Monday, 20 July 2009

The Cooperage RIP? Part I

Pubs battle to survive as Cooperage closes

TONIGHT The Cooperage, one of Newcastle’s oldest pubs, may serve its last drink. Lisa Hutchinson takes a look at the struggle to stay in business for the good old-fashioned British boozer.

IT must be an age thing, but when we get past 40-something we want a pub with a polished wooden bar, a familiar barmaid and somewhere to hang your coat.

The best bars are oozing with character in historic buildings where decades of stories have been told and the regulars are of a certain decade.

One of the oldest bars in Newcastle’s city centre is closing tomorrow and tonight its regulars are expected to turn out in force to say a fond farewell to the Cooperage.

The bar and nightclub is within a historic Grade I-listed building on the city’s Quayside and has been a regular spot for thousands of drinkers over the decades it’s been open.

Many first started going as students and have been propping up the bar since. Others remembered the good old days and returned there for evenings out after getting fed up with the flashing lights and plastic nightlife elsewhere.

Newcastle is a party city and attracts hen and stag parties from far afield.

But those with local knowledge can sniff out the traditional watering holes.

On the Quayside, the Crown Posada and the Red House pubs are bars that have stood the test of time. Further up town The Newcastle Arms, The Bridge and the Beehive are among traditional bars thriving while others are crumbling in the credit crunch.

As new chic and trendy bars have come and gone around them, they have stuck with tradition and managers say that is the reason why they have survived.

Neil Amos, 50, landlord of The Newcastle Arms, in St Andrews Street, said: “It is a shame The Cooperage is closing. It was a great pub over the years, a traditional bar with a great atmosphere.

“My pub is also very traditional. We don’t have a jukebox, just the sound of people having a chat.
“The success of a traditional pub is the atmosphere and the beer.

“We put it down to proper beer being served in a proper pub that keeps us going.

“These pubs that sell beer for £1.50 a pint don’t sell good beer, and it’s the quality of the ales that are keeping the proper pubs alive through these tough times.”

Carl Robinson, 20, assistant manager of the Crown Posada, at the Side, on the Quayside, said: “We are the oldest purpose-built pub in Newcastle. It was built in 1848 and I believe we have the oldest licence.

“Our regulars are between their 40s and 60s and they are a large part of our success. We are a very traditional pub with a mahogany bar and chandeliers. We are a pub that people return to again and again.”

Gavin Armstrong, 25, trainee manager of the Bridge Hotel, Castle Garth, said: “We are a proper pub and that’s why so many regulars come here.

“We sell good real ales. We have nine pumps and many are from local breweries.

“We have always had the same traditional decor. We have seen refurbishments but have always kept the same style. We know when our regulars come in as they have set days and times.

“Many pubs set up and then disappear after two minutes. The traditional ones, like ours, have survived and will carry on for years to come.”

The Cooperage lease holders, Danny Kinnear and Phil Sheldrake, will hand back their keys tomorrow.

After a run of complaints from nearby residents Newcastle City Council slapped a noise abatement order on the pub.

Brewery bosses at Enterprise Inns decided to close having found soundproofing too costly. They say they are considering its future with one options to put it on the open market.

Danny said: “It is a very emotional time for all of us. There are so many memories and so much history tied up within The Cooperage. The support we have had since we got told has been amazing.”

It will be a sad time tonight when the last pint is pulled and trading stops at the pub that is in a 14th century former merchant’s house.

While last orders will be final, thousands of North East drinkers will raise a glass to its farewell.

The Heaving Chronic, 20 July 2009

"We have nine pumps and many are from local breweries." Hmmm... Trouble is, when we would go in, there would be few real ales on and they weren't kept very well. Since the smoking ban and the credit crunch, it's noticeable that Newcastle just isn't as busy any more; of course, one added factor is that so many new pubs were opened in the Labour council's attempt to create the 'party' city of Europe (i.e. piss ups and fights; Amsterdam's more civilised than here). And you wonder why we didn't win City of Culture....

The area around the Central Station is reasonably busy and the bars in and around The Gate seem to attract the less sophisticated, young and underage drinkers, so the Bigg Market is no longer heaving with as many sixteen-seventeen year-olds as it used to be. The Quayside seems to be the domain of the 55 year-old leopard print-wearing leather-skinned women and their male equivalents - similar to the crowd that drink on Percy Street, in fact. Unless it's a match day, neither area is that busy and unless the students (now given to drinking cheap bottles of coloured vodka) are here, many of the bars are empty during the week; in fact, some bars now close on certain weekdays. Bearing in mind all this and taking the string of hotel bars on Osborne Road into consideration, there just might be too many places to choose from.

The Cooperage used to be decent, but I recall it being taken over by people who seemed to put more effort into the club upstairs than the pub itself - and how they obtained permission to completely change the position of the doorway on what I assume is a listed building is beyond me. As the article points out, there are other, clearly better-run, traditional pubs in Newcastle that don't appear to be under threat of closure. Clearly the new owners of the Cooperage also feel the club is more important and can't or won't cough up for soundproofing. Odd that the noise from the shithole over the road isn't a problem.

Unfortunately, tradition matters nothing when there's money to be made.

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