Alternative Guide to Newcastle

Newcastle is famously a party town, a destination for stags and hens keen to hit the Bigg Market or the bling bars of Collingwood Street’s so-called Diamond Strip. But, as in any great northern city, there is another side to Newcastle. Look in the right places (Pilgrim Street’s Creative Quarter, orOuseburn Valley, a stroll or short bus ride away), and there’s a tight-knit Geordie underground of agitators who, in their own punky, persistent way maintain a vibrant arts ecology – with a distinctive political edge.

They might be glibly dismissed as hipsters, but Newcastle’s creatives (many of them natives) are generally unpretentious doers working on shoestring budgets. They are quietly but unapologetically determined to carve out their own space in this frequently misunderstood city. That stubborn desire to make things happen in Newcastle dates back decades.

In the 1960s, a famous reading room, Morden Tower, brought icons such as Allen Ginsberg to town. The photographic Side Gallery has been documenting working-class Newcastle since 1977. In a city where making a living from art can seem fanciful, projects are often happily uncommercial. Newcastle breeds relative musical oddballs such as Beth Jeans Houghton, Maxïmo Park, Richard Dawson orEat Fast, as well as tiny, boutique record labels (Cel36, 104, alt.vinyl). There is nonetheless real camaraderie among its creative tribes and with other marginalised groups. Next year, techno night Backdrop will host Sound Of Solidarity, an event exploring the creation of safe, racially and sexually diverse club spaces. Such radical ideas are never far from the surface in Newcastle.

How much Newcastle city council values this can vary. At times, it has been instrumental in practically assisting grassroots creativity. For instance, it rehoused the DIY cinema Star and Shadow and helped turn several abandoned, city centre office blocks into temporary spaces for arts organisations. However, the Creative Quarter is in a precarious position. One block will soon go in the name of regeneration, and the council’s decision to allow the demolition of community and arts centre Uptin House has appalled campaigners such as artist and bar-owner Kathryn Hodgkinson:

“We’re at the mercy of aggressive development that is annihilating a lot of these projects. A lot of what [the council] needs to do to protect this sector has nothing to do with money. It’s about having strong policies in place. We’ve got a spineless planning department. I think it needs to say no to more.”

Kommunity

Originally a spin-off from annual Latin American festival ¡VAMOS!, Kommunity is a bar/participatory social space that hosts dance and wellbeing classes, art house film and DJ nights and the occasional daytime family rave. Drinks range from loose-leaf teas to rum punch cocktails.

Pink Lane Coffee

On a narrow cut-through opposite Newcastle Central station, Pink Lane is a boon for travellers keen to swerve the chains and drink serious coffee. Using its own PLC Roastery beans, Pink Lane covers all the single-origin pour-over and espresso bases, and it knocks out a superlative flat white.

Ernest

This late-night cafe-bar sustains Ouseburn’s artists with good food, homemade sodas, infused spirits (try the horseradish vodka Bloody Mary) and local ales from the likes of Anarchy. A back room hosts lively, free DJ parties that run the gamut from Chicago house (Community) to scuzzy garage rock (No Wow).