*ADDITION!* Stupid Blogger spellcheck is broken. Apologies for any errors, proofreading whilst hungover is tricky!
last night, I ventured to the Church House on St James Street. You know, St James Street. Everyone knows where St James street is surely? Well, erm, no, and I found it difficult enough to get people to imagine its location even using massive local landmarks. Luckily everyone has heard of the Cathedral; far fewer have heard of Sanctuary Bar though....
Anyway, I was there last night for the opening night. Except, that was Thursday. The sign had the right date but the wrong day, so I missed out on free stuff, which is a tragedy of immeasurable proportions. Humph.
Despite that, it was nice to see a range of six real ales on the bar, including some you rarely see in Sheffield. Being a Scottish and Newcastle pub (under the dirty umbrella of Heineken, alas) they had dipped into their dwindling portfolio of available cask beers, and colluded with Greedy King to bring a choice of Caledonian Deuchars IPA, Church House Bitter, Flying Scotsman, Elf Esteem and Double Dark Oatmeal Stout, plus Greedy King Olde Trip. Beer was averagely priced (due to a mix up with crisps it was unlcear in round one but I think my second pint, of Deuchars, was £3.00 - get me with me research!), and Bacon Fries were on sale at the going rate, i.e 80p a pack. Crucial info...
There's a decent wine list with a few bottles I'd like to try plus a few fillers that are easily affordable - a good mix of prices means if you take the whole thing a bit seriously as I sometimes do you can choose with confidence, but if you want wines to taste of wine and have alcohol in them you don't have to fork out a fortune only to be disappointed. The food menu looks to be bar snacks-cum-Tapas, with lots of fairly standard fare which I didn't pay a tremendous amount of attention to, but it didn't look too expensive.
Meanwhile, with thanks to Anne Greaves from Twitter for finding it, they have gone and got a Facebook page which doesn't carry much info I have to say. Puzzlingly their cover pic also appears to be a rack of thirds (although, there seems to be 4 - are these 142ml measures then?!). I didn't see or get offered any thirds whilst pondering my choice so am not sure if this is meant to be a literal representation or just a popular ale related image.
On a similar subject, when I asked about the lack of social media coverage and promotion of the reopening, the lass behind the bar said they had been handing out leaflets locally, presumably to business, but there are a lot of ecclesiastical buildings and offices nearby, so this seems a weird target audience. And also, leaflets! Why not stone tablets, telegrams or carrier pigeons? I know I was a late, reluctant convert to Twatter et al but its positively improved the numbers of people reading this blog, so I admit to being a fan of it as a promotional tool.
On a completely different subject the decor is quite good - a useful opposite to the themes most regularly encountered in similar venues like Browns (light and dark sitting awkwardly with ultra modern) and Henrys (light airy open spaces with wood and steel). The theme is quite clearly "old", but not in a gratingly twee or clumsy way, but in a homely, comfortable and quite striking in some parts, way. I particularly like the bar, a bit like what the West End have done but with more assurance and subtelty. Chala was very much wooed by the comfy chairs we were relaxing in - so much was I that I left my bag on the chair when we left!
Oh and the last important detail is about beers - Barman Jared (thats not his full name) informs me that the Deuchars, Church House Bitter and Flying Scotsman are likely to be regulars with the other three pumps changing, although the Elf Esteem, being a festive brew, should be on until Christmas. Me and chala both had the excellent Double Dark oatmeal stout, which was a very enjoyable, quite complex stout with a very pleasant aftertaste. I also tried a pint of Deuchars - now a sad facsimilie of a previously good beer.
Despite this, I think the Church House deserves credit for opening with a dark beer, which even in these enlightened times is still a woefully under represented beer style on the bars of Sheffield.
So in conclusion, it was an enjoyable visit. The beer was good, the food and wine list was OK, the decor looked good, it smelled of new pubs (I love that smell!) and the clientel was mixed, and bar staff helpful.
But will it succeed? Well, based on info from Andy Lonsdale (again from Twitter) and others, it seems to have had numerous incarnations, which always points to instability and a lack of business acumen or forward planning. It was previously Sanctuary which, it was suggested, used to be a not very successful gay bar - no idea if they sold real ale. Prior to that when my friend Sheeps Head Paul used to work behind the bar, it was called Gladstones, and did sell real ale, but he used to say it was mental Friday nights and quiet the rest of the time (and the ale was often awful). Someone also suggested it had a novelty name as well over the years; and before that it was definitely offices.
I see Heineken as a regressive influence, especially where the real ales are concerned (and for the record there is nothing of even the remotest interest in bottles or on keg). As a company they don't exactly seem to push the boundaries with products or indeed their attitude towards acquisitoin and management of companies, so it could suffer from their depressing mass market, lowest common denominator outlook. On the other hand, its a beautiful building, its in a very interesting location, it sells real ales unusual to Sheffield (well some) and is possibly just shielded from Church Street enough to be a place for a comfortable drink or meal prior to a night out in rowdier haunts.
So I really can't predict if it will succeed, but I hope it does well, because if nothing else, it can now be added to my after work pub crawl of Shakespeares, Three cranes and DAda. And extra choice is what we all strive for, surely?