibition at The Side Gallery, Small Town Inertia by J A Mortram.

Running till March – and free – it’s an incredibly powerful show. Mortram’s pictures show the brutalising effects of austerity on the disabled, the poor, the vulnerable – and, crucially, his subjects get to speak. Most of the photos are captioned with quotes by their subjects, which makes it feel like they have some agency in this: we are not just poverty tourists, peering at their misery. And it is, for the most part, misery, with both loneliness and the abuse and cruelty of strangers a common theme, especially for those who are mentally or physically disabled. They are often insightful and eloquent about their situations – one quote in particular stuck with me, from “David”, who compares the poor to chickens, pecking at the weakest in their midst, instead of uniting against the farmer who will be cutting off their heads.

It’s not an easy show – I found myself on the verge of tears a few times – but it is an important one.

Those Who Know

You may remember before Christmas I visited the pop up bar Miracle on Grey Street. Well, now the holidays are over it has transformed into an Alice in Wonderland theme, so my friend M and I decided to make a return visit.

Called Those Who Know, it’s quirkily decorated throughout with a thorough commitment to the theme, and offers a range of themed cocktails¬† – I tried the No Time to Say Hello and Black-Hearted Queen, both of which were nice.

The cocktails are good fun (and half price throughout January) and though they could do with adding some drier drinks (as far as I could tell, the menu veered towards the sweet), they are all in on the theme and it makes for a fun night out.

The front room was fairly busy and lively (though nothing like the Christmas rush, when queues were out the door) though we easily got seats in the back, a less atmospheric space on a quiet Wednesday but still decorated in the theme and dominated by a giant projected clock.

It’s a really fun use of the venue – I’d love to see more of this sort of thing!

RBG at The Tyneside

Back to the Tyneside Cinema yesterday, having negotiated their slightly annoying system for redeeming free members’ tickets (you have to buy them in person, or book them over the phone and then collect them at the box office, so in effect queuing both on the phone and in person, which is kinda irritating). The irony that I was allowing minor stuff like this to annoy me while going to see a film about a woman who has more backbone and grit than I could imagine was not lost on me.

RBG is a fascinating documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court Justice who has become something of an icon in recent years. Being English, I was less aware of her formative – and formidable – career standing up for gender equality (including taking on a key case where a man was being discriminated against, a widower not eligible for the same survivor benefits his wife would have been given to support the raising of their son).

It’s unashamedly partisan, though not a hagiography, with plenty of input from the lady herself, her friends and family, as well as some of the people she has helped, and the younger generation who made her a meme. Senior figures like Bill Clinton feature (some of them Republican), and it doesn’t gloss over some mis-steps, or some things that baffle her friends (for instance, her ability to be friends with the late Justice Scalia, a man at the opposite end of the political scale).

It was well worth the trip, and I was pleased to get a chance to see the Tyneside’s Gallery Cinema – a tiny screening room (3 rows of seats) that is perfect for smaller films like this: on a Tuesday afternoon there were barely half a dozen of us in the room, but it’s great that the cinema is showing these kinds of films knowing they won’t get sell out screenings. Maybe I’ll forgive them for their Membership ticket scheme after all…

Brinkburn Street Brewery Bar and Kitchen

As mentioned in my previous post, yesterday I went to the Cluny Cheese Festival with my friend L (of Raven in a Graveyard fame), and as part of our mini pub crawl afterwards, we ended up in the Brinkburn St Brewery Bar and Kitchen. I’ve wanted to try this place for a while – I saw it on the way to the Kiln, as it is on the same block – and wasn’t disappointed.

The vibe inside was laid back and friendly, and the space is very nicely laid out: a sort of mini-snug is partially cordoned off from the main space, allowing you to lounge on sofas near an open fire, but still feels part of the action and lets the place still feel spacious and airy. We didn’t eat there this time, though L tells me the food is good, with vegetarian options. The place offers a great selection of reasonably priced beers, is dog friendly (we had a very doggy day, since everywhere we went there were dogs, which is always a good thing), and the toilets were clean and in good working order, which is a thing I increasingly care about.

The staff were friendly, too – when I asked for a recommendation for an ale to try they were happy to give me a taster – and had we not been on a mission to try at least a couple of places that day, I would have happily stayed the whole afternoon. In fact, I am already planning my next visit…

The Cluny Cheese Festival

The first weekend after New Year – traditionally when all those resolutions to eat and drink less still seem like they might have a chance of working – seems on the face of it to be an odd time to have a festival devoted to the love of all things cheese, and hold it in a pub. But no one ever got poor counting on the hedonistic impulses of the Geordies, so when myself and my friend L (of Raven In a Graveyard) wandered down to the 2nd Annual Cheese Festival, we found it busy and in full swing.

The pub itself was heaving: part of it set aside for a small cheese market, and the menu of the day very much cheese influenced. We opted for cheesy nachos and a grilled cheese sandwich, both of which were fine, rather than exceptional (the Biscuit Factory has raised my standards for grilled cheese forever), and some of the pubs excellent beers.

To make the day more family friendly, not everything was in the pub. There was a cheese hunt in the morning for kids, and in the afternoon a range of ‘sporting’ events held in the Chedderena in the ‘Olympic Village’ – the bit of grass near the pub – where, when we wandered down, an enthusiastic crowd was cheering on those taking part in the cheese shot put (some with more success than others, since more than one cheese ended up in the river). Since the festival was right next door to the family-friendly Ouseburn Farm, I could imagine this could easily be turned into a cheap and entertaining day out for those with kids.

In search of more adult entertainment (calm down, I just mean beer), Linda and I decided to do a mini pub crawl of the area. L is a real ale enthusiast, so we decided to retrace the steps of a recent real ale tour she had done, stopping first at the excellent Brinkburn Brewery St Bar and Kitchen, another one of those Ouseburn venues that skillfully balances the hipster regeneration vibe of the area with actually being a nice place to hag out, and then onto more traditional climes – the proper old-fashioned pub that is the Cumberland Arms, a warm, welcoming space (where we met one of the dogs we had seen in the Cluny, whose owners had clearly had the same idea) where we had a couple of fine ales in front of a roaring fire before wending our way home.

All in all, a more exciting start to the year than some lettuce…