Sunday 20 March 2016

BRAPA - Middlesbrough / Danby

The only funnyish thing about pub 842.
The Sat-Nav lady was in mischievous mood on Friday, deciding that the best way to Danby was actually a meandering country route through Pickering, over the Moors, past all the heather and famous grouses (grice?) in a squally downpour, eventually reaching Danby via Castleton Moor.

Danby is, I've been told, where the gentle-folk of Middlesbrough bring their prostitutes, away from the bright red lights, the smog and the parmos.  As a very small place (and I can't imagine the village bakery is suitable), today's first pub would seem their most likely tryst destination.

Feeling the stonework on arrival in Danby
841.  Duke of Wellington, Danby

The Saltwick Nab, guest beer from Whitby, was camouflaged as we entered a cosy rural style side bar, the pump clip being all tobaccoey browny grey like the wood panelling and furnishings.  It would have been easy to miss and order a Daleside Bitter instead.  Through the doorway, a real fire was roaring away in a comfortable lounge and some drenched walkers (their moods ranging from 'fed up' to 'ecstatic') were enjoying the beer, and I must note, NO FOOD anywhere to be seen.  There was an evening menu,but this was nice to see at lunchtime in rural North Yorkshire.  The landlord was a big canny chap, and his pub seemed to act as 'all things to the village', very old school.  During our short stay, he was asked if he had (a) a car park (b) mini cheddars (c) a room, and perhaps most worryingly of all (d) a spike.  Going back to the car park, a southern man came in with his wife and loudly declared he was "parked raaaand the soide!" He then told the pub it was his wife's birthday, and we all grunted in a disinterested way.  The couple then went up the back stairs to their room for the night, good job he wasn't from 'Boro or it'd have got me thinking.  This was a cracker of a pub, we kind of already knew it'd be the best of the day.  If I was a prostitute, I'd happily be brought here.

View from the side room.
After a sandwich in the car and observing some village life which generally involved old people buying loaves of bread, we were on our way to the Linthorpe area of 'Boro.  

842.  Dr Phil's Real Ale House, Middlesbrough

I've been to a fair few micro pubs now in the name of BRAPA and pre-emptive ticking, and this, Middlesbrough's original and currently only GBG one, was unashamedly true to the blueprint.  We walked into a tiny one roomed square thing, no bar to be seen.  Dr Phil pointed to a blackboard and after ordering some local Truefitt ale (always good), he disappeared into a little cupboard and came back with two pints.  Take that Cock at Broom, take that heritage guide, you think you ancient village pubs have a monopoly on 'pubs with no bar'?  Think again!  Dr Phil returned to his newspaper, the only other customer, an old man with a cough that revealed too many years of ICI chimneys, did the same.  Me and Dad felt obliged to whisper, we didn't have to, but the atmos was hardly conducive to conversation, laughter, fun or anything really.  The beer was excellent, but all we could really do is stare at pump clips and make occasional whispered comments about breweries until a 3rd chap appeared.  As we left, I tried to say bye and thanks to Dr Phil, but he just grunted as if to say "don't make a scene, you've had your drink, now go". 

Just like a library!  Dr Phil's.
And knowing three more pre-emptive Micro pubs awaited us, you could forgive me for thinking I'd have three more identical experiences to this, but luckily I'd be proved very wrong.

Sherlocks, Middlesbrough

On Baker Street, hence the name, but number 7 Baker Street?  Seriously, they've gone to all this effort to create a lovely little atmospheric Holmes style drawing room with oak panelling and quirky wallpaper, and then they don't renumber it 221B?  And make all the other properties around it renumber themselves accordingly?  Just wrong.  Anyway, it was nice to be in a so-called Micro with atmosphere, despite being little over 1 year old, good on them.  It had just been Plastic Paddy's day so I ordered a delicious Irish Stout from Sonnet 43, served by a barmaid who could well have been The Corrs outcast sister.  We sat near a table of middle aged men, all jokey and peculiar, and as I went to the loo, Dad got heckled by the main joker (Moriarty) but couldn't understand what he was saying.  So when one of his friends told Dad to ignore him and Dad admitted he couldn't understand him, it caused even more merriment!  A young boy asked permission to come in and watch his Dad get drunk, which was approved.  The windows steamed up with Fri afternoon drinkers, and it made it look like we had a Victorian London style pea-souper outside.   The only criticism I would make, two TV screens both showing "The Hotel Inspector" seemed very unnecessary.  By the way, is this allowed in such establishments?  Moriarity and his friends left about half a pint of lager each, it was time we moved on too.  

It's steaming up at Sherlock's.

Dad at Sherlock's,  pub 3 is the black and white thing two doors down.

Twisted Lip, Middlesbrough

We had our reservations about even entering here, as we knew this was the SS (Southern Supporters) designated pub, and the place was likely to be cheek to jowl with pompous Hull City comment, mini laptops and highbrow scholarly argument.  Pleasingly, this was multi roomed and the SS had retired to the room on the left, leaving the bar free for Dad to be given a health warning by the kind barmaids as he (accidentally) ordered an 8.5% pint of Brass Castle Annexation, only to be given a half (most of which, I ended up drinking anyway).  We perched on the table of a kind man with red trosuers and soon got chatting, he told his he didn't really understand modern real ale and listed off a crazy list of standard brown bitters - Doom Bar, Youngs, Fullers, Directors until Dad accused him of being a southerner and he had  to desist, though he had time to squeeze Jennings into the equation.  I then discovered this pub had an upstairs with it's own bar and cosy atomsphere.  I was coming towards an earth shattering conclusion, but we still had one more pub to go, just round the corner on Borough Road.

Me trying to do a 'Devil' impression at pub 4 - I blame the 8.5%er.
Devil's Advocate, Middlesbrough

This had a much more relaxed and languid style of atmosphere than the bustle of the Baker St duo, and a very Middlesbrough style clientele.  And by that, I mean, they look like they might mutate into some Smog Monster and attack you, when in truth, they are thinking kind and helpful thoughts about how your day could be made more pleasant in their fine town.  The bar seemed to have been squeezed into a back corner, so it felt like we were balls on a fussball table that had got stuck in the corner, and needed a giant to lift up the building and tilt it slightly.  My main criticism in here was the beer quality.  Dad wasn't happy with the Truefitt Challenger I'd chose him (despite saying it was lovely in Dr Phil's) so we swapped, and it was just cold and fizzy, so you couldn't get the nice red tastes.  But aside from that, the ambiance, staff and locals were just what you needed pre-match, and they heard us debating Isaac Wilson Wetherspoons was in relation to here, and gave us detailed directions which was a nice touch. 

Locals squashed into the corner bar at Devil's Advocate
We did find the Isaac Wilson, my 4th visit to this underrated 'Spoons, always great staff and top beer (my half Dark Star was best thing I drank today), a bit busy but plenty of room despite the football crowds and closeness to the trains.  No pigeon fanciers or parmos as on my first visit here, but all good.

I think my conclusion after today's pubs would have to be this - the set parameters around the micro pub concept is bollocks.  They are obviously not all in same blueprint,  today we saw multi rooms, different shapes and sizes, TV's, gentle music, I think even more than one toilet in one of the pubs!  I wouldn't be surprised if Blackcurrant cordial had been present too.  If you just call them pubs and lose this silly stigma, I think punters will be a lot more willing to just enjoy them for what they are, places that serve a good range of beers from unusual breweries.  But whatever the truth, the future of real ale in Boro is finally rosy.




  1. First things first, a lovely piece of writing. Am mildly disappointed you beat me to 'Boro but will no doubt live as long as I get my Bass bankers in Stockton's Sun (been yet ?).

    I just knew you'd be disinterested in someone's birthday; just one more bit of routine along with minute silences and tributes to dead people. Respect.

    Spot on about micros. They're just pubs. Some are run by people who can keep beer, some have customers who can only talk about beer, some have comfortable seating. They can do what they like and there's nothing Mr Micro Bloke can do about it. They're not Ember Inns.

    1. Thanks Martin, looking fwd to seeing your own Boro comments. I bet you get a parmo with your Bass. Not done Stockton yet no, it's high(ish) on the agenda! I'm predicting I will finish North Yorks in the next year, I must be nearer than I think - it seems to have about 600 pubs in the GBG!

      Yes, our man in Kent may claim to be the godfather of all micros but neither he nor D.Phil can really take credit for what is happening now in 'Boro, i.e. a real ale pub awakening - well done Sherlocks and Twisted Lip especially!

  2. That is two blog entries in two days both of which mention prostitutes. Excellent. I'd never imagined Middlesbrough men would be so discrete as to go out to a village for such purposes, but I suppose a smoggy housewife must be quite frightening so I suppose I can see why. I'd view the southern chappy with a bit more suspicion if I were you also.

    You are both right about micro pubs. Although I have been wondering for a little while when one of the chains will try having micro pubs, in much the same way as some of the big breweries have been trying to have craft departments and microbreweries that supply supermarkets. No brains needed to see through that one.

    1. I was really hoping to go for the prozzie hattrick at Birdwell, oh well never mind! Thinking about it, southern chappy was a bit suspicious. Why announce "wifey's" birthday? Was it all a cover-up?

      Ember Inns open a micro pub (hypothetically) - now there is a prospect I'm finding hard to imagine. Any ideas how that'd look?

  3. It's lovely to read your descriptions of events, and thereby bring a fun day back to life. It occurs to me that Dr Phil's is very like a suburban GP's waiting room I (very rarely) visit, so maybe he is a doctor. He certainly has the warm bedside manner exhibited by many a medical man. Hard to believe that Middlesbrough is actually showing signs of wanting real ale, but seeing, and drinking, is believing.

    1. Dr Phil did seem like the kind of man who'd delight in telling you you'd have lived a lot longer had you drunk some obscure Teeside brew that only he knows about.

      I always panic I won't remember any details from a given day out, and when I start on the first pub, it all comes flooding back to me! (well, until we get to pub 6!)

    2. Beer people may be good people (yawn) unless you don't buy their silly beers for your pub, but they can also be incredibly dull and insular.

      One of the reasons I rarely go to Beer Fests is that even at the good ones other folk sitting a foot away blank you if you dare attempt to speak to them about their town. They speak to their own, they speak to their oooown etc.

      In Stockton & M'boro this weekend (yes) I will endeavour to talk to folk in each micro and see how far I get. Failing that just eat parmos.

    3. I agree about beer fests totally, so I was very surprise on our recent Pudsey trip that a couple overheard me talking West Yorks pubs and started quizzing me on Huddersfield pubs and Heavy Woollen days out! So unusual, I nearly fell off my chair. We normally only get threatened with violence by Canadian visitors.

      I hope the Smoggie Micro-folk were as friendly as you hoped, but the discarded parmo may reveal the truth!

  4. I sold Dr Phil's Real Ale House sold to Truefitt Brewery, however my reputation still matters to me. You visited on an afternoon when Dr Phil's was quiet.The old man in the corner is the Chair of Cleveland CAMRA and at that time was suffering from a chest infection. Many people of write about the atmosphere of pubs. Dr Phil's doesn't play music, as per the micropub ethos, so it is down to the customers to make the atmosphere. You whispered to each other. Some people do that for privacy so that might be why I read the paper. Had you come on a busy evening session you would have had a different experience. NB I was the owner of a pub are not performing monkey.