MEAN-EYED CAT, NEWCASTLE

Five Betty Boop-style faces dispense beer and Johnny Cash is following me around the pub. The single-roomed Mean-Eyed Cat in Newcastle is an insurgence of fun, musical ephemera, imagery and astonishing beer.

It’s named in honour of a 1958 Johnny Cash hit (the record is framed on a wall) and is located at one end of a striking Georgian terrace opposite Newcastle University, snuggled between a medical equipment supplier and an Oxfam shop. The tagline, “A small independent bar just left of centre” pins it even more accurately. 

The legendary country and western star is obviously not in the bar (he died in 2003 after all) but his portrait in paint, print, illustration and gold-framed photography is set among dozens of images featuring automobiles, movies, wrestlers and contemporaries Bob Dylan and Little Richard.

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The Mean-Eyed Cat is colourful in every sense and is certainly not your average bar. Yellow, deep blue and terracotta dominate the decor (inspired by Mexico via a soundtrack of Americana – a merge of country, blues, rock ’n’ roll and gospel – plus a heap of reggae and what was once known as new wave… and probably still is).  

It represents creativity let loose by owners Dave and Julie Campbell who combined artefacts that unite music and sassiness through brightly tiled surfaces, soft furnishings, artworks and fittings. A social media post described it looking like “What my dad did with the house after my mam left”. 

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Dave Campbell is a veteran of the Tyneside pub scene and a creative force who formerly managed the Head of Steam and The Cluny in Newcastle and The Central in Gateshead before he and Julie set sail owning The Schooner in Gateshead then led the Mean Eyed Cat from unloved premises to award-winning ways.

Whimsy might put a smile on your face, but it has to be backed by quality to achieve the required effect and there’s a real seriousness to this pub’s beer choice, professionalism and customer care. Seven keg taps satisfy the adventurous soul while six cask handpulls cater for the traditionalist, fronted by Cramped from Newcastle-based Almasty and White Rat from Rat Brewery in Huddersfield. In between sits a rotation of pale ales, IPAs and full-bodied stouts and porters – overwhelmingly local from, for example, Flash House, Two By Two and Wylam breweries. 

An exotic spirits shelf invites cocktails; wine leans towards Spain, Argentina and New Zealand; cider “from the cellar” flies out and a “sour fridge” is an inspired addition with the likes of Evil Twin Continental Breakfast Sour, Moersleutel Black Forest Fruit Pie and Das Ist Techno Sex Passionfruit Gose hardly touching the sides.  

Two White Rats, a Basqueland Tiki Idol and a Wylam Macchiato Porter later, I spot a Johnny Cash album in the charity shop. I indulge, although it doesn’t include Mean-Eyed Cat. That would surely be asking too much, but for now It’s A Thing Called Love. 

Mean-Eyed Cat

1 St Thomas’ Street, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4LE 

0191 222 0952; meaneyedcat.co.uk