With the tree down, but pine needles still lacerating my bare feet, it’s the perfect time for a catch-up on festive pubgoing. Christmas and new year are fascinating times for lovers of the pub. We see our boozers heaving with happy, sociable folk, enjoying an easy journey from stranger to friend, radiant in the simple pleasure of company. Mind you, the best pubs are like that all year round, of course.
And we also see a share of once-a-year drinkers who are ready to dance naked on tabletops within a few gulps of their second pint. Or was that just the Red Deer the Friday before Christmas Eve?
Much of my yuletide pubbery in 2011 revolves around work. In recent years, as a freelance, I had only my Pretend Work Christmas Do, in which my friends and I went through the motions of the traditional office night out, without my having to have held down an actual job. In 2011 there’s a proper work Christmas do, several valedictory nights out with colleagues who were either leaving or having babies, a trip to the pub after a posh do at the vice-chancellor’s house, and the above-mentioned impromptu jaunt to the Red Deer on the last working day of the year.
Oh, and my friends insisted we retain the Pretend Work Christmas Do as well. Insisted, I tells ya.
This centres upon a particular area of Sheffield each year. In 2011 we choose Crookes, and begin with my first ever trip to the Noah’s Ark (pictured above). It’s an old-school local, with an old-school layout, and old-school glaring white light. These stands in stark counterpoint to many other nearby pubs, and seem to issue a strong message to the the nearby student population. The message is: You won’t really like us. We won’t chase you out with blazing torches or anything. But you’d prefer it somewhere else. Give that Old Grindstone a try, eh, see who’s managing it this week.
It’s half past five on a wet Thursday in December, so nobody very much else is here. But the beer is very good (I seem to recall Bradford’s Salamander brewery featuring, though possibly not at this pub) and the warm, broad smiles of (I’m presuming) the landlady light our way out into the falling night.
Next stop is the Cobden View (pictured below), which I’ve heard great things about but never spent enough time in – about 15 minutes, I think – to find out for myself. This time I see it. The higgledy-piggledy layout is a joy, bringing to mind the Hallamshire House and the beautiful White Lion over at Heeley. We all enjoy a Great Pub Moment here too. The room we’re in is adorned with photography from around Sheffield. We can’t quite agree on the location of one shot, and the photographer’s phone number is on display, so I give him a call to ask.
“Hello? You don’t know me, but my name’s Pete and I’ve got a question about one of your pictures. There’s a group of us sitting looking at them now in the Cobden View.”
“Oh, well, I’ll come over and see you then. I’m standing in the bar at the Cobden View.”
And so he does. Nowhere could this slice of serendipity have been more fabulous than in a pub.
After that we hit the Princess Royal, one of my favourite pubs in Sheffield. We seem to upset some of the locals by scoring 20 out of 20 on a music quiz, thus trousering a £50 jackpot, and then promptly doing one to spend it on a big curry. Sorry, folks. That was always the plan for the evening though. Maybe I’ll give it a month or two before showing my face again.
Among the pubs I take in during actual, proper work Christmas drinks is the Frog & Parrot. Years ago the Frog & Parrot was legendary for its Roger & Out stunt beer, so strong it was only served in one-third of a pint measures, and once memorably described by the former England cricketer Derek Pringle as “closer to anaesthetic than ale”. These days it seems distinguishable from the other vertical drinking establishments around Division Street only by its tendency to feature terrible live indie bands and set up the sound so you can only hear the vocals and drums. At least when we visit the Forum just across the road, the entire cast of This is England ‘88 are in attendance for us to stare at in starstruck wonder.
Once work is over for the year and Christmas is here, I’m busier than ever charging up and down the country visiting family. A trip to Hertfordshire is livened up with an outing to the White Horse in London Colney, where our friend Mark is doing a gig. I suspect I wouldn’t enjoy the White Horse on a regular night of the year: it’s big, and a bit posh, with overtones of Sunday carvery about it, and the only half-decent beer is London Pride. But it’s cheery enough for Christmas Eve, faces glowing in twinkly lights, acoustic guitars chiming down the minutes to midnight.
There’s an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which it emerges that ‘real’ demons and vampires will always refrain from their nefarious activities on Hallowe’en because the homage paid to them that night by humans is so irredeemably tacky. As a pub lover I tend to feel the same way about New Year’s Eve. Granted, last year I had a splendid evening in the Crooked Billet. But the last night of the year can be a hellish one, if you’re surrounded by frenzied guzzling folk dressed up for an annual parody of pubgoing.
This year, then, visiting Cleethorpes, we give all that a miss and stay in to scowl at Jools Holland. By the time we get to Willy’s (pictured above) the following evening, 20 hours or so into the new year, there are no more fireworks seeing in 2012 with a bang, no more Chinese lanterns floating out over the Humber estuary. Increasingly there are no more people out for a drink either.
And that’s about that. Where did you go a-pubbing over Christmas and new year, friends? Did you find somewhere cosy, or was it all horrific? Post a comment below, share the cheer, and let me wish you the very best of pubgoing in 2012.