What combination of elements – that peculiar alchemy – makes the perfect pub?
On paper, everything can seem perfect – with every single ingredient present and correct – but it just doesn’t work.
It’s usually an instant gut reaction, although it can sometimes be a slower burn.
I first encountered the legendary Free Trade Inn on a stag do in Newcastle a few years ago and it was love at first pint. I’ve visited a few times since, and it never fails to charm.
It also allegedly charmed Jimi Hendrix – no, really – and it’s even claimed he wrote Stone Free on the premises.
It’s nothing special from the outside: a pale, functional corner building with a big bright sign.
And it’s nothing special inside, either. Just a slightly shabby traditional old boozer, with lots of old wood. A main bar dominates, with sitting areas off to each side.
I’ll gloss over the loos, apart from a word of advice: it may be worth spending a penny before you arrive, or holding in until you leave.
But somehow it works spectacularly well. It feels the way you wish your local did: relaxed, informal and comfortable. I try to avoid starting my trips to Newcastle here because I invariably never want to go anywhere else (although the nearby Cumberland Arms is also magnificent).
Indeed, all my fellow patrons feel like they’re here for the night, comfortably settled at the bar enjoying a pint or sitting at the windows enjoying that splendid view as the sun sets.
The beer selection – perhaps slightly incongruously given the surroundings and location – is excellent.
There’s a perfect selection in the fridge, including timeless Belgian classics like Cantillon, Orval and Rodenbach.
On the taps, we have the best of British. Oddly – having travelled over the border to Tyneside – the draught offering is very Scottish-centric and dominated by Fyne. So there’s a raspberry Berliner weisse, the ever dependable Jarl and, amazingly, Ragnarok – the ramped-up double Jarl – on keg and cask.
Everything on offer looks tempting – and, as always, keenly priced – but I settle for the Kaffir from Box Social Brewing (£3 a pint) and it’s pleasant, with subtle Asian spicing.
The Echelon (£3.20 a pint) from local brewery Almasty is next: a magnificent fruity, refreshing pale ale I could easily drink all night.
Like the famous pub cat Craig David, I could stay here indefinitely – but I don’t.
There are other places to go and see – many good, some great, but none a patch on the mighty Free Trade Inn.
Free Trade Inn, St Lawrence Rd, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 1AP