Beer, dried fish and
A Newcastle publican escaped the horrors of Ukraine last month following some well-earned rest and recreation in Kyiv.
Alastair Gilmour reports on the normality before the barbarity.
There comes a time when we all need to step back, reload and think things through. Some people call the process a holiday – but they’re the lucky ones.
The pressures on others, however, are so great that stress and anxiety eventually blend into depression. A fortnight in Benidorm is mere Elastoplast.
When Newcastle licensed trade entrepreneur Dave Carr felt that running two highly successful pubs and a live entertainments venue was weighing him deeper into permanent tension, he decided to up sticks and allow his extensive IT knowledge to get on with it and work remotely from anywhere on the continent. That was the middle of August last year – but after six months of campervanning and cycling across Europe experiencing other pub cultures and regularly Zoom-meeting his team back home while managing the workforce, stocks, events and design from under bridges in Slovakia or in fields in Albania, where did he find himself come late February? In Kyiv, just as Russian forces invaded Ukraine.
“I suffered from some bouts of very heavy depression during 2020,” says Dave, who operates the Brandling Villa and Punch Bowl Hotel in Newcastle, plus Bobiks live performance centre.
“I was working from home a lot and was aware I had to change my life dramatically. I’d done a lot of work automating the business and decided I could work remotely. I had bought myself a VW Transporter and left the UK two weeks before my fortieth birthday. I know, mid-life crisis or what?
“I’ve since lived and worked from my van, but when I was in Greece in late November I decided to change my plans for the winter and live in places more long-term. In December and January I lived in Bucharest with a Colombian glam rocker, a French psychiatrist and an Italian conspiracy theorist ex-roadie.”
Dave Carr travelled in and worked from the VW Transporter pictured here near Tirana, Albania.
Dave regularly cycled into Kyiv to witness what life was like there on the brink of war. View of Podil from Andriisky Bridge.
Dave Carr is the man who brought us the Greggs sausage roll burger called the Dirty Thoughts of Cheryl Cole and its kitchen kins the Beef Chegwin and A Night In With Susan Boyle. Bobiks is named after a dog being trained for 1960s Soviet space flight but ran away instead. This sort of action impresses Dave Carr.
He says: “I was in Bucharest in early February, a bit later than intended due to a bout of Covid. You get a bad back after day three – nobody told me that – and drove through Romania, Moldova and Ukraine to an apartment in Kyiv, via a few police bribes for the odd incredulous driving ‘offence’.
“My plan was to stay there for two months – I’d been learning Ukrainian since December with a girl called Irina, who would teach me online from her home in Poltava.”
This is what this guy does – studies by being there, everything site-specific, wringing every drop of creativity out of his often daft ideas but invariably carries them out with great assurance. And nothing is sacred; if something eventually doesn’t work to his high standards, off into the long grass it goes.
A long-time admirer of the Central and Eastern European way of life as well as Soviet literature and iconography, Dave has been writing notes on his travels –mainly about restaurants, pubs, cathedrals, dogs, beer and food.
“My apartment was in a yuppy-ish gated community called Comfort Town on the east side of the Dnipro river,” he says. “Not my thing obviously, but I needed something safe and monitored for peace of mind – and it was Ukraine prices, so…
“Normal set-up for my new lifestyle was to cycle into town and work or wander, and this is what I did from February 4. My first observation was the complete stoicism in the light of the threat of invasion. Bars were busy – and much more modern and stylish than I’d seen in a previous visit to Kyiv in 2006.
“I spent the first night in the Drunken Monkey and Punkraft in the boho area of Podil drinking the local craft beers from Varvar. A few nights later I got a bit pissed on cherry wine at the famous Pyana Vyshnia (Drunken Cherry). Jesus, don’t eat the cherries at the bottom, they’re lethal.
“Then I received a message from a guy called Paul who used to DJ in pubs around the doors when I was a barman at Tilleys in Newcastle. We had a million mutual acquaintances and we agreed to hook up for a beer.”
Paul is now deputy head at the School of English and living near central Teatralna with his girlfriend Ira. They watched the Newcastle v Aston Villa match together in a bar called Nasturlich (German style beer house) next door to the fabled Perepichka shop which sells Ukrainian hotdogs in donut batter for 50p. (“There’s always a crazy queue.”)
The Drunken Monkey in Podil, Kyiv.
As ever, basic bellyfillers go best with beer – hotdog in donut batter.
Dave says: “I was introduced to Paul’s friends – a few teachers from the UK, a cocktail bartender from Kyiv, and Nick, a cartographer for the OSCE (the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe).
“It was all their last night, as their employers had instructed them to return home. Only Paul, having a Ukrainian girlfriend and me, with my newfound nihilism, were staying despite the upgrading of government warnings.“I stayed out with the cartographer, Nick. He was from Florida. He and Tej, the Ukrainian, gave me a crash course around the surprisingly huge cocktail scene in Kyiv. A call with my wine supplier a few days later would inform me that Ukraine is making big headway into the natural wine scene.
Shaken, not stirred. Paravoz Underground Hidden Bar in Kyiv.
A fine head on Dave Carr’s beer in Kyiv.
Dried fish and beer in Podil, Kyiv.
“We ended in Gogi, a Georgian restaurant, chatting with the owners. It was here as we shared various shots of chacha grape brandy that I noticed the nervousness behind the smiles.
“As Nick worked for the OSCE, the restaurant manager was digging for any potential info, and looked more and more troubled. My teacher Irina was the same. She was originally from Luhansk, and after moving to Poltava in 2014 after the skirmishes (between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatist rebels) her mother had moved back and refused to leave. Those Babushkas are stubborn, man.”
Difficulties with ATM machines followed which opened Dave’s eyes to the seriousness of the situation he was in, startling him out of feeling totally comfortable. This wasn’t going to go away.
He says: “It was just becoming day-to-day stress, even though I still didn’t feel an imminent threat – I was under the impression that this was the end game for the Russians and that it was all a big psychological power play to get something out of the West.
“I decided to ditch and head west for Lviv, some 60 kilometres from the Polish border, a gorgeous, very European city, more like Krakow or Salzburg. (By this time Dave had been joined by Craig, a friend from Newcastle).
“Again, people seemed outwardly fine, and the bars were really busy. We ate at a chintzy medieval restaurant and drank some fairly decent milk stout at Pravda Beer Theatre, the local brewery that would later gain recognition for diversifying their range to include complimentary molotov cocktails for citizens.
“Next day we got to the Polish border at 11.30am, there was a two kilometre tailback and it wasn’t moving with rumours it had been closed. Families with kids and dogs were asking for space in cars to cross the border.
“After 10 hours we got to the border control. They were completely overwhelmed. We were elated to finally cross into Poland around 9pm, but were quickly reduced to crushing sadness, seeing other cars full of families, luggage and dogs; realising that they may have just left their homes to go nowhere.
“In reality, I didn’t suffer any great hardship, or see the bare bones of war, but what I saw was more than enough. The speed a whole country can unravel into chaos is frightening.”
Dave continues his lessons with Irina, who escaped Poltava with her husband for the Carpathians, talking of agitators leaving handmade bombs in her local post office.
“I’m now in Vilnius and still seeing cars with Ukrainian plates and hatchbacks rammed with possessions,” he says. “A Lithuanian has just seen the Tryzub (the Ukrainian trident symbol) on my laptop and fistbumped me. There is obviously no lack of solidarity within ex-Soviet states!
The 2km queue of traffic waiting to enter Poland.
“I started to wonder where the other families were going, who they’d left behind and whether they’d ever return. A total disaster for Russia and Ukraine, led by a mafia bully, appeased by western beneficiaries in return for cheaper natural gas.
“My overwhelming sadness for the country I left has returned. Good luck Ukraine.”
Dave Carr and the VW Transporter have since travelled to Helsinki, Jönköping (Sweden), Copenhagen and Hamburg.
He is now living in Tallinn, Estonia, for a few months.
He says: “My apartment block is filling up with Russian speakers and cars with Russian plates as there seems to be a small exodus from Veliky Novgorod and St Petersburg. The military force is notable in the Baltics; military jets flew over me in Lithuania, and Riga was full of excitable Americans talking openly about their pretty worrying perspectives. Troublesome times.”
He is preparing an account of his adventures in a blog to be published called Why I Left This Shit Country. He appears to be very well.
A tankful of Ukrainian passion
More than 30,000 pints-worth of Kyiv-based Varvar Brew’s eclectic craft beers – mentioned by Dave Carr in or main story – were ordered by UK bars, pubs, restaurants and retailers in just four days, as part of an initiative to show support and raise money for the people of Ukraine.
Launched last month by Hertfordshire-based business Euroboozer, the speciality beer importer is hoping to rescue roughly 45,000 pints of beer from Varvar Brew, which has had to close down since the invasion.
Varvar Brew staff, Kiyv, Ukraine
The brewery is desperate to sell its stock to raise much-needed funds for food, medicine, to pay taxes and wages and to support the country as a whole.
Martin Dawson of Varvar Brew said: ‘Our brewery has been unable to operate since the war began and we have stock in our warehouse in Kyiv that we are desperately looking to sell.
‘The situation in Kyiv is unpredictable, and we don’t know exactly how many days we will still be able to get our hands on our beer. Hopefully each and every beer that leaves the country can provide real enjoyment but also play a role in keeping our fight at the front of people’s minds. Our beer is made with a tank full of Ukrainian passion and the finest ingredients so we don’t want to see it destroyed.’
Varvar Brew, founded in a former sawmill in 2015, often incorporates fruits, berries and herbs into its recipes as well as some more unusual ingredients – tomato, gherkin, horseradish, beetroot, birch sap and seaweed.
Thanks to the incredible backing from the on- and off-trade in the UK, the first lorry hoped to set off from Kyiv on March 31 to arrive in the UK around April 6.
Euroboozer was set up by beer lover Martyn Railton, initially importing Austrian brands Stiegl, Schremser and Hirter using an old VW Vento van. The company soon branched out across Europe and the Atlantic helping to drive the craft beer trend in the UK.
Nineteen years on, the Vento has gone and Euroboozer now supplies some of the finest food and beverage establishments and retailers in the country.
In addition to the Austrian beers, the company exclusively distributes Andechs, Blakstoc, Harpoon and Other Half, as well as ten exciting Czech craft breweries and a host of leading UK brewers.
Sent home to
Developers of a planned Tyne riverside tower block are reviewing the scheme following thousands of complaints from a creative arts community and beer-lovers who are concerned about how it will affect business in their beloved pubs.
In what amounts to a black eye for development company PfP igloo, Newcastle City Council has been asked to ‘put a hold’ on its planning application while it works again with architects to come up with a more acceptable set of proposals.
The proposed structure at Ouseburn, Newcastle.
The proposed 18-storey tower on the vacant Malmo Quay, at Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle, has been called a ‘monstrosity’ and an ‘ugly eyesore’ with between 2,000 and 3,000 individual objections being made against it, plus another development of apartments and homes at nearby Spillers Quay. That number is thought to be among the highest ever recorded by the city council.
Ouseburn Valley's Free Trade Inn – along with The Tyne Bar, The Cluny, the Ship Inn, Arch 2, Brinkburn St, The Cumberland Arms and The Tanners – has been rallying opposition to the controversial scheme, fearing the tower would dominate the East End skyline and block out the prized view of the famed Newcastle Quayside from its beer garden.
Pub manager Mick Potts said it was encouraging that (PfP igloo) are listening to concerns, but it remains to be seen what they come back with.
After hosting a public forum in February to debate the plans, the influential local ‘guardian’, The Ouseburn Trust, said that there was ‘overwhelming dislike’ for the development in the community and that it fails to live up to the standards set by the developer’s previous projects in Ouseburn.
Window on the world
Talking of Ouseburn Valley pubs, The Tyne Bar sets a particularly good standard on Twitter (@thetynebar). They’re an active lot and keep followers informed about beer on the bar, the food menu and music on a Sunday afternoon in entertaining fashion – plus a lot more on a community front.
Take this post from mid-March for example. ‘We couldn’t have hoped for a sunnier day to have our custom stained glass window installed – thought up by Hollie, designed by Yvette Earl, made by Phil Crook, and installed by Woody. We love it so much we’re getting the other one done.’
The Tyne Bar’s new bespoke stained glass window
And doesn’t it look fabulous (Tyne Bar graphics by Ash Willerton, by the way)? We hope to catch up with Hollie, Yvette (‘I’m a big fan of drawing pubs’), Phil and Woody for our May edition to find out more about it.
Wine with a kick in the teeth
The owner of the North East’s only urban winery has announced plans to close the company after the challenges of Covid and Brexit proved “too much for our small business”.
Laneberg Wine, created by former corporate financier Elise Lane and based on Team Valley, Gateshead, released its first wines in 2019 to a great reception from wine writers, critics and customers.
Having been brought up in Newcastle, Elise had returned to the region with her family after moving away more than 20 years ago, then studied wine production at Plumpton College, an acknowledged winemaking centre of excellence.
Sadly, however at the end of March, she informed suppliers and customers that the dream was over.
She said: “When I started the business I had ambitious plans for growth in the subsequent three to five years, including increased production and a calendar of tours, tastings and events. Unfortunately, what was to come was unpredictable and unprecedented and the challenges that both Covid and Brexit brought were too much for our small business.
“I wanted to thank you all for your support to the business. I was someone with a dream and I made that dream come true for a short amount of time. We had great success in making award-winning wines every year for three vintages and also I trained Liam (her cousin) to become a winemaker and he is now off to a new job in a vineyard and winery in the Midlands. So much to be proud of and so much for me to take into the next chapter of my life.”
We at Meet And Drink don’t believe we’ve heard the last of Elise Lane’s venture – it’s too good to lose – and we wish her and her family all good wishes for the future.
Elise Lane, Laneberg Wines