Theatres are not usually known for their great ales – but a family firm is hoping Newcastle’s new DAT Bar will put craft beer centre stage.
The replacement for Pasqualinos bar and pizza restaurant on the city’s Market Street has seen Aldo, Joseph and Cristina De Giorgi transform one side of the Grade I listed Theatre Royal to offer 16 top keg beers and ciders.
“Craft beer is still in it’s infancy in Newcastle – it’s more developed in other cities – but we’re fans, and want to put the beer centre stage,” said Aldo, whose bar quietly opened last week ahead of its official opening on March 14.
“Hopefully DAT Bar can be a step in the right direction and then we’ll see more of it. Newcastle should be at the top, leading the way.”
The Geordie-Italian siblings’ Gusto UK Ltd has a long history of running bars and restaurants in the city, while the family has a track record stretching back to Don Vito’s, which their father Mario set up in 1976.
“We were brought up, myself and my brother and my sister, working there and in 1996 we opened Paradiso cafe together,” said Aldo, who confesses a dream to one day own his own hop farm and brewery. “It was notable because at the time the licensing was very restrictive in the city and I think we were the first licence for a ‘new’ premises granted in almost 100 years.
“In 2002 we pitched for the Tyneside Cinema cafe and got that, which began to give us experience of working without complete independence.
“What we did there was try to have high quality cocktails prepared on the front of the bar. I’d seen it in London and Italy and New York, but nowhere in Newcastle really did it at the time – Though one of the main reasons was simply the space at the Tyneside. You had to prepare in front of people because it was so small there was no space for a back bar.
“We then closed Don Vito’s and replaced it with Popolos, where I think we created a really good atmosphere. I remember talking to our security staff and they said, ‘Who do we let in?’
“I said, ‘Everyone – but no football shirts.’ Tattoos, piercings, trainers, everything goes because who are we to judge people on what they look like?”
Through the years the DAT Bar siblings also ran Secco, Intermezzo and Alvinos, before selling everything and, with the £4.75m restoration of the Edwardian theatre in 2011, opening 9 Bar Coffee in the Theatre Royal’s old box office, and Pasqualinos, in its former cafe.
But having spent 15 years trying to bring “the restaurant experience and hospitality level to bars” dealing with the North East theatre crowd proved a testing experience.
“Theatregoers were very demanding and didn’t want to engage or talk about their food or drink. It was very difficult to stay true to ourselves when all people wanted was a gin and tonic or food and to be in their seat.
“So we had a couple of years of stressful service and doing things which were alien to us, but we had a good relationship with the board of the theatre and went to them and said, ‘If you give us more autonomy then we’ll do much better. Something really exciting.’
“They let us build a wall between the bar and the theatre, and put stalls bars in, then try to create something different on the Pasqualinos side – a craft beer bar where we can showcase food and drink more casually and informally.”
The article continues after our gallery of photographs…
DAT Bar – Gallery
Photos by food and wedding photographer Laura Eddolls – Check out her website at www.lauraeddollsphotography.4ormat.com
The result is DAT Bar which, with it’s small tables and long bar at the front, leather booths in front of an open kitchen at the back, and ripped comic book style wallpaper, has the feel of a bar in one of the trendier parts of London.
And if the décor in DAT Bar doesn’t put off the “socks and sandals” crowd then the lack of cask beer possibly will.
“One thing we felt is a problem with other bars and restaurants is that they try to do too many things and can’t do everything very well at the same time,” said Aldo.
“Cask beer needs respect and care and you need someone here to lovingly look after it all of the time, and while it can be fantastic, when it’s not it is easy to give someone a bad experience.
“So with keg it is easier to achieve what we wanted to do – and with key kegs now it’s great.”
DAT Bar has 20 keg fonts but the cellar has over 50 kegs at any time, with the lines up from it also serving the eight fonts on each of the theatre’s three bars, including a new stalls bar, which is not yet complete.
“People will look at our blackboard and see Stella and Becks, but they pay to maintain the coolers in exchange for having 50% of the taps,” said Aldo, sipping a Beavertown Quelle Saison. “What we’ve done is give them 18 of the 24 taps on the theatre side, and four in the bar – exactly half of our 44 taps, but it means we can have 16 craft beers or ciders in DAT Bar.
“We also have a new Irish line cleaning system – I think we’re the first bar outside London to have it – but it means we can change beer on the fly, cleaning the lines in only 10 minutes and putting something completely different on.”
Managing all those beers at DAT Bar will fall to a staff recruited from across the city – a group Aldo calls his “dream team.”
“We’ve recruited a dream team of people we’ve worked with in the past and people we wanted to work with,” he said. “Our manager Joel Darby was manager of Pasqualinos, we’ve got Ross Holland from Anarchy Brew Co, Rachel, who’s a craft beer nut, from The Free Trade Inn, and Anth Ellis, the assistant manager from Tilley’s is coming on board once he’s worked his notice, and others.”
It will also be up to the DAT Bar staff to chose what goes on the bar’s 1/3 of a pint beer flights, as rather than let the customer have all of the control, they’re “barman’s choice” – an idea designed to increase interaction with customers and take a step away from the hectic pre-show rush of the bar’s predecessor.
That more languid feel is also found in DAT Bar’s food – with sourdough pizzas, made using dough fermented for 72 hours, and cooked in the bars new Californian-made oven, burgers, and charcuterie meat boards – all freshly prepared.
The bar is a bold step for one of Newcastle’s most historic buildings, but so far, from what they’ve seen, the bosses at the Theatre Royal couldn’t be happier.
“We think it’s fabulous,” said the theatre’s chief executive Philip Bernays. “No theatre in the country has anything like this attached to it.”