Pub visits this week 8
Locations Sheffield, Birmingham
Have you entered Get to the pub.com’s first ever competition yet? In case you’ve not seen, Get to the pub.com has linked up with online beer retailer Ales by Mail to give you the chance to win one of these lovely and defiantly optimistic pub-supporting T-shirts. Get to the competition and enter – it’s very easy, and everyone who takes part receives a code to get cheap beer from Ales by Mail. Do it!
This week I discovered Tim Hampson’s Beer Blog, where we’ve been having a nice chat about the great pubs of Sheffield and another city not far away. Tim writes lucidly about pubs and ale, and the blog is well worth subscribing to. Our discussion has also made me want to go drinking in Derby as soon as I can.
We discovered recently that the previous Labour government had a minister for pubs. We’ve discovered even more recently that a Lib Dem backbencher is urging the current government to have one as well. Good luck with that, Greg Mulholland. We’ll be watching.
So, let’s get to the pub.
I seem to be properly back in the pub quiz groove, as Tuesday finds me hunched over an answer sheet with a biro just down the road at the Freedom House. This week I just about manage to avoid hindering teammates Dan, Vinnie and Jeremy on their march to victory, and we scoop a tenner in beer tokens. One of the men from the teams in the corner, on his way out of the room, congratulates us warmly on our success. “Y’ bastards!” he adds, with a great big playful grin. At least I think it’s playful.
Friday takes me to Birmingham for a high-powered business meeting. Before it I have a quick and very ordinary pint with my brother, in the distinctly average Yard of Ale on New Street. After it I have two exquisite pints with my friend Ray in the Anchor. The Anchor, just next to Digbeth coach station, is the best pub in Birmingham by miles. When I used to work round the corner, I practically lived here. This afternoon the tables are all occupied by silent, solitary beer tickers, rather than the dishevelled, barely intelligible but friendly folks who used to populate the bar in my day. But the ale is still outstanding and the service still great.
At six o’clock I head back into town to meet my other brother at the Victoria. This was a halfway decent pub when I lived here, but when I came to the Vic again last summer to play a gig, I found it beautifully redecorated, festooned with flowers and replete with real ale. Hauling myself in out of the rain, I find a pub packed almost shoulder-tight with indie or indie-ish types celebrating the end of the working week.
The sibling and I chat about unemployment, illness and other cheerless themes while the grey skies outside weep on. After a bit we head over to the Island Bar to meet his other half from work. Good call: Vikki’s sparkly personality is just what we need to lift the gloom. This is my first time at a place I’ve heard plenty about, but my exchange with the young lad behind the bar seems to embody everything I remember about Birmingham from before I moved away.
“Have you got any cask ales?”
Happily, there’s some OK stuff in bottles, including Brewdog’s Trashy Blonde. I don’t think I’d go far out of my way for the Island Bar, but it’s a reasonable place for a post-work libation before we head off for a curry. Birmingham: it’s not as bad as it was when I left. Well done.
Back in Sheffield, some extra shifts of childcare free me up for pub fun early on Sunday night. Dan and I undergo severe pub fail before we get started, however. Plan A is scrapped when we miss the train to Chapeltown to check out the Commercial. Plans B and C fall by the wayside when the Three Cranes and Three Tuns are both closed. So we fall back on the excellent Kelham Island Tavern. Some of my friends are engaged in a philosophical debate over whether it’s possible for the Kelham Island Tavern to be simultaneously the best pub in Britain and not necessarily the best pub in Sheffield. But the garden, where Dan and I cradle a pint and wish away rain clouds, is beyond debate. It’s lovely.
We walk over to the Wellington next, where the beer is superb, where Dan nods to a bloke he knows from a band called Pygmy Globetrotters, and where a baby buggy is standing in front of the fireplace. If the Kelham Island Tavern isn’t the best pub in Sheffield, the Wellington might be. And the week ends with another candidate for that title, the Hillsborough Hotel, where Dan and I sit out on the patio enjoying the neon-spangled view to the east, back along the Don valley into the city centre, and behold an array of curious lights appearing in the sky just as we’re discussing the existence of God.
Thanks for reading! Have a good week in pubs – and don’t forget to enter our competition.