Pub visits this week: 7
The other week, you may remember, some of you joined me in a little discussion of towns and cities that are especially good for pubs. This week I’ve taken in two superlative boozers in the Potteries (see Saturday and Sunday below). With the Coachmakers Arms still hanging on, maybe Stoke-on-Trent deserves to rank not far from the hallowed names of Burton-on-Trent, Derby and Sheffield…
Red Deer, Pitt Street, Sheffield; Bath Hotel, Victoria Street, Sheffield; Star & Garter, Winter Street, Sheffield. It’s been a bank holiday of work for me – which at least means I get to the pub afterwards to let off some steam. The Red Deer is ticking over quietly while the Bath Hotel buzzes and hums. It also jigs with an Irish folk band, doing that sitting in a circle while they play thing that Irish folk bands do. On the way back from the toilet someone says hello and asks how I’m doing. “Hello!” I beam back. “I’m very well, thanks!”
“You can’t remember who I am, can you?” she says.
“No!” I reply wholeheartedly, without breaking my stride. It’s a moment. Well, if people will insist on not wearing their glasses when they’re playing a gig.
Dan and I head for the University Arms but it’s shut for the bank holiday. Reluctant to head back into town, we try the Star & Garter – a pub just opposite the university but which seems to serve the indigenous population north of the main road. It’s one of those pubs you tend to think might be ‘a bit scary’ but for no real reason at all. So what’s it like? It’s very bright. There’s no cask ale. There are about four customers. They’ve got a big screen for the football. But there’s no football on. So it’s showing a Hollywood ‘action’ film. The volume is cranked right up, making all the explosions and gunfire audible across most of Crookesmoor. On the plus side, the service is amiable and welcoming enough. And there are two beautiful young cats, one chasing a bottle top around the floor, the other snoozing on the bar next to the spicy nuts machine. Cats in pubs are up there with trains and doing nothing as one of my favourite things in the world.
While we’re on the subject, I’d just like to point out that ‘action’ is a stupid name for a genre of film. As if other kinds of film are just a hundred minutes of statues and goldfish. Could we all start calling them ‘dick flicks’ instead please? Thanks.
University Arms, Brook Hill, Sheffield. It’s Friday, it’s half past 12, and it’s Friday Lunch Club. Out in the garden every table is taken, as the sun shines brightly and Sheffield eases into the summertime. In the corner of the main room, deep in shade, is our group. Can I be the only person in Britain who doesn’t like eating outdoors?
University of Sheffield Students’ Union, Sheffield. Tempted along to Offbeat by rumours that it might be the last one ever. It won’t be.
The Congress, Sutherland Road, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs. A handful of glorious beers. A ‘turn’ playing acoustic covers to a backing track. Photos of last year’s conker tournament. Rich conversation with a knowledgeable Port Vale supporter. Dozens or hundreds of pump clips, fastened up on the wall behind the bar, constellating like so many stars on a night of infinite possibilities. It’s getting on for 1am when I leave, and barely anyone else has gone since Pete and I stepped in about three hours ago. Throngs of happy middle-aged drinkers drink on and defiantly on into the night. This is my third or fourth time here, and there’s still nothing to shake me from my conviction that the Congress is a superb pub – scuffed round the edges but burning with life.
The White Star, Kingsway, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs. A very quick pint to celebrate a recording session before I hop on the train home. But not so quick that I can’t appreciate another excellent pub. Excellent in a very different way, though, from the comfy old pair of socks feel of the Congress. Held by the redoubtable Titanic Brewery – based just down the road in Burslem – the White Star has a smarter, city centre sort of air about it (although bear in mind that the phrase ‘city centre’ is uniquely fraught with ambiguity around here). A cleansing, robust pint of Titanic’s eponymous White Star sets me up nicely for the journey. I must come back and check out the pies.