Pub visits this week 6
Locations Sheffield, Grimsby
Last week the Independent did another of those “hey, that real ale stuff, you thought it’s just for old men and tastes of socks, right, but some of the pale ones are almost drinkable” features that reliably do the rounds once or twice a year. Are these still necessary? Get to the pub.com might live in the cask ale capital of Britain, and hence exist in a sort of hoppy and aromatic bubble, but are The Kids really so uninformed that they need that same article to be rewritten every five minutes?
Here in Sheffield, there’s all sorts of pub stuff a-happening. The Highcliffe, once a famous folk music venue, is to become a Thornbridge pub – and the community role they’ve envisaged for it sounds to us absolutely the Way Forward. Building work is under way at the Blake in Walkley, soon to be reopened by James Birkett, who has made the Sheaf View in Heeley into one of the most fabled real ale pubs in the north. But there’s terrible news from the Grapes, where it’s now just about official that the pub is to stop hosting live music. The upstairs venue part is apparently to host the pool table instead. So, RIP the Grapes, because Get to the pub.com can’t see the place long surviving this masterplan, which sounds to us like the worst idea since pineapple on pizza.
Still, you Londons will be alright when the Euston Tap opens later this month.
My first pint of the week is another of the great pale ales that the Rutland Arms here in Sheffield seems to be so adept at sourcing and serving. It’s Thursday; Dan and I are briefly wetting our whistles before band practice, and the Rutland is limbering up nicely for its quiz night as the after-work crowd begins to blend with the folks coming out for the evening. (The relaunched, reopened Rutland celebrates its first anniversary this week: our great big congratulations to Andy and all the staff on their laudable achievements over the year.)
Later, arriving at the Grapes, we seem to be the only two people here, and the pub feels eerily deserted until we realise everyone’s upstairs watching the band. Which would appear to make a further nonsense of the decision to end live music here. Still, what do we know? We’re only the insignificant plebs who’ve been drinking here, playing gigs and watching other bands here for several years.
Saturday’s visit to the Rutland Arms in Grimsby is remarkable for two things. One: it precedes a highly professional winning performance from the players of Grimsby Town Football Club. Two: the vast packet of tasty onion ring-style corn snacks that I buy to soak up some of the beer is the stodgiest and greasiest pub nibble in the history of humanity.
That evening, back in the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire, my girlfriend and I have the luxury of a babysitter and hence a coupley night out. C asks me to take her to one of the great local pubs I’ve discovered since we moved to this side of town, and there’s barely one more deserving of that accolade than the Princess Royal, probably the second closest pub to our house, after the Old Heavygate Inn. “Why does this place do so well when the Heavygate struggles so much?” asks my girlfriend. Well, it could be the very good beer, it could be the charmingly anachronistic décor, it could be tonight’s live music on two storeys, or it could be the sheer ineffable life-affirming happiness of a room buzzing with vivacity and gladness just to be alive and be here.
And these people giving us a masterclass in living, as these quicksilver pints of Five Rivers slip down, they are all older than us (and we’re not a million miles from middle age). This is never a bad thing. It gives us hope, and heaven knows that’s a strictly rationed substance out there in Britain in 2010. The only ones not our seniors are a well-groomed lad and lass talking careful Spanish. But my favourite bit of overheard chat is between two old boys at the bar, analysing the forthcoming Tube strike.
“And this Bob Crow, at the RMT – ‘e’s gonna be the new Arthur Scargill, ‘e is! I’m not saying I don’t agree with everything ‘e says, but you can’t win every fight. You’ve got to pick and choose.”
“Or pick and mix, if you’ve got a sweet tooth.”
The Benjamin Huntsman is a less than usually hideous Wetherspoons pub in central Sheffield. Like many Wetherspoons pubs, it is accredited by the Cask Marque scheme, which is supposed to signify quality cask beer. Cask Marque says: “The recommended dispense temperature of the majority of brewers is between 11-13°C. Cask Marque audits to a required range of 10-14°C allowing a little leeway.” On Sunday afternoon I buy a pint of Dark Galleon in the Benjamin Huntsman, which, after being warmed between my hands for 15 minutes, finally reaches a temperature where it tastes of something.
Sunday evening finds me at the Gardeners Rest for a pub quiz. Sitting in the very bottom of the Don valley, this is the pub that copped it worst of all in the Sheffield floods of 2007. It took ages to put right. So it’s all the more pleasing to visit it as it is now: one of the most beautiful pubs you’ll ever see. The décor is immaculate, but not in a clinical way – it’s full of quirky charm – and the Sheffield Brewery Company, which now runs this place, is serving a near-perfect pale ale in its Sheffield IPA, clean, bright, bitter and punchy.
And it’s quiz night. My usual excuse for being rubbish at pub quizzes is that there are loads of questions about pop culture, and I’m way too massively highbrow and clever to know anything about all that shit. Tonight, as befits a quiz in a fairly middle-class establishment, there are no questions about pop culture. And I’m still rubbish at the pub quiz. However, I do manage to start an excellent conversation about what names we’d all have been given if we’d been born the opposite gender. Always a great social lubricant, that topic. Get to the pub.com recommends.