Pub visits this week: 7
Lunch, dinner, waiting for trains. Meeting after trains. Watching bands playing in a pub. A pint between watching bands playing in a tea shop. A rest after shopping and a family meal. This week goes to prove that there is no end of things you can do with a pub ‒ and, of course, no end of brilliantly random things you can see or hear inside.
Rutland Arms, Brown Street, Sheffield (featured here). An hour on my own between work and band practice; dusk draws in and the atmospheric half-light of the pub deepens as drinkers gather. Dinner and a couple of pints, then. An IPA from the Crown Brewery (based at the Hillsborough Hotel, just down the side of the Don valley from where I live) is immaculate. I bump into Sam from the excellent local band Champion Kickboxer, who seems a little down, perhaps because his excellent local band are splitting up. My spirits are raised by the group at the next table, as three young hoodies produce a copy of Freud from a bag and discuss the origins of psychoanalysis.
Henry’s, Cambridge Street, Sheffield. I never went to Henry’s before it closed down so I can’t tell you what it was like before. What I can tell you is that it’s been reopened with a five-year lease and the same name, but a new emphasis on ale in a non-traditional sort of pub environment. It’s more like a ‘bar’ than a pub, is what I mean. From an overheard conversation in the Sheffield Tap recently I’ve also gleaned that the management isn’t bothering with much in the way of publicity for the launch, content instead to play a longer game based on word of mouth.
Perhaps it’s inevitable, then, that as Dan and I come in after band practice, a week or so after the place opens, it’s all vast, cavernous spaces and a debilitating lack of atmosphere. Nor does there seem much that’s interesting or appealing about the decor, save for some candles flickering behind the bar. The two people working here are nice and welcoming though, the beer excellent (nine of 12 pumps are working) and the prices stunningly cheap, with both of the ales we try coming in below two quid a pint. I guess they have to try and compete with the Wetherspoons place 50 yards up the street. It’s a great location for a pub and the potential should be there. It’ll be interesting to see how this one develops.
Red House, Solly Street, Sheffield. It’s a good job it doesn’t take many people to generate some atmosphere at the Red House, because tonight I am both performing here with my band and co-promoting the gig, so the event feels the full force of my failure on two devastating fronts. Withered Hand are amazing though, so that’s something.
Fellows Morton & Clayton, Canal Street, Nottingham. The Fellows is a nice pub, but I love it as if it were the greatest licensed premises the world has ever known. This is because I’ve had so many good times in Nottingham which began by meeting friends here, as it’s just round the corner from the railway station. It’s also because a big group of us watched the football scores coming in on the TV here a year ago on the day Grimsby Town avoided relegation, and when the result came in that Chester had only drawn against Aldershot, and would thus be unable to beat the Mariners to the final position of safety in the Football League, we all went crazy apeshit bonkers, lifting the roof with roars of relief, hugging strangers, wiping away tears and ordering a huge round of triple whiskies. One of those days in the pub you don’t forget, and one of the reasons I regret waiting as long as I did to start keeping this blog.
What’s it like, then? It’s an unassuming but attractive canalside pub with two rooms, a massive front door, an upstairs microbrewery, a good choice of interesting beer and some OK food. If the folks running Henry’s want a case study in creating a popular and really nice real ale pub with a modern feel, they could do a lot worse than spend a day getting rat-arsed in the Fellows.
The Lord Roberts, Broad Street, Nottingham. Broad Street is a narrow city-centre thoroughfare which is home to a large arty cinema (sorry ‒ media centre), a string of appalling bars, a tea shop that puts gigs on, and the Lord Roberts. The Lord Roberts ‒ a predominantly gay pub in the style of an old-fashioned backstreet boozer ‒ does good business when the tea shop puts a gig on, because everyone at the gig pops over to the Lord Roberts for a beer before, between and after the bands. Thus it is tonight, as my band plays support again to the mighty Withered Hand. There must be 50 people at the gig and half of them make at least one trip across the road at some point during the night. Somehow I find the time for about four, although I make a point of trying two of the dizzying variety of teas on offer at Lee Rosy’s as well.
Fellows Morton & Clayton, Canal Street, Nottingham. After a night on a sofa in Beeston and a champion breakfast in the Cosy Teapot, a group of us reconvene here for post-gig debriefing (or, if you insist on calling it this, a couple of pints before the train home). Carrying musical instruments into a pub is always to invite wry observations from men of a certain vintage, and our arrival at the Fellows today is accordingly met with the phrase “Turn’s here!” Met with it about fourteen times, if truth be told. (Younger readers may be helped by the knowledge that ‘the turn’ was the phrase used in the olden days in pubs and clubs to signify a provider of live entertainment.) We wave our acknowledgement and carry on to the bar. It’s always a joy to see my Nottingham friends and always sad when I leave, and these snatched hours between miraculous popshows, sleep, and trains back to everyday life are among the bittersweetest pub times I know.
The Benjamin Huntsman, Cambridge Street, Sheffield (warning: contains Wetherspoon). An after-shopping drink and lunch with my girlfriend and our little ‘un. An old man is tickled beyond measure by the fact that there are young children in a pub. “Where’s the baseball bat!” he asks me, with a broad grin. I’ve got no idea at all what he’s talking about but I’m fairly sure he’s talking about it jokingly, so I laugh with him anyway. As we sit to our little family meal, other people come in, and some bring with them more children. “Where’s the baseball bat!” asks the old man again, delighted with his wit. “Or the BMW!” he goes on. “That’s what they all want now!” Our 16-month-old child looks up briefly, with a quizzical expression, then carries on munching his macaroni cheese.