Hamish Smith speaks to proud Geordie Neil Donachie about the emerging Newcastle scene and his new bar Mother Mercy
What’s happening in Newcastle – how is the scene developing?
In terms of independent restaurants and craft beer we could give most cities in the UK a run for their money, but high-end cocktails are still a relatively young market. This is not because we don’t have the skill set. We have an incredibly engaged group of bartenders within the city who are passionate about what they do, but the city has long been run by operators on high-volume and deep-discount models. However, the city is definitely changing, and quality-forward chains such as The Alchemist and The Botanist have really raised the bar. I think it’s venues such as these that are the first step-change in building a thriving cocktail scene.
You launched Mother Mercy late last year. How’s it coming along?
We opened Mother Mercy in a city centre basement last November, and our only ambition was to create a bar that the people of Newcastle wanted to enjoy their weekend in. We play hip-hop, serve all our drinks ‘from the freezer to the table’, but never take ourselves too seriously. Our drinks menu is really simple and accessible, with a big focus on modern classic cocktails (shout out to Kevin Armstrong’s East 8 Hold Up) that we’ve elevated with quality glassware served from the freezer, fresh ingredients, table service and premium spirits. For us, it’s all about building a premium bar experience while keeping all the things that make a bar fun.
We see a lot of bartenders ply their trade in London, then return to their home towns – was this always the plan?
I’d spent three years at The Savoy and learned from some of the best in the industry (Chris Moore and Anna Sebastian to name two) but I had always planned to return home – I am passionate about the north east and have always felt there is huge potential to create something special here. I’ve been involved in other bar openings, but with Mother Mercy it really felt like a lot of things were aligning at the right time. I’m also brand manager for Fentimans and have been incredibly lucky to have spent the past two years learning marketing and brand skills from some incredibly talented people.
What are the ambitions for Mother Mercy?
For now, our main focus is on delivering for the people of Newcastle. It is still early days, but we have very quickly built up a loyal following and it is really positive to see guests returning each week. Our longer-term ambition is to make a similar impact to other northern city bars such as Public, Present Company and Bramble, and I am confident that if we continue to put our guests at the bar first in everything we do, both bartenders and the general public, we will be recognised by our peers in time.