Pub visits this week 9
Locations Sheffield, York, Grimsby, Bakewell
Real ale is becoming moderately popular among young people! And who’d have known if the Guardian hadn’t told us? But let’s just make sure this article has all the required components. References to real ale being characterised as “an old man’s drink”? Check. Semi-reassuring statistics about real ale’s slight rise in popularity? Check. Picture of an attractive young woman drinking a pint of real ale? Check. The attention to detail here, then, is second to none, though we might bear in mind that the Independent ran the same piece less than two months ago.
Elsewhere this week, I love beermats with National Trust walking routes.
It’s Monday lunchtime. I’m in Chesterfield with my girlfriend and our child. We have the afternoon free and we have the car. We can go anywhere for lunch. Well, I say ‘anywhere’. There’s talk of the Coach & Horses but the food is too expensive. But there’s also talk of the legendary Fat Cat and Kelham Island Tavern back home in Sheffield, where the menus are tempting and the prices are low. So I’m not quite sure how we end up at the Broadfield.
God bless the Broady, though. With good local beer now sitting alongside the friendly service, it’s a sound-as-a-pound local that’s seen some hard times and never gives up. They’ve even made their own guerilla menu as a rebellious supplement to the bog standard Greene King one. And it’s even alright. Cauliflower cheese tart? Penne arrabiata? For less than three quid? Oh, go on then.
Tuesday evening finds me early for band practice, so I hop into the Rutland Arms (featured here) for a quick pint and a natter with Andy the gaffer about the secret of a successful staff night out when you run a pub (never go anywhere you’d want to go to again, apparently). After practice Dan and I make for the Red Deer, but there’s nowhere to sit, so it’s the Bath Hotel instead.
Standing at the bar in the Bath, to my left, is a Character. He notices my arrival. I mull over the expansive choice of cask beers and settle on Dark Knight, from the White Rose Brewery. All the while, from the corner of my eye, I can see the Character eyeing up the guitar on my back and trying to think of something humorous to say. And all the while I’m looking forward more and more to hearing the Character’s witticism, when he finally unleashes it. At last my pints arrive and the Character is ready to perform. He points to the guitar. “Er… that’s a bit small for a house, isn’t it… to carry… on your back.”
Hiding my disappointment, I play along for a bit and then sit down, leaving the Character to torment the bar staff with songs from The Muppet Show.
On Friday it’s a big family occasion. My mum has become the latest member of our previously non-academic family to get a degree, and her graduation ceremony is in York Minster. My brothers and I are all so delighted for my mum that we decide to start celebrating at the Blake Hotel in Sheffield the night before.
So the three of us, my girlfriend, and Chris’s fiancée Vikki strew ourselves round a table and unwind. If the beer was very good on the Blake’s opening night last week, it verges on miraculous tonight. Take the Chocolate Marble, from the excellent Marble Brewery of Manchester. I do, and my life feels better for it. Rich sequences of flavour rocket to the far corners of the palate, explode in cocoa showers of delight. My brothers, who gravitate towards premium lagers but have started dabbling with new-generation pale ales, are nowhere near ready for it, overwhelmed and recoiling from the glass. So it’s clearly not the sort of thing the kids in those Guardian and Independent features are lapping up. But it may be the best stout I’ve ever tasted.
And in York, after the ceremony and lunch, oh my, the family retreat to their hotels and I pick a pub in which to while away the afternoon. I’ve never set foot in the Blue Bell (pictured above) before but it feels like I’ve belonged here all my life. By the time I roll out four hours later, I’ve drunk a skinful of fine ale, I’ve made a load of new friends and I’m convinced I’ve found a pub at least as good as the Coopers Tavern – which, in case you don’t remember, is the best pub in the world. The Blue Bell will become the next featured pub on this website some time in the next week or two.
But just like the Chocolate Marble stout, the Blue Bell probably won’t be to my siblings’ taste. I ask my new friends here to recommend somewhere modern, so that Chris and Vikki will like it, but where there’ll also be a decent pint and space to sit down, so that I’ll like it. So it’s at Pivni that we pass the last part of the evening.
Pivni has apparently gone a massive rebranding exercise, whereby its entire identity has been overhauled and its fortunes transformed by the momentous and courageous decision to change its name – from, er, Pivo. This is where the folks behind the Sheffield Tap and Euston Tap got started, though, so they clearly know their shit, and should only take a loser like me seriously when I’m praising them.
Emboldened by the entirely life-enhancing experience of drinking Brewdog’s scrumptious Hardcore IPA a few weeks ago (abv 9%), I go for a half of the same brewery’s Paradox tonight (abv 10%). Now I know how my brothers felt with the Marble stout. There may be those to whom Paradox brings indescribable pleasures, but to me it tastes like burnt toast crumbled into antifreeze. Don’t ask how I know. There were some truly dark days during my time as a student.
Thornbridge’s Hopton tastes great, though, and a tremendous jukebox treats us to The Smiths, Ramones, Squeeze and a stack of other top tunes. A bright lamp comes down close and bathes our table in light, as if we’re playing poker, conducting a séance, or performing microsurgery. It’s wonderfully atmospheric and cosy, and when the five of us stop taking photos for a while we find conversation easy and warm. When it’s time for my train, I can barely stand to leave.
The next day I’m up, not very bright but painfully early, to travel over to Grimsby for non-League football, where the other Rutland Arms in my life (featured here; pictured below) fulfils its function of supplying pre-match Dutch courage. Disappointing 1-1 draw duly completed, I whizz back home to the wonderful Sheffield Tap (featured here). Despite, or perhaps because of, the addition of two more rooms, the pub is crowded to the point of unpleasantness, at least at the bar. Perhaps extending a smashing and popular pub is like widening a motorway, and it relieves the congestion in the immediate term, only for the gridlock to return worse than ever shortly afterwards.
Then on Sunday I’m mooching around a cold and drizzly Bakewell with my girlfriend and child again. The very good Old House Museum is closed, and after a fraught “don’t touch anything” visit to a crafts fair, little ‘un is getting frustrated. Looking for food, and a big pub with room for him to run around a bit, we settle on the Rutland Arms Hotel (bringing up a hat-trick of Rutland Armses for this week).
The Rutland Arms Hotel is an actual real hotel, and so the pub bit at the bottom is an actual real hotel bar, with all the idiosyncrasies that brings. We take a seat in a grandly furnished room. A TV sitting on the bar shows a rolling news channel, with detailed coverage of Ireland’s new budgetary crisis. Ten minutes later someone arrives at the bar to serve us. This is just as well, as ten minutes’ detailed coverage of Ireland’s new budgetary crisis had left me feeling very miserable indeed. A pint of Thornbridge’s cheery brown ale Lord Marples may not be enough to save the world, but it takes the edge off the wintry weather.