Saturday 20th October 2012
Although it hasn't been a pub for all that long, the Quakerhouse building goes back quite a way. It was built in the late 1700s and was then three separate cottages in a yard that was little more than an alleyway, and was known as Betty Hobson's yard. As it was home to trades such as coopers and blacksmiths it eventually became known by its present name, Mechanic's Yard.
To fast forward to the 20th Century it first became a pub in October 1998 when it became The Quaker pub. The name comes about because it was previously the Quaker Coffee House. Although it has no great history as a pub in terms of years, there have certainly been a lot of changes since 1998. It opened as a bar and in 2002 Steve Metcalf was appointed as manager. He installed the first four hand pumps and cask beer became so popular another two were soon acquired. However this flowering was soon dashed as the owner sold the pub to the Tadcaster Pub Co, a small pub-owning company. Steve then became the tenant.
Under this regime the pub was tied to a limited list a cask ales and Steve went into negotiation with the owning company with the result that it became free of tie, albeit with a greatly increased rent. And, as if to prove a point, it flourished and flourished until another four hand pumps were added giving it ten and that is the situation today. Yet the story doesn't end there as the Tadcaster Pub Co. sold the pub to Scottish & Newcastle in October 2008 and a restricted beer list returned.
This was too much for Steve and he threw in the towel in February 2009. The pub closed, but just for one day.
Its saviours were Brian Dourish and Garry Hewitt who leased the pub. In October of that year Scottish & Newcastle eventually decided that this little pub didn't fit in with their plans and the incumbent tenants were approached regarding its purchase which was completed on 30th October 2009 and it became the Quakerhouse. The rest, as they say, is history.
The pub is fairly well disguised up the alley with no exterior sign. As always, there was a fantastic range of beers available as I and drinking companion Vaughan studied the hand pumps trying to make a decision. This was what was available: Yard of Ale (Surtees Arms, Ferrybridge, Co Durham) Yard Dog Brown Ale (4.0%); Maxim (Houghton-le-Spring, Co Durham) Swedish Blonde (4.2%) and American Pride (5.2%); Just a Minute (Spennymoor, Co Durham) Darkest Moment (4.3%); West Berkshire (Thatcham, Berks) Magg's Magnificent Mild (3.8%); Hoggleys (Litchborough, Northants) India Pale Ale (5.0%); Tatton (Knutsford, Cheshire) Tatton Ale (3.7%) and Tatton Best (4.2%); Old Dairy (Rolvenden, Kent) Red Top Best Bitter (3.8%) and finally the cider was Weston's (Much Marcle, Herefordshire) Old Rosie (7.3%). What a selection!
The pub has won CAMRA Darlington Branch's Pub of the Year award eight times since the first in 2000, and is the 2012 winner, when we visited. One of the walls is just full of framed certificates.
It is also a notable live music venue as on Wednesday nights there is always a rock or blues band playing. On top of that they also have "Busk it" nights which are open mic evenings with a resident backing band. Never heard of that before!
This small pub should not be missed if you are in this part of the North East of England.
The Quakerhouse, 2 Mechanic's Yard, Darlington DL3 7QF
Open: Monday and Wednesday 11.00-23.30; Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday 11.00-23.00;
Friday and Saturday 11.00-24.00
The pub is about fifteen minutes walk from Darlington Bank Top Railway Station with connections throughout the country. It is less than ten minutes to the Bus Station, and many bus routes pass through the town centre.