If you needed proof that the west-side suburb of Newport has turned a new corner, then this is it. The Hall Street edifice overlooking the train station has done away with its seedy past to be reborn as the Junction Beer Hall and Wine Room, a gastro-pub of sorts, the like of which has hitherto been contained largely on the opposite side of the bridge. With the Beer Hall opening in late November last year and the Wine Room following suit a few weeks ago, the Junction has been an exciting development for locals gagging for a bit of home-turf urbanity.
The establishment is generally well fit-out though not yet worn-in, with a somewhat arbitrary ambience that is pleasant but can take a bit of getting used to if you're going from one area of the venue to another. The Wine Room is agreeably intimate with just enough mood-lighting to make it cheery and cosy without feeling cloistered, with booths around the sides, an angular corner bench and a few smaller tables with high stools near the bar. The Beer Hall, on the other hand, is a brightly lit room with an almost cafeteria-esque feel to it, lined with tables and colourful plastic stools. The adjacent beer garden is perhaps the area that is easiest to assimilate with expectations, being a relatively large, casual outdoor space equipped with heavy wooden tables and benches, perfect for lively socialising while partaking in a few of the Beer Hall's offerings.
Beer and wine at the Junction is clearly a huge focus, with a carefully crafted wine list and a range of quality beers on tap, including a few home state favourites such as Mountain Goat Hightail Ale, Two Birds, White Rabbit and the popular Bridge Road Bling. What you won't find is anyone pulling pints of Carlton Draught (though there is a huge assortment of other bottled beers available) or popping the cork of a bottle of bar-basic bubbles. At first, this seems strange – after all, it is a pub. On second thought, however, it seems to be quite a shrewd move given the locality.
The Junction is marking out new cultural territory for Newport so may as well be bold about it. Lopping off the lower limbs of beverage options will narrow the field of appeal, but the patronage may be all the stronger for it. It establishes a decided upward shift in the tone of a suburb that has long flown under the radar and is likely to see a lot of progression and development in the near future. It also helps to create a rather different attitude for a venue that has failed to find positive direction in the murky guises of its past – which is quite possibly just the thing to make the most of opportunity and timing to provide impetus for unprecedented success in the precinct.
While this rationale of the beer and wine selection makes sense, it's harder to nail down a conclusion about the menu. The Wine Room is what it says it is – don't arrive expecting the full scope of restaurant options. There is a good range of wood fired pizzas and grazing dishes, but only four main meals to choose from. While this is typical of standard wine bars, it's hard to get past the idea that there would be great benefit in expanding the menu to incorporate more of a restaurant offer as well. Given the current dining limitations of the suburb, it's quite possible that the Wine Room section of the Junction could effectively present a restaurant experience without compromising the wine bar niche it positions itself within.
Nevertheless, as long as diners don't book with restaurant expectations, they won't be disappointed. The food is of good quality and is appropriately priced, and the staff members are knowledgeable, friendly and have a well-trained perceptivity and distinguishable desire for customer satisfaction and feedback that should help the venue grow and evolve as it passes through the honeymoon period. The dining stand-out though, is the hand cut potato chips with aioli. These chips are the crowning glory of the establishment and their golden crispiness may well rival any other chip in the city. They can be ordered from the Beer Hall menu, along with an array of other light bites, though patrons can also have a serving delivered to the Wine Room on request.
All in all, the Junction Beer Hall and Wine Bar is a very welcome development for Newport. Check out the Facebook page or the website (full site soon to be launched) to keep up to date with all the latest news.