Baltic, cocktails and Us

After a busy and slightly frustrating week, where I had my biggest deadline of the year and, not coincidentally, my immune system finally gave in after several months of pretty much non-stop work, I was both delighted and slightly wary to play host to my friend T this weekend. Delighted, because she is always good company, wary because I had developed a hacking cough, almost lost my voice and wanted nothing more than to lie in bed with the covers over my head, so feared I wouldn’t exactly be the hostess with the mostess.

Luckily, T is both very low maintenance and very good company, so we actually had a fab weekend. Our plans were thwarted on more than one occasion – I’d wanted to do cocktails at Six in Baltic on early evening Saturday, but when we turned up the venue was booked for a private party, and the weather scuppered some of our more ambitious plans.

In the end, though, our weekend turned out pleasantly laid back. Having been to the Backyard Bike Shop several times for food, I finally got to try their cocktails, which were very nice. We had a delicious veggie brunch at the Tyneside downstairs cafe, and some seriously good Indian food at Dabbawal. And though the Baltic was a no for cocktails, we did see some art. I admit a lot of it went a bit over my head – art isn’t an area I am particularly knowledgeable about – but it’s always a space worth visiting. I was particularly taken with a couple of the shows in the Artists’ Award exhibitions: Ingrid Pollard’s examination of the figure of the ‘black boy’ in English architecture and culture – primarily through pub signs which use black figures – was fascinating, and Aaron Hughes piece on war was moving.

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We also watched a lot of films – it was a bit of a feminist film fest! T hadn’t seen Fury Road or the new Halloween so we watched those, then went to the Tyneside to see Us, where it was also nice to introduce her to the beauties of the classic screen, and rounding off our Strong Women weekend, we watched Widows, which I hadn’t seen either.

I thought both Us and Widows were flawed but fascinating, powered by smart ideas and strong performances. Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis were both incredible. I am also *very* here for Winston Duke playing a dorky dad, which was such a difference from his usual roles.

So, all in all – just the tonic I needed!

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Cocktails and Captain Marvel

Thursday, my friend M and I went to see Captain Marvel. It was my first trip to a mainstream cinema since I moved back – the Gate, in Newcastle – since unlike the Picturehouses I was used to in Brighton (where I saw pretty much all my movies) the Tyneside Cinema doesn’t show all the big films. I liked the Gate – the neon decor makes you feel a bit like you are in Tron, and when it’s quiet it feels a bit post-apocalyptic, but the seats were comfy and the screen was huge. (So much so that I had misjudged and booked seats far too close to the screen – we were both a bit woozy by the end.)

The film was also great – like most of the Marvel origin movies, it took too long to get going, but once it hit its stride it was enormous fun. Goose the cat rules!

Before the film, we had cocktails in Bealim House, on Gallowgate. An old stationers, so close to my heart already, they specialise in gin, though of course I had to try their espresso martinis, my usual drink, and they did a decent job of that (plus, there was a two-for-a-tenner offer on. Bargain!)

Walking to the film, though, I realised there was another pub I should have tried…

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A day trip to Edinburgh

After three weeks without a day off, I finally had some downtime, and headed up to Edinburgh to meet my friend K, who I haven’t seen in years. Edinburgh is only an hour and a half away from Newcastle – and the East Coast train takes you along some of the country’s most beautiful coastline, so it’s a pleasurable as well as a fast trip. The plan was that we would have lunch, do some culture, then have some cocktails before I headed back. And… we managed most of that. You can probably guess which bit got dropped…

I haven’t been to Edinburgh in years – last time was to do some research for A Vampire in Edinburgh, during my unfortunate homeless stint, when two of my Glasgow friends let me stay there when they were on holiday, so I took advantage to do a day trip to the city. I had forgotten quite how gorgeous it is – all those dramatic cliffs!

We started off with a wee wander round the Old Town. Edinburgh Press Club looked promising but we were too late for breakfast, and none of the sarnies appealed, so we settled for coffee then wandered some more. We had planned to do Mary King’s Close but were put off by the cost (nearly ¬£16!) so had a wander around a nearby church instead. Lunch was a couple of wraps at old-school vegetarian cafe Hendersons, which had been much recommended to me, and after that we felt we could justify a cocktail.

I missed my chance to go to the new Ivy in Brighton – it opened just before I left – so was keen to try the Ivy on the Square. K and I are both fans of espresso martinis so started with them. Well-made by the charming and friendly barman, they were very rich and accompanied by a choice of syrups to choose your own (I plumped for Creme Brulee, K – more wisely – Amaretto). After that I plumped for something lighter – a champagne based drink – and then we decided that some shopping was in order.

A quick wander round Jenners and Harvey Nichols followed – while I love the architecture of Jenners, I found HN a bit bland, though I did buy some fancy pasta and a notebook there, partly cos I wanted to buy something. (K bought a Count Gracula garlic crusher, which looked enormous fun). We rounded off the day with cocktails at The Refinery, then headed back to the Ivy for chips and a last drink before I caught the train home – a fantastic day out, and home before 10? I could get used to this…

Beeronomy

It’s been a crazy busy couple of weeks so was very much looking forward to some quality unwinding with my pal M last night, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Not only did the evening kick off well when I bumped into my friend S in Fenwick’s Food Hall – where I was buying a cheeky Galentines treat – and we had a quick coffee and catch up – but M and I tried the recently opened (apparently!) Beeronomy.

I’ve walked past it a couple of times – one of the entrances is opposite the Tyneside – and been keen to try it. Although the food menu is a little lacking for veggies (very grill heavy and the chips aren’t vegetarian, which scuppered any plans to eat there), the staff were friendly and the cocktails good.

There was a two for one offer so I started with my first ever pornstar martini (glad I tried it, but too sweet for me and I am a bit squeamish about seeds – they look like alien teeth to me* – so I didn’t love it, though I could get used to my drinks coming with a prosecco shot). I also had an espresso martini, which was much more to my taste.

For dinner we went to Cote Brasserie again – drawn by their good veggie choices – then drinks at the Tyneside, making use of my membership! All in all, just what I needed to unwind…

* yes, I am weird

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!

A Family Christmas and a trip to Spanish City

I’ve never really done the ‘big’ family Christmas before. When my mum was alive, we tended to keep it small: my friends would come over with their kids in the morning, and various neighbours might pop in, but it was generally low key. Over the years I have had working Christmases, Christmases alone and ‘orphan’ Christmases – all of which were varying degrees of OK – but never done the big family event.

So I was actually a little nervous of agreeing to my cousin’s and his wife’s invitation to spend Christmas at theirs. They host the big family ‘do’ every year, of which I have heard nothing but good things, but I was still a bit anxious. Sometimes eating in big groups makes me self-conscious, and while they generously invited the friend (N) who was staying with me over the holidays, I worried that being thrown in the deep end of someone else’s family might be a bit much for her.

In the end, I needn’t have worried at all. My family are generally excellent company, and proved themselves great hosts, generous and welcoming to me and my friend, who was really touched by how much they made her feel at home. It was a multi-generational gathering that spanned pensioners to babies and all stages in between, lavishly fed and in a beautifully decorated setting. My cousin’s house – always impressive – looked like a Hallmark movie set; the photo below is of the hallway, not even the main room! (Should I ever get around to writing a Christmas romance, I might pop back here for inspiration.) There was vegetarian food aplenty (N is also vegetarian, but since one of the daughters of the house was vegan, this proved less tricky than I feared) and the whole day turned out just lovely.

Boxing Day, we did a brief detour to the sales, though my assertion that ‘it’ll probably be quiet’ was way off the mark, as the whole town was packed. Many of the pubs were closed, though – after a late lunch downstairs at the Tyneside because the coffee rooms were closed, we wandered down the Quayside with the plan to meet some friends in the Pitcher and Piano, which of course wasn’t open. Still, we managed a drink in both the Red House and the Head of Steam, and N got to see the Quayside at night, which is never a wasted trip.

Yesterday, we decided to take advantage of the clement weather and take a trip to the coast at Whitley Bay. Of all the things I miss about Brighton, proximity to the sea is the main one, so it was nice to be reminded that I have a stunning coastline just a Metro ride away.

It was also nice to see the recently re-opened Spanish City. I remember it well from my youth, and was sad to see it go into decline, so I was keen to check out this revamped offering. The building has been nicely utilised: a selection of restaurants (a waffle house and patisserie on the ground floor, alongside a restaurant, Trenchers, in the central space, which seems popular for fish and chips, with a fancier restaurant and bar upstairs, and a luxurious space for afternoon tea). In the end, N and I decided to eschew eating there for lunch, venturing to a little cafe round the corner on Marine Avenue that did a nice line in vegetarian tapas. But we did pop back in for an espresso martini – a tradition of ours – to round off the afternoon, and it was lovely to be able to have a fancy drink while looking out over the seafront.

A Miracle on Grey Street

So, I was in an incredible grump today that was proving hard to shift. Luckily when I emailed my friend M to see if she was willing to meet up and shake me out of my mood, she agreed. We went for dinner at the newly revamped Carluccios, but not before a wander around the Christmas market and a couple of drinks at festive pop up Miracle on Grey Street. The bar was a bit rammed, though the atmosphere was friendly, and they do an inventive array of cocktails alongside mulled wine and cider. I plumped for the vodka and prosecco Tinsel Toon while M had a rum-based baubles for all and a good time was had…