joe robertson the economist article
Joe Robertson Media Archive
Jumping Geordies

At 11 o’clock on a windy Friday night in Newcastle, all good citizens should be tucked up in front of their videos. But the Bigg Market and the Groat Market are as crowded as at rush hour. Segregated packs of boys and girls wander up and down the cobbles, whooping cheerfully and ignoring the other sex. Friday night is Traditionally the night out with the lads; Saturday nights are for the girlfriend; but with so many. women now earning, the girls have broken the male monopoly of Friday.

The supply of drinking spots sounds excessive, with 700 licensed premises for the city’s population of 285,000, and every other building along the markets’ cobbled streets is a pub, nightclub or bar. But demand seems even higher. In the chilling drizzle, queues of up to 50 shivering teen-agers form, waiting for standing room’ in one of the jammed nightspots. The past few years have brought a boom in young nightlife at the expense of the darkened pubs and working men’s clubs that dominated the city’s social life for 100 years.

Ten years ago Mr Joe Robertson of Newcastle and Monaco started (with, legend has it, £500 borrowed from his mum) taking over gloomy, nostalgic pubs and putting in lights, music, cocktails and the kind of bouncers who wear dinner-jackets and like to be called doormen. The lights and music drove out the middle-aged; the doormen kept out both trouble and the scruffy. Only snappy dressers could get in, so people began to dress up to ensure that they got into the best places. The doormen became an essential part of the decor.

Mr Robertson moved on from pub to pub, converting the centre of Newcastle; and the breweries, scenting good business, followed his lead. This could have been’ rash over-supply; in fact there were enough customers to go round. As the service trade in the city flourished, the number of white-collar workers rocketed: happy hours that drag on until the clientele is giggling are evidence of the bars’ success at trapping office workers. The young who are in work have highish spending power: many still live with their parents, give their mums a few pounds a week and have the rest to burn.

The countryside moved into town. Newcastle, with its bouncers, got the more prosperous rural ravers who could afford a taxi and so stay later to spend more. More genteel localities like Durham, an old cathedral and university town, and Chester-le-Sreet both lacked Newcastle’s brash but costly cocktail bars. They got the bikers, bus-passengers and the rest of the rough end of the trade.

Night-time Newcastle has always been fairly rowdy, as the notice in the taxi – “vomiting in the cab may result in a £30 fine” – suggests. Another taxi-driver says there is less drunkenness than There used to be, thanking the restaurants which en-courage moderation and dilute the effects of alcohol. The city now has about 140 restaurants, with 20 newcomers in the past year.

Newcastle’s night-life has become an export industry. Mr Robertson has taken his skills down to London. Mr Michael Quadrini, whose Tux2 was the fist of the city’s night-clubs and is still where the taxi-drivers take outsiders looking for fun, has started turning discarded ships into nightclubs. People travelled to Newcastle in busloads from all over the north to visit the Tuxedo Princess, which could accommodate 2,500. She has now gone to Glasgow, where throats are as thirsty and there are even more of them.