Pub visits this week: 11
So the doctor told me to take a week off work and do nothing. That just meant don’t do any work, right? Because you can’t just do nothing for a week: you have to perform the basic functions of life, like sleeping and eating and, um, going to the pub.
To help clear my tired old head, I went to spend a couple of nights at my mum’s in Cleethorpes and had a nice long walk down the beach. In the rain and freezing cold. I also went to quite a few of the pubs I used to go to when I first started going to pubs, which sort of made my newly cleared head all tired and muddy again. It was interesting though.
The Old Grindstone, Crookes, Sheffield. A damp and chilly afternoon spent flâneuring along Crookes high street with Dan, who’s just moved in round the corner, and my one-year-old son Oliver. At the very end of it (the street, not the afternoon) is the Old Grindstone, a big studenty pub in a big studenty area, down on its luck but clinging on. We spontaneously decide to stop for a quick one, as long as it’s OK to take your kid in. A friendly man on his way out divines the source of our hesitancy and tells us it’s OK to take your kid in.
The pub is empty. All the cask beers are off because the manager’s just started and the delivery isn’t until tomorrow. He’s something like the ninth manager in two years, and one of them lasted less than a week. It’s the first time he’s managed a pub but he knows the place well and lives just round the corner. Before we sit in the window with some superchilled Guinness we wish him luck. Some students arrive to play pool. I hope some more arrive soon. Oliver enjoys standing on the seats and looking out of the window to watch the cars and buses go past.
Willy’s, High Cliff Road, Cleethorpes, Lincs. A stroll down the beach from the station, which might diplomatically be described as ‘bracing’, brings me back to a seafront pub I’d have first visited nearly two decades ago. It’s barely changed a bit and doesn’t look dated – other pubs have just caught up with its laid-back, cafe-ish, wood-and-daily-papers feel – and this place was doing the microbrewery thing way before it was hip. There’s nothing like drinking a pint of Willy’s bitter in the building where it’s brewed, and only paying £1.60-odd for the privilege.
I’m meeting my mum for lunch (the food is decent, the value outstanding again: you get a lot for £3.95) and a woman sitting adjacently briefly assumes us to be a couple, which is very clearly because of my mum’s youthful looks rather than my having visibly aged ten years in the one year since I became a parent. Later I exact revenge: a couple are reading a piece in today’s Grimsby Telegraph about my mum’s recent extended work and study visit to Bangladesh, so I embarrass her by pointing out to them that the star of the article is sitting at the next table.
The Barge, Riverhead, Grimsby, Lincs. While I’m revisiting my scenes of teenage embarrassment, I decide on the greatest one of all. Look out for a full-length feature on the Barge on this site in a few days’ time.
Tap and Spile, Garth Lane, Grimsby. After a couple of drinks on the Barge, we find Swigs (see Thursday below) empty and closed, so it’s round to the Tap – another pub I first visited ages and ages ago but haven’t been into for years. We find ourselves intruding on an all-acoustic folk and blues night, where most of the musicians are pretty good and fairly advanced in years. A middle-aged bloke has a long silver mane and a great Grimsby face, all broad smiles and seen-it-all wrinkles. A slightly younger man looks like a librarian and sings like an angel. A guy with dreadlocks does protest songs, a duo who might have been married for 30 years wrap straining voices round Neil Young, a rather grand lady with a grand trained voice does ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’ a capella, and a septuagenarian sings a comedy number about S&M. Some young lads play some recent stuff like the Scissor Sisters and a life-affirming warmth arises between the generations. In the time of The X Factor, to witness a room of people performing and encouraging each other simply to play music for music’s sake is a beautiful and quite moving thing. The beer’s not bad either.
Kings Royal, Kingsway, Cleethorpes. A quiet few pints in another seafront pub with my mum and her other half Jim, celebrating the end of all her work for her degree, and me getting my tax return finished, and just the fact that we’re all together, really. A very nice place, full of snugs and junk and character which has easily survived its tokenistic adoption of the laughable ‘Mucky Muldoons’ as an additional name a few years ago, when fake Irish was all the rage. Seems a long time ago now.
The Wheatsheaf, Bargate, Grimsby. While this is not a pub I regularly had much to do with, I’ll always fondly remember the Wheatsheaf for one epic all-dayer in about 1991. My adventures in rock and roll and the Barge were bringing me into contact with some interesting new people and, to my great pride and pleasure, I was going out with a girl from one of the villages whose parents read a broadsheet and everything. She was at sixth form college near the Wheatsheaf, where we and her friends once marked the end of term with the sort of immense lunchtime-to-closing-time session which becomes the stuff of eternal teenage memories, raucous, thrilling, horizon-stretching and formative.
Now it’s an Ember Inns production, pitched carefully at the relatively well-off Grimbarians who live hereabouts, offering competent food, good beer, modern art on tasteful pastel walls and absolutely no character at all.
Swigs, Osborne Street, Grimsby. After lunch in the Wheatsheaf with my old mate Al (since the first year of infants school!), we stroll into the town centre for a quick pint in Swigs before my train home. Swigs is the other pub owned by Willy’s (Second Willy’s; In Grimsby); back in the day, with its Cleethorpes counterpart, it pioneered that laid-back café bar feel in these parts. I spent a lot of time here in my final year or so of living here, when I started to fancy myself a bit too sophisticated for the Barge, enjoying the great beer, the Good Mix Of People, the cool ambience and the tremendous jukebox (which was free on Sunday nights). It was good at any time, but always an excellent daytime pub.
But it’s quiet this afternoon and Al suggests that Swigs is struggling for business these days. Tough times and everything, but a lick of paint might help: that décor is starting to look distinctly shabby and tired. At the very least it would help if the DRINKING WILL KILL YOU! OR, AT THE VERY LEAST, MAKE YOU LOOK A TWAT posters weren’t the only thing on the walls. If the authorities think this stuff needs to be plastered (heh!) everywhere, that’s one thing, but the landlords/ladies could at least put something nice up next to them, so we can feel that we’re in a pub and not a hospital waiting room. The beer is still top notch, but it’s sad to see a pub you loved look so unloved.
The Grapes, Trippett Lane, Sheffield. Rounding off the night after band practice. Some country/folk/blues types are playing upstairs, so we’re incongruously young here tonight. The Moonshine is in good nick, and I like that the Grapes still has twinkly lights from Christmas around the bar.
University Arms, Brook Hill, Sheffield. The University Arms can’t boast the same Good Mix Of People that made Swigs such an interesting place 20-odd years ago – other than us, its clientele seems to vary only as widely as Sheffield University lecturers and Sheffield University postgraduate students – but it’s held by the Thornbridge Brewery and does a nice line in cheap lunch, making it a popular venue for Friday Lunch Club. This is a regular pub gathering instituted recently by one of my friends whose bosses were really taking the piss: he was no longer allowed to have more than a couple of pints, in his own time, at the weekend, in case they wanted to phone him up and make him go in to work, so he basically said “right, I’m going to the pub at lunchtime every Friday instead then”. Although there are only three of us here today, Friday Lunch Club has convened just about every week for the past few months. Fight the power.
The Benjamin Huntsman, Cambridge Street, Sheffield. Following an afternoon band practice, my bandmates, my girlfriend, my son and I converge on a Wetherspoons for a traditional family game of ‘see if you can chuck a pint and a meal down your neck before Oliver destroys the pub’. Half the things on the menu are unavailable today and the staff all seem stressed to hell. I wonder if the way Wetherspoons keep the prices down might be to skimp on staffing, because the poor sods who work here are always having to run around like monkeys on hot coals, and even at quiet times it takes ages to get served.
New Adelphi Club, De Grey Street, Hull. The Adelphi! Yeah! After spending some of the early part of this week mooching round some of the first pubs I ever went to regularly, I’m ending it at one of my favourite live music venues – where I used to cadge lifts over the Humber Bridge to indiepop gigs in about 1990. Back then I would stand dumbstruck as bands like The Field Mice and 14 Iced Bears took the stage and left me weeping with joy and frustration all the way back to Grimsby. These days it’s me on the stage and I’m loving every minute of it. Not that it’s easy going on after our mates The Rocky Nest turn in a radiant set which swells the hearts of the whole room fit to burst, but we give it a go.
The Adelphi is celebrating its 25th anniversary. There are shades of the Coachmakers Arms in that Hull City Council have been sniffing around for a reason to shut the place down, seemingly unaware of what a treasure is in their midst. The Adelphi is a unique and special place and should be cherished until you can cherish no more.