I’d call Hop and Cleaver a hidden gem, but I’d be lying. I first spotted their large advertising hoarding by chance while passing St Nicholas’ Cathedral in the height of last summer, and the promise of plentiful bourbon and chicken wings seemed too good to be true. Alas, I was passing far too quickly to note down the name of this magical promised land, and I was forced to go without my chicken and whisky fix. It wasn’t until a few months later, quite by chance, that I stumbled upon it. And I was damn glad that I did.
The joint is owned by the same group who control such as RedHouse, to which Hop and Cleaver is connected via labyrinthine medieval passages and alleyways – probably the coolest trip to the bathroom you’ll find in Newcastle. As with their other properties, the bar is targeted with a particular niche in mind: in this case, a whiskey bar combined with a dash of smokehouse restaurant. In this respect, Hop and Cleaver does not disappoint. Their menu boasts an enviable 50 different varieties of American and Canadian bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, rye, and blends, and their shelves appear stacked with an even larger selection of spirits. This selection ranges from your standard, Jim Beam-level offerings (though it is notable that they do not stock any variations of Jack Daniel’s other than the upmarket Single Barrel variety, opting instead for their vastly underappreciated rivals George Dickel for their standard Tennessee fix) to several truly top-notch whiskies, including the super-premium Thomas H. Handy Sazerac rye – which was recently selected by Whisky Magazine as their American Whiskey of the Year, and runs at up to 400 quid for a bottle. So, not cheap. For non-Whiskey fans, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a huge range of craft beers and ales on offer. There’s even a slick-looking side room (The Tap Room) which is available for private hire.
The cocktail selection is equally impressive, seemingly running the entire gamut of classic American whiskey cocktails, with a good range of their own creations too if you fancy trying something different. I usually elect my go-to choice of the classic Old Fashioned, which (when made by capable hands such as those found at the H&C) never disappoints. Hop and Cleaver mix it with. Top marks for the bartenders too, as this is the only place where I’ve been asked how I take my Old Fashioneds (strong, but very sweet if you’re taking notes). The next stop is generally a Whiskey Sour. A minor complaint here – I’m not sure why so many bars (in Newcastle, especially) are electing to serve their Sours with crushed ice rather than cubed. The final effect is something feeling like an alcoholic lemon slushy, which ends up being nowhere near as pleasant as it sounds. I can only assume that this is related to the more modern Amaretto and Midori sours rather than the more traditional Whiskey variety (traditionally served straight up) – though I have noticed several cocktail guides advocating the crushed ice Whiskey Sour. Perhaps I should start a petition. Anyway, a final nod has to be given to their build-your-own Manhattan, which is one of the best ideas I’ve ever come across. Pick your whiskey (Jim Beam Rye, please), your garnish, your bitters etc. Genuinely brilliant. For non-whiskey lovers a selection of other drinks are available, most notably the hard-shake cocktails available in Mojito and Daiquiri varieties, amongst others.
As Hop and Cleaver puts such stock in their smokehouse offerings, it would be unfair to not briefly comment on the food in this (admittedly cocktail-based) review. I’ll admit that the bar’s sheer unabashed popularity means that I haven’t been able to sample the cuisine as often as I’d like – getting a table on the fly over the weekend, and even on some weeknights, is impossible. So book in advance! However, I can only speak incredibly highly of their offerings, with a particular shoutout to the BBQ chicken wings. I’ll often pair that with the half-roast chicken in BBQ catsup for an extravagant chicken feast. One day I’ll try that Tomahawk steak…one day.
Rating: The Sazerac Rye of whiskey bars.
Follow them on Twitter @hopandcleaver, and find them online at hopandcleaver.co.uk. Or even better, pay them a visit down on the Newcastle Quayside at 40 Sandhill. Give them a call on 0191 261 1037 to book a table for food – a must if you’re eating on a busy night, or during Restaurant Week!