If one believes the way young people are presumed to speak these days, then 'awesome' is a much over-used word. I, however, mean it.
There is a thriving real ale culture in Sheffield. Most pubs sell it, many have some idea about it. But still, I hadn't yet found one I really liked. There's the West End, on Glossop Road - handy for an after work drink with colleagues. But never more than two beers, and last week, none at all! Loudish music on the radio, no food now (though it used to be quite decent) and a strange combination of a half dead feeling and a high student quotient. The York in Broomhill - somwhere I've vowed not to go again. Way up its own arse with seriously overpriced mediocre food (soggy chips may be forgiven once, but never twice) and know-all young bar staff who were extremely sniffy about taking the sparkler off. Also near me, the Fox and Duck, and before I moved, the Nottingham House. While both served real ale, neither seemed to have any atmosphere, the latter being a hangout for students, and sporty students at that; the former it seems looking through the window, for TV watching unemployed people.
Better bets have been the Bath Hotel, off West Street somewhere, where I've been just the once but it seemed very promising - trouble is, it's a bit of a way from home and, unless I'm teaching down that way, work - and the University Arms, which would have been my favourite fallback until last week. OK food, a good range of beer and staff who know about it - no sparklers, so it's not obligatory even up north, although they do tend to pull it with a degree of violence that produces a similar effect. Owned by the university, it has a high student quotient, but I suspect that these are students who seek it out for its special qualities.
I know I should get on the tram and head down to Kelham Island, where, incredibly, I still haven't visited the Kelham Island Tavern (although I have, thanks to Adrian and Linda, been to the legendary Fat Cat). But that's more a day trip than a quick pint.
Last week I was introduced by Sandra to two new establishments. Firstly, the Old House on Devonshire Street, in the painfully trendy quarter where people go to buy artfully distressed stuff. The Old House itself is a bit like that - I was offered my pint of Moonshine in a quaintly retro dimpled jug, and it was plonked not onto a sopping bar towel, but a folded serviette, but it was nice enough, and a good place to head if you're into fancy pants European beer. But not the best... That was yet to come. After an enjoyable Indian meal in Aagrah, we headed towards Sandra's train home, and the Sheffield Tap at the station. Now that was truly awesome. The Sheffield Tap, I subsequently discovered, is run by the same people who own the Euston Tap, also housed in a former railway building, and where I had my Farewell to Birkbeck party. The Euston Tap is nice enough, but completely modern inside, the building having gone through many previous incarnations including other bars. The Sheffield Tap however is housed in the station refreshment rooms and first class dining room, opened in 1904, and which were shut up and used for storage from the 1970s onwards. There are two main rooms, the second of which opened only very recently, and houses the pub's own microbrewery where craft brewers can come and play. These rooms have massive double height ceilings, with clerestory windows (or something similar) every inch of which is covered in tiles - I would say faiance if it was outdoors; I suppose it's the same inside. Mostly cream coloured with occasional coloured patterns lower down, and fabulous mouldings. The bar is mahogony, the fittings brass, the tables polished copper, the floor, in this last room, terazzo. I didn't count the beers; at least half a dozen ales, including a good showing from Thornbridge (pint of Jaipur - the perfect way to round off an evening. I got a cab home.) Plus of course all the scented, fruit flavoured foreign stuff you could shake a stick at. No music either, just the echo and jangle of conversation in the massive space (there are smaller, low ceilinged rooms too if that's what you prefer).
It inspired the same awe in me as a Victorial church or technical college; both the idea of its original incarnation as the epitome of aspirational rail travel, and maybe even more so, in the dedication and vision that it must have taken to restore it. The best way to get a sense of it is to go to their website and just watch the slideshow. The person who commented on Beer in the Evening that the beer was ok, but too expensive, 'and there are plenty of cheaper real ale pubs in Sheffield' was surely missing the point. Cheaper still to buy a few bottles and drink them in your garden shed, but these surroundings a something I would gladly pay a premium for, especially when you can appreciate just how much the restoration must have cost.
I am determined to give this worthy venture all the support I can!
PS There is also a York Tap, again at the station, which I look forward to checking out.
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