Take A Trip Back To The Twenties At Prohibition Cabaret Bar
Tucked away on Pink Lane, just two minutes’ walk from Central Station, you’ll find the nearest thing Newcastle has to a time-travel portal. Pass through the doors of Prohibition Cabaret Bar into a twenties-themed delight where everyone is welcome and anything can happen!
Prohibition is Mitch Mitchell’s vision, a friendly and inclusive place for performers and customers. It started life in Gateshead in 2015 but soon outgrew those premises, so when the old Jazz Café in the heart of Newcastle became available via Newcastle Arts Centre (who took it over after the sad passing of the original Jazz Café owner and notable eccentric Keith Crombie), Mitchell jumped at the chance to relocate right into the city. Having two floors meant that Prohibition could cater for private events upstairs – financially, the venue’s lifeblood – while still offering a bar / venue downstairs open to all.
The first year was a tremendous success but obviously the pandemic put a big spanner in the works. Now Prohibition has re-emerged and is – as ever – planning great things. Much of the success is due to Mitchell's boundless enthusiasm and clear vision for the place.
“We don’t make much money on the acts because we don’t charge entry.”, Mitchell explains. “I’ve always wanted Prohibition to be a home and a haven for performers – somewhere where they could try out new material, somewhere they could hang out with their friends, where they felt they belong. And for the burlesque community, I wanted them to have somewhere with an actual stage: a lot of them have said, ‘oh, we got changed in a toilet and the stage was a bit of plywood on two beer crates to dance on!’ So I was determined to build somewhere for them that was befitting of them and was a real home.
"I never wanted to exclude anybody – I wanted to make sure that if you wanted to come out and see a show, you didn’t have to pay to see it, so every Prohibition act downstairs is free, using the Jar On The Bar scheme. I’d always tell the performers, I’ll give you fifty quid in the jar to start you off but then it’s up to the audience really what they put in. And they’re all happy with that."
This approach gives musicians and performers the chance to be seen by a new audience and as Mitchell points out, the audience can be really generous with their tips. “Obviously we need to make some money, but as long as I’m paying the bills and keeping the lights on, that’s as much as I need to do. It’s more about being a space and a community.” And as anyone who’s popped into one of the events or just for a quiet drink away from the bustle of the city, will know, that sense of inclusion and warmth is palpable.
The inclusion and openness is clearly demonstrated by the kind of events you’ll find in the downstairs bar, from close-up magic to fantastically camp drag acts, accomplished musicians and cabaret. There’s a weekly quiz and Hound Club, a monthly gathering for dogs and their owners! Check out the website to see what wild and wonderful happenings are coming up.
With the identity and ethos of the downstairs bar established, Mitchell is now keen to make more use of the upstairs space. The main room is stylish and comfortable and ideally suited for everything from a birthday party to a gig. “I put a lot of effort into making it feel like a house party and so many people say just that, which is so rewarding. ‘It’s so warm and welcoming’ – that’s it, that’s all I need to hear. My dream has been realised.”
The venue has a 60-person capacity (50 if it’s seated) and is available for use for nothing more than the hire of the doorman for the night (which is around £90). On top of that, at no extra cost, you get the main room, the little Bureau annex (which can be used as a quiet area or for setting up a buffet), as well as access to the lights and P.A. and private toilets and a private entrance, plus your own bar staff for free. The venue makes its money from the bar take (which has the same prices as the public bar downstairs – Mitchell has experience dealing with complex pricing structures at other venues and wanted to keep things simple and transparent).
The room has become a popular destination for touring bands – “If a band needs a Newcastle date, I let them sell tickets and deal with all that, and take all the money, we just go halves on the doorman. Most bands are more than happy with that, and it’s become well known, particularly in the bluegrass and Americana scene. Because it’s a fairly small capacity, they can say on their posters ‘NEWCASTLE – SOLD OUT’!”
The room also hosts comedy, dance classes, theatre performances and more. And both the main room and The Bureau are available in the daytime, for just £15 per hour (which covers a member of staff opening it up) which has seen pantomime rehearsals, auditions and meetings.
The proximity to Central Station means that Mitchell is keen for it to be used by the business community: The Bureau in particular is ideally situated for business meetings, job interviews, art classes and things like that. Mitchell is full of ideas for the space “I’d just like more people to know we’re there and to use the space because in the daytime it’s often not doing anything.”
If you’ve been to Prohibition – for a party or a swing night or to see Miss Bunty Del Mar strut her stuff – you already know what an absolute hidden gem it is. And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?