The Little Pub with a big heart
I've just spent a very enjoyable evening in a new pub. Bucking the trend of pubs closing, The Rat Race Ale House at Hartlepool railway station has opened with a very clear aim: good beer, good cheer.
I used to work with the pub's landlord Pete Morgan a while back programming old skool IBM RPG, but when he was made redundant from his job as an IT manager he decided to use his redundancy money to provide himself with a future he could enjoy.
A long time and lifetime member of CAMRA, Pete's love of all that is beer has found life in the Rat Race. He runs a free house so he's not tied to anyone or obliged to stock anyone's beers. That means no alcopops, overgassed lagers or insipid identikit beers. Pete is one of those guys for whom the phrase larger than life was invented for, and it comes through in his determination to provide a real pub experience. Many of the ales he stocks and plans to stock are beers he likes and from brewers he knows personally, and he is open to suggestions from customers for future guest ales.
The pub is unique - it doesn't have a bar. You enter and orders are taken at the table and you're introduced to the other customers. Once you have your drinks Pete moves among his customers like a host at a party. This is helped by the fact that the pub is small - it was once the Victorian station's waiting room and holds no more than 20 customers - so the atmosphere is intimate and friendly. The Rat Race is focussed on the beer; there's no jukebox, no bandit or quiz machine. If you do need distraction, there's two boxes of dominoes.
The main show is the beer and it's great. The temperature is perfect - many large real ale pubs and big chains don't get such a simple thing right. I enjoyed a couple of pints of the Kirby Lonsdale Jubilee Stout, about as perfect as a hand pulled stout can get. The Yorkshire Askrigg Ale was very popular and for good reason. The Jarrow Brewery's Rivet Catcher was also on the menu, but as it seems many of the customers were already familiar with Rivet Catcher the unfamiliar ales were getting all the attention. Although the pub's hours are short, the Rat Race also sells the beer in refillable cartons to take away to enjoy at home.
So if you're in Hartlepool, and looking for time to kill before catching the train, join the Rat Race.
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