The Full Measure – The Bacchus

3 01 2010

So here we go.  Welcome to the first posting of our occasional feature The Full Measure, our attempt at in-depth pub reviews.  We have chosen the following format as a way of trying to structure our thoughts but I imagine we may play around with this once we’ve written a few reviews.  We’ve also included a scoring system but I’m really not sure about that and that may be the first thing to go.  We have left our rating of the drinks on offer until the end because we feel everything else has as much and in some cases more bearing on why we frequent these pubs.  Above all please remember this is just our opinion and as such should be taken with a pinch of salt and we would recommend everyone to check out the places we review for themselves.  Oh, and apologies for the length of this post.

Name (inc. Nickname): The Bacchus

Location (inc transport links): Located at the eastern end of High Bridge, a cobbled lane running between Grey Street and Pilgrim Street.  For those old enough to remember, it stands almost exactly where Phaze, Newcastle’s premier alternative clothing shop of the ‘80’s, used to be.

Approximately 0.5 miles from Central Station – about a 10 minute walk.

Nearest Metro: Monument (2-5 minute walk depending on whether you have the footwear to handle the cobbles)

Marked down only because of the cobbles, which can be deadly when wet (not great when you’ve had a few) or, so the ladies tell me, when you are wearing heels.  Some people may also find the lane a bit intimidating in the dark although it is as safe as anywhere else in town, otherwise an ideally situated, city centre pub.

Score: 9/10

Architecture: The Bacchus is a relatively new build; the old building which stood a few yards further along the lane was flattened in the name of urban regeneration about 8 years ago.  The dark green painted frontage has 3 large windows allowing views of passers by and diners in the Flat Bread Café opposite.

It looks largely unassuming from the outside and could be quite easy to miss from the ends of the lane if you didn’t know it was there.  All in all a rather lacklustre, but clean and tidy, modern exterior that gives no real clues about what to expect inside.

Again, somewhat like the external façade, the interior décor is clean, tidy and somewhat characterless.  The external doors lead into what is a medium sized, 2 room space dominated by a large ‘U’ shaped, island bar to the right.  The bar was allegedly created by the design team to look like that in the Café Royal in Edinburgh but, trust me, it doesn’t.  The area by the windows has a selection of armchairs and tables which are always popular with people watchers taking in the view of the lane and cafes opposite.

Towards the rear of the main room is a raised seated area which is often populated by those customers partaking of the food menu.  The area around the bar has a number of bar stools and a couple of tables but is largely a standing area.  There are a couple of large wooden clad pillars around the main room which have beer glass shelving around them for the standing punters.

The second smaller room is to the left of the main room, accessed though a couple of archways, and contains a mixture of sofa’s, armchairs and poufs arranged around a couple of low tables.  A wide, sweeping staircase also to the left takes you to the toilets on the first floor.

Score: 6/10

Social & Historical Context: As previously noted the Bacchus is a new build and as such you may expect it still to be finding its place in Newcastle’s drinking landscape but there is more to it than that.

Prior to its demolition the old Bacchus used to sit a little further down the lane and looked very similar to the new build only with slightly smaller windows and a splash of Rust Red paint if I remember.  The old Bacchus was one of Newcastle’s ‘Universal Pubs’ i.e. it didn’t really matter who you were or what you looked like you would be welcomed in.  Old blokes nursing bottles of Brown Ale in schooners sat next to dolly birds heading off to the Bigg Market and Rock fans preparing for a night of excess at the Mayfair, all coexisting quite happily.  It was a bit tatty around the edges and was definitely in need of a lick of paint but flattening the place was a bit excessive.

The new build doesn’t attract as diverse a crowd and doesn’t have the same social soul of the old build but, to be fair, it is only starting to make a history for itself, hence the low mark here.  Out of interest I would have scored the old build 8/10 here, largely for the social diversity of the place.

Score: 4/10

Décor: Often described as looking like the bar from an Edwardian era passenger liner the Bacchus has many admirers and a fair number of detractors.  The walls are painted in inoffensive beige and are partially clad in dark wood panelling.  The large central bar is also in a polished dark wood as are the pillars around the main room and the drinks racks behind and in the middle of the bar.  The dark wood is OK during the day and when the place is quiet but at night and if it is busy it can make the main room a bit gloomy.

The flooring is a mixture of hardwood and perhaps the most ill advised Burrberry checked carpet I’ve yet seen in a bar.  I’m not sure how many Charvers you had to skin for a flooring like this but it’s not a good look guys.  Continuing the general nautical theme pictures of ships of all type line the walls of the smaller second room.

The Bacchus looks like an upmarket boozer and certainly wouldn’t be out of place as a wine bar.  Everything is generally kept very clean and tidy although, as you may expect after a few years, the carpet is starting to look a bit careworn.

Score 7.5/10

Clientele: The punters you tend to find in the Bacchus these days are mainly a well heeled, middle aged crowd.  Sadly the old geezers with their Brown Ale seem to have disappeared and, now that the Bigg Market is no longer the place to be seen and the Mayfair is a car park, many of the younger crowd are absent too.

Given that we are talking about CAMRA’s current Tyneside pub of the year there are also fewer real ale stereotypes on view than you would imagine.  In fact looking around the bar there are far more people drinking John Smith’s/lager/wine/shorts than real ale, something I’ve noticed every time I’ve been here.  The other thing that strikes you is the number of women in the pub and they often outnumber the blokes making the Bacchus a more comfortable venue for the lone female punter.

Mostly harmless.

Score: 7/10

Atmosphere (inc music & games machines): Does this place have an atmosphere? Pretty staid and boring to be honest.  I would never describe the place as lively, even when there is a large pre-match crowd in, it just gets busy.  However it does feel safe and I’ve never been aware of or seen any trouble here.

The most annoying thing about the Bacchus is the piped music they insist on playing.  Well I say music, it’s more of a muzac drone of radio 2’s greatest hits and it is played at a volume too low to make it worthwhile but just high enough that it interferes with your conversations especially when the place gets busy…aaarrrggghhh!!!

There are 2 slot machines in the main room but thankfully they are situated on the edge of things and the volume has been turned right down.  In truth I don’t recall anyone ever playing on the things.

Score: 5/10

Staff: A bit of a mixed bag really, with some not seemingly the most knowledgeable about their beer and often more interested in chatting to each other whilst serving.  But, if you can hold their attention for a short time, they are pleasant enough.  I have, to be fair, noticed an improvement recently.

Score: 6.5/10

Food: Other than a beer/food matching event I have only ever partaken of the Sunday lunches here.  The food is generally well cooked but there have been a couple of times where the meat on my plate looked as if it had spent too long under a salamander and was a bit dried out.  This is not the place to come to if you want some nice pink beef.  That one quibble aside I would certainly recommend popping in for lunch, you get plenty of it for your money and it tastes rather lovely too.

Score: 7/10

Toilets: Upstairs, always clean and tidy.  There is also a disabled toilet on the ground floor for those who can’t manage the stairs.

Score: 8.5/10

Drinks: By far the Bacchus’s best feature has to be the range of drinks available both on draft and in the bottle.  For the real ale fan there are 8 handpumps offering quite a varied selection of beer usually including a strong ale and a dark beer.  Jarrow Rivet Catcher appears to be a constant fixture as the house beer.  There are often Brewery events run where all the beers on tap are from a single brewery which always prove to be very popular.  The beer is always kept really well and I’ve yet to have had to take a pint back.  As always I recommend you check out Phil’s excellent site to see what brews are currently available.

The Real Cider/Perry drinkers are also well catered for with a least 6 different varieties on tap from the cellar at any one time.  Again there is always a range of styles available meaning you should find something to your taste at any given visit.

As you would expect the staff are happy to give you taste of anything that catches your eye but are unsure of.  You can also request your favourite tipple to be ordered in if you have a hankering for something you may have tried elsewhere.

Bottled beer lovers have a nice selection to choose from with examples from the Continent rubbing shoulders with those from the States.  I’ve not dipped into the bottles myself but I am informed that it is one of the better selections available in Newcastle.

Wine and spirits drinkers also seem to be well served although again I have yet to try any of those on offer.  A cursory glance tells me the usual suspects are available as far as spirits are concerned and that the wine list looks to have plenty of choice available.

Score: 8.5/10

Conclusion: This has been a difficult review.  Many of you may have gathered that I have a fondness for the previous incarnation of the Bacchus and you would be right.  I freely admit here that that fondness has coloured my review, but isn’t that what this is all about? A pub has to fulfil many criteria to work its way into out hearts and those criteria are often very personal.  It’s about what makes you comfortable to sit in a room and drink with a bunch of total strangers.  At the end of the day it matters little how good the beer is if you don’t feel comfortable drinking it and that’s where I find myself with the Bacchus.

It is not a bad pub by any stretch of the imagination, far from it, and it is one of the first places I recommend to people who ask me about good pubs in Newcastle but it doesn’t do it for me.  I only tend to go in if accompanied (dragged) by a Cider Tart or if I find out about a particular beer being on which is quite sad really.  Perhaps, over time, I’ll warm to the place, but it has been a few years now and I don’t see any sign of a thaw.

Overall Score: 7/10

KC

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