we are quite spoiled in Sheffield in having so many great pubs - not just the nationally known and renowned valley of beer destinations, but also some classic country boozers on the outskirts and a good mixture of traditional and more modern venues in and around the centre.
When choosing where to rest my hat, I'm an after work kind of person when it come to pubs - because with Shakespeares, the Kelham and Cat, and the Harlequin and Riverside only minutes away, going home first just seems daft. However, one of the problems with this is that unlike a couple of years ago, I now don't seem to go anywhere local in Handsworth for a pint.
Don't get me wrong there isn't exactly a lot of choice - as an example, I almost popped in the White Rose earlier out of curiosity, to see if the latest landlord was selling real ale, knowing if it was it would be Tetleys, but I really couldn't be arsed. Up the road the new Sword dancer pub is the proud purveyor of perhaps the worst selection of drinks in South Sheffield, with a reported (albeit a couple pf months ago) range of Guinness, a.n.other lager and Strongbow. The Turf has been resolutely non real ale for yonks and despite its rebranding am not sure if the advertised real ales at the Handsworth Inn were a token gesture. There are however, two stalwarts still flying the flag. The Old Crown, and the Cross Keys.
Miss N had never been for a drink in Handsworth and I was telling her about the dearth of venues one day when we realised that our expedition to fetch ingredients for a dish of lemon potatoes and roast veg had been missing one product - potatoes. So we walked up to the shop at Handsworth top and having secured our important goods decided to pop in the Cross Keys.
As well as being interesting for having part of the building situated in a graveyard and therefore assunedly being on consecrated ground, as well as the unusual mish-mash of different ages of building that comprise the pub, not to mention its inclusion on the regional inventory, the Keys also serves real ales. I've written before about the peaks and troughs of its fortunes since I first drank in Handsworth in the late nineties, but unless I'm mistaken the present incumbents seem to have been in charge of the Keys for a while now, bringing some much needed continuity.
It was warm and very busy when we arrived. I'd hoped to show Miss N the paralleled room at the back but it was completely packed so we sat in the main bar and got ourselves some beer. The Golden Pippin had run out - this has been on sale numerous times over the last five years at the Keys, so is presumably popular. The Old Peculier seemed a bit heavy for a starter so we had pints of Tom Woods Gold at 4% and £2.90 a pint.
There were plenty of groups of locals of all ages drinking in the Keys and the pub was reassuringly abuzz with conversation, and seemingly free of half nursing wash-back sippers - everyone seemed admirably thirsty. We drank our beers in keeping with the preferred speed of he locals and went to get more pints. The Tom Woods ran out but the landlady very kindly gave us what must have been at least two thirds of a pint for free, whilst we moved onto the OP.
Despite growing up hundreds of miles apart, somehow myself and Miss N seem to have both had teenage real ale initiations on Old Peculier. I don't drink it very often but it doesn't seem to have changed. It was about £3.20 a pint (I didn't check) and was the ideal tipple to protect us against the biting winds on Handsworth Top.
It was a pleasant change to sit in a traditional locals pub supping real ales on a Sunday evening, when each beer seems to taste all the better for being the last thing you treat yourself to after or before your Sunday meal. It was free of tickers and cocktail orderers and oak aged raspberry stouts. It was busy and full of people who knew each other and enjoyed the company of others. It was warm and comfortable and friendly. And evidence that despite Sheffield's riches in the Valley of beer and beyond, I don't think my drinking life could be considered complete without a quality pub within walking distance, with a warm welcome and decent real ale.