THE EARL OF PITT STREET, NEWCASTLE
VIVIENNE WESTWOOD MEETS ALFRED HITCHCOCK
The thought of socialising in a pub designed around a horror movie theme might not appeal to everybody. No cause for fear, writes Alastair Gilmour
A copy of Lidl Weekly has joined me in the pub. I’ve accidentally brought it alongside my normal newspaper companion.
I’m paying particular attention to a promotion on page 23: ‘Shower head with hose, for a relaxing and refreshing experience.’ An adjacent photograph is captioned: ‘Shower curtain made from easy-care fabric – washable at 40C.’
The moment strikes straight into my soul. Page 23 embodies the peak of spooky, the acme of eerie. My pint, my pamphlet and myself are settling in the bar of The Earl of Pitt Street, a Newcastle pub that fuses 1960s horror-thriller movie imagery with contemporary decoration – and we all know the relationship between showerheads, curtains and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, albeit on this occasion without the film’s screech, screech, soundtrack and swirls of blood heading unerringly for the plughole.
A promotion for shower attachments in Lidl Weekly
The Earl of Pitt Street squats a goal kick and a couple of hefty bounces from St James’ Park, the home of Newcastle United FC – close enough to smell footballers’ muscle-warming liniment. It is invariably referred to as ‘Vivienne Westwood meets Alfred Hitchcock’ for its decor designed by the supremely talented Libby Lagun, wife of owner/general manager Mark Lagun. The pub is punk in spirit and new wave in style with a hint of menace gleaned from Hitchcock classics Psycho, Vertigo, The Birds and North By Northwest.
The Earl of Pitt Street dining room with Hitchcock artwork and showerhead roller blind
The handsome Earl of Pitt Street, Newcastle
The Earl of Pitt Street is close to Newcastle United’s stadium
Craft beers granted resident status reflect this attitude – Wylam Brewery’s Jakehead (6.3% abv), brewed less than a mile way, is a ‘supercharged’ IPA with massive American hop complexity, and Beavertown Gamma Ray American Pale Ale (5.4% abv) is West Coast USA in a glass; bold yet refreshing with a zap of California. Both strut with style and a hint of unfinished business.
Visiting cask ales include session specialists – and local heroes – such as Anarchy Blonde Star (4.1% abv) with its lemon, grapefruit and passionfruit base tempered with bready flavours, and Durham Magus Pale Ale (3.8% abv), surely the epitome of a fruity, clean full-flavoured beer. Low-alcohol Schöfferhofer Grapefruit Wheat Beer is mysteriously popular while the ubiquitous Guinness, Birra Moretti and Amstel Lager sweep up the less audacious drinker.
Mark Lagun is a four-decade veteran of Newcastle’s restaurant scene, having created imaginative venues such as Barn Asia, Barn Again, Barn Under A Wandering Star, Electric East and Barn@theBiscuitFactory (attached to a resourceful contemporary art gallery). His is indeed a wandering star.
Local ales are a speciality
Earl of Pitt Street owner/general manager Mark Lagan in front of the Hitchcock artwork. Pick out the references.
The city of Newcastle’s cosmopolitan attitude influences The Earl of Pitt Street’s food menu. A pin-sticker’s guide reveals: Moroccan spiced lamb skewers with harissa yoghurt, herb-infused couscous and flatbread, for example.
Then there’s Nduja spiced rigatoni with cherry tomato ragu: Indonesian nasi goring with sweet chilli, garlic and mixed herbs: Lemon and herb crusted salmon, spring greens, pea puree and dill crushed potatoes: Green risotto with hazelnut pesto and crumbled goat cheese, right through to
the obligatory beer battered fish, house chips, minted peas and tartare sauce (done with out-and-out panache). A must-finish is an infused glass of Vietnamese coffee – from first sip, it’s pure molten chocolate joy.
A large silhouette-style portrait by Nick Banks scrutinises diners in the upstairs dining room – walk-ups have no chance on Sundays – and once the penny drops that this is an ingeniously-worked paper collage derived from Hitchcock filmography – knife about to strike, swooping biplane and squawking ravens – it simply can not be seen as anything else.
Who’s for starters?
Wallpaper inspired by Hitchcock’s Vertigo
Chair back with carved Cowgirl theme
Chickens are believed to have a calming effect on excitable visitors
Here, Wandering Star left-over furniture emblazoned with Cowboys and Indians carvings soften any hard edges, a showerhead roller blind dominates and a huge wine rack shows off what can be achieved in a glass, while an enormous mirror reflects the counter and bar fittings in all their gleam and glister like Manet’s Bar At The Folies-Bergère.
Chickens, though, chickens… colourful photographs of rare chickens line the barroom walls. Chickens. The effect stops you in your tracks, but maybe the intention is to make groups of young men looking for a pre-match pool table and a gallon of industrial lager feel uncomfortable and decide subliminally that this isn’t the place for them. If that’s the idea, Mark Lagun’s lifetime of psychological observation certainly hasn’t been wasted.
The Earl of Pitt Street combines classic film with cutting-edge design, suspense, French Impressionism, thoughtful food, honest-to-goodness beer, wines, spirits and football banter better than anywhere in the country. It’s where the movie meets the roar of the embrocation and the smell of the crowd.
The Earl of Pitt Street, 70 Pitt Street, Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 5ST
0191 261 7744