Pub visits this week 7
Locations Sheffield, Nottingham
Arriving in Sheffield city centre early for Wednesday’s band practice presents me with a dilemma. I could wait around outside the studio for 15 minutes before someone turns up with a key. Or I could go to the Rutland Arms. It’s winter and everything, but the deciding factor, really, is that if I wait around outside the studio for 15 minutes I won’t be able to drink half a pint of stout.
As it turns out, this deciding factor has a bonus attached. Because if I’d waited around outside the studio for 15 minutes I wouldn’t just have missed a pleasing mouthful of Lustin For Stout from the exciting new Blue Bee Brewery. I’d also have failed to overhear a brilliant conversation in the Rutland (featured here) about somebody’s friend who’s so obsessed with Half Man Half Biscuit that a line from their lyrics appears in every single sentence that he speaks.
Later on, after practice, Dan and I go for a pint at our new local, the Blake Hotel (pictured above). It’s quiz night. When we arrive, the questions are nearly finished and there’s nowhere to sit. So the quizmaster gets up to give us his table. The beer is wonderful. Before we know it, the answers are being read out. Sadly, because we don’t know what the questions were, we don’t learn much. But we do learn that hearing the answers to a pub quiz being read out when you don’t know what the questions were is an unpleasantly disorientating experience, on a par with waking up in a field or listening to The Fall.
On Friday it’s the gig we’ve been practising for, down in Nottingham. Dan and I hop off the train and into the Fellows, Morton and Clayton. The Fellows (pictured below) is a decent pub which my friends and I have elevated into a kind of semi-mythical realm of legend, for no other reason that it’s quite handy for the railway station. Well, OK – its proximity to the trains has made it the starting and end point of many weekends of transcendent pop thrills and togetherness. But you can’t easily explain that to the folks serving behind the bar.
Our friends James and Alex arrive (Alex is organising tonight’s gig) and after some artery-narrowing huge chip and cheese sandwiches we move on to meet more people at the Dragon. The Dragon is quite a smart pub, perhaps enough so to qualify for bar status. It’s really quite busy. I like it because the lighting is very subdued.
And so to popshow time at the Chameleon Arts Café, a place with just enough of a slightly scuffed character to give it bohemian charm without ever being a dive. That said, I don’t know if it’s just my imagination, or the winter blues, but the Chameleon seems to be smartening up just a little. The beer is up to three quid a bottle, which doesn’t help. But it’s still a fine, fine place, and ideal for bands like mine, which don’t do the music industry and hence will seldom if ever play live to more than about 30 people.
The girl working the bar hands a bottle of beer to the man standing next to me, and asks him: “You know that’s bottle conditioned?” to make sure he pours it into his glass slowly and carefully and leaves out the sediment. “That’s a good bit of service,” I think. Then I order the same kind of beer, and she pours it into a glass for me – in about three seconds flat, holding the bottle vertically, and dumping in the entire contents willy-nilly. She may very well be the foxiest girl I have ever seen working a bar, so this is not a criticism.
Two pubs back in Sheffield on Saturday: the Blake Hotel offers up a lovely evening again, but earlier the Sheffield Tap (featured here; pictured above) provides shelter from a rainy afternoon shopping trip. There’s a mini-festival of cask beers from the Highland Brewing Company (of which the pale Orkney Blast is pretty good). There’s a fabulous thing called Maniola, the 8,259th beer from Thornbridge since the turn of the decade – a dark, brooding beer with hints of ginger to keep you warm at night. Best of all, there’s a slightly bemused woman at the bar who says: “I just want some lager,” in the most apologetic tone imaginable, like the diner in the Chinese restaurant who orders omelette and chips.
On Sunday, unusually, I have a chance to get to the pub but choose not to. My girlfriend and I are out for a walk in the Peak District, which starts and ends at Hathersage. The pubs in Hathersage are rubbish, so we go to a café and have a scone instead.
This raises some important questions about pubs in the Peak District – or at least the mostly northern bits of it that we’ve been to. First: why are so many of them rubbish? Second: do you, the reader, know any good ones? The Cheshire Cheese just outside Hope is great, of course. And there’s an absolutely fantastic village pub I’ve forgotten the name of in Great Longstone or Little Longstone or somewhere round there. But beyond that? Please stick us a comment if you have an answer.
‘like the diner in the Chinese restaurant who orders omelette and chips’ – Love that line!
I need to return to Sheffield soon. Next time I see cheap train tickets I’ll be booking one.
The Black’s Head in Wirksworth is worth a visit, Pete. In fact, most of the pubs around the Market Square there are worth a visit.
Yes, Wirksworth does indeed have some good pubs. My friend Aidan lives there and we often go to a very small pub down a narrow side street. This pub is so good I can never remember its name!
What is it that you dislike so much about Peak District pubs, Pete? I guess they pander to tourists and therefore lack the atmosphere that comes from having a community feel. There must be more than one good one, though?
This is the Wirksworth pub that I was thinking of: –
This Peak District pub, which I’ve visited a couple of times, is certainly worth a visit. Just so long as you don’t like draught lager, and aren’t worried by the landlord getting the fire going by throwing petrol at it (as happened the first time i went)…
Thanks for all the comments, everyone. Mark, do shout up if you fancy a pint next time you’re in Sheffield! I’m on a mission to show everyone how amazing the Blake is.
What is it I dislike about some of those pubs? As Jono suggests, no ambience, no atmosphere, no cheer. Just the efficient processing of orders for expensive meals. At places like the Scotsman Pack in Hathersage and the Druid in Birchover it just seems like they want to get you in, get your money, and get you out to make room for the next lot. See also the Old Hall in Hope, the Rambler in Edale, the Robin Hood, the Fox House… these are all big, boring, costly Sunday dinner pubs. They don’t make you feel wanted and welcomed for anything other than your wallet. Of course, pubs need to make money, but sometimes there’s something off-putting about the way it’s done.
I’m sure there are loads of good pubs in the Peak District and I’ve just been unlucky. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Wirksworth, so I’ll have to give those places a look sometime.