The Hallamshire House was the first pub I blogged about on this site, back in January 2009, so it seems a fitting place to start things moving again now.
For them as doesn’t know, the Hallamshire is a comfy suburban local in the Commonside area of Sheffield, about five minutes’ walk from where I live. It’s not quite been my first port of call when I nip out for a quick quench (the Princess Royal and then the Blake Hotel have enjoyed higher command of my affections on that score). But it’s always been a very good pub.
So when I heard that the Thornbridge Brewery had got their hands on the Hallamshire, and would be reopening it shortly after a quick lick of paint, I wasn’t apprehensive. I was excited. Great local pub, great brewery. Thornbridge couldn’t go wrong. Could they?
Let’s see then. First up, the layout is unchanged. Either side of the entrance you’ll still find the main front room and the lovely little snug. The pool table is gone from the front, but the full-size snooker table still adjoins the bigger room at the back. It’s the decor they’ve worked on. The Hallamshire today is enveloped in a pale leafy tone which seems so oddly familiar, as I enter, that somehow I expect to see pots of Thornbridge Green on the shelves next time I visit B&Q.
Equally distinctive is the dark wood. I like the pale green. But I find dark wood a bit austere. I think the dark wood is the reason Thornbridge’s last big project, the Greystones, didn’t quite have that wow factor when I walked in. You might like it. It’s probably just me.
The interesting thing about the Hallamshire, I always thought, was that it was never very full but never quite empty. This is the case again when I come in tonight. I’ll guess the two lads opposite me in the snug are postgrads. They talk of playing football but they’re too posh; they sound like yer undergraduates but they’re too old. Whatever they’re studying, one of them is too stupid. He produces an analysis of the ‘occupy’ movement which takes my breath away.
“These protestors are demanding equality, yeah? But there can never be equality because not everyone’s the same.”
As devotees of the pub (not the Hallamshire in particular: the pub in general; a universal concept; Everypub, if you will), we appreciate its theatre, its expansiveness, its grand sweep of human life in Britain. So we have to accept that for every gem of wit and wisdom we overhear, there’ll be one spectacular exhibition of the most gormless fuckwittery imaginable.
Steadily the pub becomes populated. For the first time in years I hear a punter add the words “and have one yourself, love” at the end of an order. Whatever happened to buying one for the bar staff? Ah. Yes.
What of the beer? Bear in mind, now, that I’ve never had so much of a swig of any Thornbridge ale that’s been anything less than marvellous. Tonight I sip at another exemplary pint of Jaipur. Dan arrives and gets me an equally fine (and considerably safer) pint of Wild Swan. For my third and final pint here this evening, I order Kipling. Last time I drank Kipling, I wondered whether it was a mightier pint even than Jaipur. If your beer can keep its head, when all about it are losing theirs, well, you’re onto a winner, frankly.
This evening? Ewwww. The problem isn’t that it’s off. If only. You get a pint that’s off, you take it back. These days most pubs seem enlightened enough (and I’m just about confident enough) for this to work. But this pint isn’t off. It’s just wrong. Kipling is meant to taste light, airy, sweetness tempering its assertive, bitter edge, as the spring’s first burst of blossom sweetens winter’s lingering chill. But this one tastes of meat. Tired meat. Tired meat that an old lady forgot to unpack from the bottom of her shopping trolley.
It’s unbearable. It’s well kept and well served – but maybe a batch has just been brewed badly. And I can’t take it back. Because it isn’t off. You can’t very well take a pint back to the bar and say: “Sorry, this beer – it isn’t off or anything… it just tastes of tired meat.” So most of it is left undrunk. Back when beer in pubs was reasonably priced, 340 years ago or so, you didn’t mind too much if you had to leave some of it. Tonight I’m chucking three quid away. To me that’s still a lot of money to chuck away.
Oh, and Thornbridge have got rid of the stained glass windows in the ceiling. Have you ever seen a pub with stained glass windows in the ceiling? The Hallamshire used to have them. They were beautiful. And they’d still have looked beautiful with the new decor. Senseless.
What does my opinion matter? The pub is becoming seriously populated now. It retains the mix of locals and students that always made it so appealing. Many more of the students seem attracted now, though. I may have had an unfortunate experience with the beer. I may be pissed off about the stained glass. And I may be missing the point – assuming that there is a point – of the staggeringly ugly Victorian family portraits that now line the former pool room. But when two old men admire a ‘living flame’ gas fire while a crowd of young ‘uns lean lacrosse sticks against a wall, I’ll never feel anything other than love.