Tuesday 9 February 2016

BRAPA - Sunderland

Inside the Avenue - see pub 801.
It was a long overdue pubby return to the city where I spent my uni years from 1997-2000, just before they started to modernise it with things like a Metro link.

I was joined by two rare BRAPsters, John Watson II (Sunderland's finest, so providing local knowledge) making his first BRAPA outing since June 2014 and Krzb Britain, who specialises in areas just south of York but is a fine navigator.

The trains were a bit delayed but not a bad thing as we'd have only been hanging around til 11am opening time, as we took the Metro from N*wcastle to SSOL (which stands for Sunderland Stadium of Light amazingly) as were soon walking through the Roker area towards the coast.

Despite living here for 3 years, I never really knew this area and was surprised what a nice prom/seafront it was.  Same couldn't 'quite' be said of our first pub.....

799.  Poetic License, Sunderland

We'd been looking for the R Bar (part of the Roker Hotel) but with no signs for it, we walked into the most likely looking place and were greeted by a gaggle of pristine shirted staff who looked like they'd walked out of a Persil challenge ad.  The one with the irritating top-knot on his head told me it was no longer known as the R Bar, and hidden around the corner of the bar were some handpumps, mainly Sonnet which explained the poetic name change.  Like Chester-le-Street's Lambton Worm, this Sonnet 'pub' was geared up for diners (even on a Monday morning in Feb) so we sat on a high stool and I drank an IPA from one of their vase glasses which are annoying.  This isn't Belgian beer.  I like Sonnet ales (especially the Bourbon Milk Stout) but this was a bit lacking in quality, perhaps the pub's fault and watching Football League highlights on a constant loop was sending me into mental turmoil as I started having visions of Joey Barton laughing at me.  Behind some glass was a non-functioning distillery which I'm told should be churning out gin by now.  The place was warm and tried to offer a rustic edge, but ultimately failed.

Krzb and JW2 enjoy a vase of Sonnet at the Poetic License
800.  Harbour View, Sunderland

Just around the corner, it was 'landmark' moment time, with my 800th tick, and a nice one too, with some interesting local grafitti on the wall outside which was to be a theme of our day out.  It looked like your traditional seaside bar, and in my experience, these are usually disappointing, but not here as a friendly young brunette (who may be an early contender for that particular 'award') greeted us and was patient as I took ages choosing from a great range of ales.  I went for a Salopian Lemon Dream, and being brave, didn't ask for a taster.  A few serious old Mackems lined the bar, this was a proper drinkers pub even if it was lacking pub atmosphere.  We sat at the wonkiest table in 2016 BRAPA so far and immediately spilled our drinks, and then our friendly barmaid amused the locals by saying the song currently playing reminded her of "Saturday night at the movies".  Immiediately, the chorus started up "Saturday night at the movies" and she felt a right Charlie!  As if the Roker riviera isn't enough for them, this place tried to add a French feel by naming the toilets 'monsieur' and 'madame' which seemed totally uncalled for, but not to worry, a pub well worth visiting. 

Arriving at the Harbour View
801.  Avenue, Sunderland

Or the @venue as it was hideously titled outside, in fact it looked quite awful from the outside still on the Roker side of the bridge, it was a relief to see it open up into a kind of half Working Man's Club, half airy bar, a bit like a much better version of the Corner Pin in York with some of the best bench seating you'll see, great old Sunderland football memorabilia (we sat underneath Cloughie) but also a pool table and a man with those horrendous hooped earrings giving us evils as I ordered a Chocolate Penny from somewhere obscure in Nottingham which tasted a bit like Bovril!  The barmaid tried to be smiley, but it didn't come as naturally as the last girl looking a bit like she was having a seizure, proof brunettes beat blondes every time.  It was a slow burner this place because the longer I spent here, the more I enjoyed it, a good sign of quality.  One word of caution, the toilet floor was so red in the lunchtime sun, that it looked like I had blood in my urine!  It was that kind of place. 

Trying a Byker Grove opening credits jump at the Avenue.

802.  Butchers Arms, Sunderland

Our longest walk of the day took as back over the bridge, down the side past Panns Bank where I lived in my first Uni year, into an area which had some nice old buildings but a lot of gentrification seemed to have been happening too.  Shame we couldn't have just taken a boat from the Glass Centre, we'd have been there in seconds! I'd heard good things about this pub from it's Clarendon days, and it did have the feel of one of those nice out of the way stand alone pubs, like the Brewers Pride in Osset was the example that sprung to my mind.  Sadly, a complete lack of real ale was to be it's undoing.  The landlord seemed a proper canny Sunderland fellow, friendly enough, saying "no ales on til Wednesday!" no surely this is highly unacceptable and I hope the local CAMRA branch are aware it needs de-guiding swiftly and with style.  JW2 told me about sitting here once drinking ale, watching a live rockabilly band, I could imagine how great that would be, all the more depressing!  Taking further positives, my 6% West Indian Porter was a powerful drink, and the pop videos from 1990 and 1996 offered us much amusement.  We should really have walked straight out, but such a long walk and all needing the loo were reasons we lingered.  It's still a BRAPA tick, I'll just have to incorporate a re-visit into the future  After all, I haven't drunk cask in Ivy House, William Jameson, the Borough, the Royalty etc etc so I still have much unfinished business in Sunderland.  I digress, the toilet was a fascinating disabled closet with what seemed to be a "viewing area" for your friends, and a mop handle to help lock the door.  Quirky.  This pub could have been a gem! 

Silhouetted landlord sits disconsolately alone in his own pub.  No cask ale = no friends.
After the best Gregg's Sausage Roll you will ever find anywhere, we were soon ready for our final pub of the day ......

803.  Dun Cow, Sunderland

In my heritage guide due to the best 'bar back' I've ever seen since the Kingston in Hull (great Mansfield Riding Bitter and Hot Beef Sandwich (RIP)), I was excited about my visit here and it didn't disappoint.  A really friendly and helpful landlord reminded me why I first wanted to go to Uni here (the people of Sunderland on my Open Day) and I gambled on the blackest Saison ever seen, another plus 5% and by now, my drinking speed had slowed considerably and this was one to nurse with it's farmy taste.  Again, the chap admired my "no I don't wanna bloody try before I buy!" hardcore attitude to ale, perhaps.  The pub had great stained glass windowing and was by far the most pubby pub we'd been in all day as the three of us melted into a kind of fuzzy, happy state which meant there was no chance of pushing ourselves to walk to Chesters before the train home.  It actually reminded me I'd also like to visit a heritage pub called the Mountain Daisy in the town but not sure where it is!  

Well, that was more like it.  Time for a MaccyD's and the Grand Central comfort back to York, but don't try and count those table triangles after Saison and West Indies Porter, plus eye spy is difficult in the dark.  No need for York Tap 'injury time', but this was a fine day out and I'm looking forward to my next North East trip already, hope it won't be another year!  

John and Krzb arrive at the Dun Cow for total 5th pint refreshment
I was going to get the South Yorkshire midweek tour up and running today, but it's pancake day and I have a p...p...pancake date at the Green Owl.  But good news, Mr Boilerman (BRAPA Crapper of the Year 2016) might be here at 1pm tomorrow if he's ultra punctual, meaning we may be back on! 



  1. I'm sure Mr Irvin Esq will confirm, but bottled Guinness is not a tick in the Beer Guide. That's as bad as a certain Proud Prestonian ticking off Red Lions she didn't go in. Sharing thirds with your other half is fine, of course.

    I've had some duff beer around Roker over recent years (perhaps judgement clouded by 4 1-0 defeats, the last minute goal in 2011 a dagger to the heart of Duncan and the rest of us), including HV & The Av, though bench seating as you mention great there.

    The Sonnet Milk Stout swayed me a bit in R Bar beer wise, though tall tables are as bad as vases.

    Presume you've got more than Chesters to do there ? Can't believe you hadn't noticed the beaches, but then I never went to Uni.

  2. Hah! I'm sure Mr Irvin esq knows the rules of BRAPA state there is no requirement to drink real ale in any BRAPA pub, it's all about the pub. Happily, a 27 minute minimum window is normally filled nicely by a pint of ale.

    Sorry your experiences weren't so good, if it was football days and busy, I find they generally aren't! A dagger to the heart of Duncan indeed!

    I wish I'd stuck with Milk Stout, it just felt a bit early at 11am on a Monday but never mind, I won't make the same mistake again.

    Only Chesters left in the current GBG, but saved strategically for an outer trip encompassing say Boldon, Washington, West Herrington etc. Plus like I said, must try Mountain Daisy. Yes, as my Mum said just this morning "Sunderland's got a beach? I never knew that!"

    1. Never heard of Mountain Daisy, which surprising since it's on the National Inventory. Presume started real ale recently, as not on my 2012 Sunderland Ale Trail leaflet.

      It's just outside (west of) Millfield metro, and 2 minutes walk north of Chesters (so you'll be wanting a taxi).

      I dare you to go in the Railway Tavern just east of Millfield metro. No real ale, but made the Rifle Volunteers seem like the R Bar or whatever it is. It's a rare stronghold of Magpies support so don't forget your Black & White shirt.

    2. My mum said that about the beach too. Maybe I could start a night class "Unknown Beaches For Mums"

    3. Definitely! Tom can you ask Bernie if she hasn't heard of this either?

    4. M.Daisy has a real ale symbol in the heritage guide but I'm not sure how reliable that is? It does say not all pubs in that book do real ale despite being a CAMRA based guide.

      Taxi? Cheeky. Am not biting hah!

      I've got a large boys Queens Park hoopy black n white top with a huge Irn-Bru logo if the RT regulars will allow that one?

    5. Mountain Daisy does Trooper and a guest, according to WhatPub, which is reliable in even numbered counties.

      Queens Park top is fine. Is there a matching 1890s cap ?

      I can't give way on the drink real ale in pubs in the Guide to the best real ale places. It's not a pub guide; will you buy a coke and Doritos from the off-licences then ?

      I'm at Stockport's GBG selection meeting tomorrow night and will be raising this matter with Pub Curmudgeon's cat.

    6. I like whatpub a lot! Use it for opening times mainly but Burnley showed it useful for pre emptives.

      I wish I had the cap but I do own a snazzy red n blue 1875 Royal Engineers top too.

      Give my best to Mudgie and the cat. The way I see, the GBG is based mainly on quality of ale. That makes me think the people care about how they keep it. Then, as CAMRA would say, everything else should fit into place. Good staff, clean toilets, no crumbs, and it all leads invariably to a good experience for me, no matter which of the 4,500 pubs I enter. In theory. Quality control. So the GBG is the most comprehensive place to find a list of such quality establishments. And that's why I love it. So even if I chose to drink a Coke (very rare) I'd at least expect all around me to be good. You may disagree but the code of conduct has spoken!

    7. Tom and yourself have made a very compelling case which I'm happy to accept. Mudgie's cat made no objection after I stepped on it in the Hope last night.

      I don't want you complaining about my pub visits of less than a minute when I get close to the 4,500. The thought of having to re-do those six Glasgow Wetherspoons Mrs RM and I did in an hour last summer fills me with horror.

  3. Apologies for my delayed commenting, I was with Si for the Green Owl pancake festivities. It was certainly very nice of Mary to dish out free pancakes and a pleasant surprise to see Rachel on her reading week. I'm sure you and her cheated on the tossing competition though.

    I'm sorry to be a disappointment to Martin but I can't see any clause in the Code of Conduct that states ale must be drunk, I don't think this situation was considered when it was written, though Si may clarify on that. I'd say it is a moot point though as it will surely go out of the guide in any case. I'd suggest a repeat visit after Ivy House on Si's 63rd birthday, but it falls on a Tuesday so unless things have improved by then there won't be any point.

    How heavily delayed was your train? Feel free to tell me which it was if that makes it easier. I'm not aware of SSOL, only SSOS which is Sunderland Stadium of Shite. The question we all want the answer to is was your ticket checked on the Metty?

    Is that an original nameplate in the Avenue or a replica?

    Good to finally see a brunette award contender, I trust there is a photograph to cover the event of her winning.

    I think all you'd have to do to be accepted in the Railway Tav is wear your colours when playing away at Sunderland.

    I knew that Roker has a beach. I shall try to remember to ask Mother. It could quite easily be a round on Pointless. Towns with beaches. If it is and I'm on, I'll saw Mablethorpe.

  4. I have been alerted to the fact that a reader who doesn't comment may be nervous that I hate Sunderland. I admit that is indeed true, but I would not worry as I hate the vast majority of professional football clubs in this country, Sunderland a probably lower mid table on the level of hate. Sorry if I have offended with comments.

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