Pub visits this week 5
This week in pubs begins on Tuesday evening. I have two tickets for the first leg of the FA Youth Cup final in my pocket and a burning thirst in my throat. The match being at Bramall Lane, it becomes a straightforward enough decision to spend pre-match at the Sheaf View.
If you’ve never been to the Sheaf View, there are two things I need to say to you. The first is “What are you doing with your life?” The second, upon much the same theme, is that the Sheaf View is probably the finest pub you’ve never been to.
Mark and I have arranged to meet at five o’clock, giving us more than two hours here before we have to stroll down to the football. At five o’clock there’s hardly anyone here. By the time we leave, there’ve been dozens in – some off to the match, some just here because they’re always here, because it’s great.
Why? First, you’ll not get a better pint anywhere – and, unusually in 2011, you won’t choke on it when you see the prices. We are blissfully necking pints of the Dark Star brewery’s American Pale Ale, a dreamy beer which was Get to the pub.com’s best pint of 2010. And we’re notably not being fleeced for the great privilege. Second, the Sheaf (pictured below) isn’t one of your rarefied, restrained and refined real ale pubs. When the people arrive, there are all sorts here, and the ambience is all the greater and livelier for that. Camra card-carriers may be among the crowd, but the most enthusiastic praise for an ale comes from a bloke I get chatting to at the bar who’ll never get a ticker’s badge. Which brewery was it from, I ask.
“I dunno,” he comes back. “I only drink ’em!” Fair play, mate.
A similarly mixed, if usually smaller, crowd can be found just downhill at the White Lion on Chesterfield Road. The White Lion has, I think, the most beautiful pub interior I know – all snugs and panels, old maps, passages, wood and cut glass partitions. It’s a pity the Sheaf is so close by, because it seems to hoover up all the discerning drinkers around here, when the White Lion deserves more. At the very least, it ought to be popular with students of linguistics: when Mark and I roll in after the football, we hear more thee-ing and tha-ing in two minutes standing at the bar than I’ve heard in nearly seven years since I moved to Sheffield.
Significantly from a personal perspective, the night my son was born, the White Lion is where I came to wet his head. Because we moved to the other side of town soon afterwards, this is the first time I’ve been back since. So tonight I come over all gooey, and Mark and I both set to talking about our kids until we’re almost melting into our pints of Jaipur.
Which are your favourite mild ales? I’d never cared a lot for the lower-strength beers this ridiculous new tax regime is trying to promote until I drank Brewdog’s remarkable Edge in the Euston Tap a few months ago, which packs a staggering depth of flavour for its 3.2% abv. On Saturday afternoon I’m trying not to get too tipsy too early, so at the University Arms (pictured below) I’m tickling my tonsils with a drink called Lightness. Made up the road in Barnsley by the Acorn brewery, which calls it “a light golden Pennine mild”, it weighs in at 3.6% and does the job beautifully, subtly delicious and still quenching this early summer thirst.
Readers outside Yorkshire: do your favourite pubs ever get Acorn stuff in? For all the love going out to the fashionable Dark Star, Thornbridge and Marble breweries, it must be said that the Acorn folks – with the glorious Simcoe IPA still fresh in my memory – are matching them stride for stride right now.
Why am I needing a clear head? Because I’m playing a gig in the evening, upstairs at the Rutland Arms (featured here). It’s totally acoustic, but I can’t play totally straight. Musicians will nearly always tell you that in live performance there’s a fine line to be walked between nervous sobriety and sloppy inebriation. Down the years I’ve strayed across it enough times, and tonight, playing solo, without my band – indeed, without a microphone or any amplification at all – it’s even finer than usual. But the upstairs room at the Rutland has just the right homely, folk-club feel for our purposes; the other acts on the bill are all smashing; and a steadily sipped Grey Ghost IPA takes me as close to that line as I’m ever likely to get.
It all ends around midnight. We want a place to go. We don’t want dancing and vertical drinking: it’s too late, we’re too ‘relaxed’, too tired, and in my case, far too old and crotchety. We want a pub. And most of us are heading west out of Sheffield city centre, towards my neck of the woods. Where’s going to be open for another hour or so, where we can enjoy a tasty pint, a warm welcome and a comfy seat?
I’ll tell you where: the Princess Royal, on the border of Crookes and Walkley – one of the greatest suburban locals in this mighty pub city. Even in Sheffield there might not be many pubs where seven drunken people carrying musical instruments could lumber in at half past midnight and find a pub full of friendly folk 20 years their senior who barely bat an eyelid at their appearance.
So we huddle round a table, talking over the magical little popshow we’ve just had, talking splendid drunken nonsense, drinking in the delightful atmosphere with our pints of Five Rivers and Crucible Best, quietly semi-delirious just at being here, just at the fact that this very special pub exists and is here to make our very special night more wondrous still. Tomorrow we’ll pay. But the price is OK, because tonight we’re truly alive.