BrewDogging #68: Carlisle
This'll be the last BrewDogging of 2019, I reckon. (There's a research trip for another one still to be done, but you won't read about that until 2020.) In 2019, I wrote reports on eleven new bars, ten of which are linked to at the bottom of this page: Brixton, Paddington, Dalston, Union Square, Peterhead, Itaewon, Le Marais, Outpost Manchester, Perth and Edinburgh Airport, obviously not counting the one you're going to read about now. The vast majority of these opened this year, so we seem to be just about keeping up with James Watt's plans for world domination.
We should also report that we lost one: Angel, which finally pulled down the shutters after three separate attempts to make it pay its way. (Someone else is currently having a go at making the site work.) Maybe that makes you a bit twitchier about new bars when they open, looking for signs that they'll be able to make it through that all-important first couple of years? Maybe.
Our trip to BrewDog Carlisle coincides with The Belated Birthday Girl's birthday weekend, which explains why we take an unusually rambly route to the bar, including an overnight stopover in Leeds. We spend 18 hours or so in Leeds revisiting old favourite haunts: both BrewDog bars (taking our Beer Visa stamps up to 50), the fancy shops of the Corn Exchange, and finishing up with lunch at Bundobust. The only fly in the ointment is a moderately hellish journey up on LNER, which gets us into Leeds half an hour late at around 10pm. This is a bad time to discover that most of the city's restaurants close their kitchens by 9.30. Happily, our hotel for the night is the still-lovely 42 The Calls, and their room service sandwiches work just fine. (Apparently a hotel upgrade from four to five stars is on the way: let's hope they don't break it.)
Part of The BBG's plan is to do the final leg of the journey from Leeds on the Settle-Carlisle line, one of the most scenic routes on the British rail network: however, a combination of miserable weather and nights drawing in mean that we don't get to see all that much, really. Still, once we get into Carlisle things start to perk up a bit, beginning with the discovery that our hotel is literally next door to the station. The Hallmark is more conventional than the hotel we've just come from in Leeds, but it's comfy enough, ridiculously central, and reasonably priced for a weekend stay.
Our first port of call once we've dropped off the bags is, inevitably, BrewDog Carlisle. When we walk in the door, the shape of the interior comes as a bit of a shock: once you're a few yards in, it tapers to a long thin box, with the bar on the left and assorted tables on the right. The angle you can see in the picture - where it all converges like a shot from a Kubrick movie into a vanishing point marked by a chunk of Fisher graffiti art - reminds me of the late lamented Warsaw bar so much that it gives me a wee chill. Particularly when I think about how the Warsaw bar is both late and lamented.
Is there a risk of the Carlisle bar going the same way? Difficult to tell, based on the three visits we pay it over the weekend (early Friday evening, late Friday night, and mid-afternoon on Saturday). It's never quiet, but it's never especially full, either. Although it might just feel that way in comparison to the bar's neighbours. It's located on Botchergate, one of those high streets that has to be forcibly pedestrianised every Friday night because every third building is a noisy bar full of marauding lairy young people. (Case in point: Deja Vu, a 60s/70s/80s bar populated entirely by people born in the 90s and 00s.) I think there's a case to be made for BrewDog acting as a quiet oasis in the middle of Botchergate, for the people who are literally too old for this shit. And if that's what they're aiming for, it's doing just fine.
There are certainly several points in its favour. The usual selection of beer and food, sure, but the latter is augmented with a cheeseboard that's become the stuff of legend on the BrewDog shareholder forums. Packed with half a dozen massive lumps of cheese and all the crackers they could lay their hands on at the time, it's far too much for one person to even consider: the two of us attack one on the Saturday lunchtime, and end up incapable of anything other than a light tapas supper for the rest of the day. And, it has to be said, the staff are ridiculously friendly: conversations are struck up from the moment we present our Beer Visas (something that usually only happens when we're overseas) and keep going while we're there.
That friendliness seems to be characteristic of the region, though. We cover a reasonable circuit of the compact town centre in our 48 hours there - decent dinners at David's, Dutch Uncle and The Shabby Scholar (though we don't realise the latter two are owned by the same people until the credit card slips come back): more excellent beer at The Fat Gadgie: good coffee and great breakfast at Foxes: great coffee and good breakfast at John Watt: traditional tourism at the Old Town Hall, the Cathedral, the Castle and Tullie House Museum: and more contemporary entertainment at arts venue The Old Fire Station, featuring some local art exhibits (including a fascinating solo show from Colin Beck) and live comedy from Suzi Ruffell (in a different room, obviously). In every case, the people we meet are incredibly chatty and helpful, with the volunteers at the Castle and Cathedral being especially keen to share their stories.
If there's one complaint you could aim at Carlisle as a town, it's that drinking may well be the only thing you can do after the sun goes down. All the tourist attractions close down at 4pm at weekends, and pretty much everything except the bars is shut by six on Sundays. Still, we get a big finish to our weekend, as our Sunday night coincides with the official switching-on of the town's Christmas lights, incongruously followed by a live performance by East 17. We find out some time later that they've been performing at Christmas switch-ons in towns across the UK throughout November and December: they can bring a snow machine along for Stay Another Day and everything. (For those who care, the only remaining member of the original lineup is Terry, one of the two you always assumed were only there because they were mates with the guys who did the actual work.)
One of the few things open after six on a Sunday night is, of course, BrewDog. We could have finished off our weekend with one more drink there before getting the train home, but we decide to behave ourselves instead. Hopefully, the bar should be able to cope without us. It's looking promising, anyway.
[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern†, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, Dog Eat Dog/Angel†, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku†, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road†, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton†, Berlin, Warsaw†, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong†, Oxford, Seven Dials, Reading, Malmo, Tallinn, Overworks, Tower Hill, Edinburgh Lothian Road, Milton Keynes, Canary Wharf, Brixton, Paddington, Dalston, Aberdeen Union Square, Peterhead, Itaewon, Le Marais, Outpost Manchester, Perth, Edinburgh Airport]