yesterday I went on a pub crawl. Shock news, as am sure you would agree, but there was a point. Starting in Crookes at the Punchbowl (or Reet Pizza at the Punchbowl) I was heading for the Red House and then the Ship on Shalesmoor to see how the three recently reopened pubs were faring. This is what I found.
The Punchbowl was busy when I arrived. After talking to the guy from Sheffield's newest micropub - details to follow in next post - I went inside to find dancers and a photographer. The dancers were the Sheffield Steel Tappers or similar - I have seen them in Shakespeares and the Bath Hotel and other venues, they wear red sashes and black and are a friendly and sometimes thirsty bunch. They do traditional dancing, but don't ask me what style. They were also on a pub crawl heading for Shakespeares as it later transpired.....
I went to the bar and bought myself, using a card, two pints - one of Hopcraft Napoleon Complex, and one of their Passage of Least Resistance. I sat down in the left hand side and awaited Wee Keefy.
The Napoleon Complex did not last long and Wee Keefy arrived to find me supping the very easy drinking "POLR" surrounded by families eating. No nauseating screaming bairns I should point out, just groups quietly enjoying the pizza whilst the parents supped. Christingpher joined us later and the pub was getting busier with 30 or 40 customers in. I went to the bar and tried the Reet Pale - for the third consecutive time I have tried it the beer was flat and lacked life or balance and had almost no hoppiness. Does anyone know why Reet Pale is suddenly crap? Instead I had a half of the Tempest Stout, which was lovely.
WK kindly bought us a cider pig pizza to share and this was as delicious as I remember. I know Mt Stephens was worried about the size of this pub and filling it but on every visit so far that has been achieved. I have been in four times now and the pub has always been busy. Looking good for the bowl....
A 32 minute wait for a First Bus 52 followed - to add to the 23 minutes I waited earlier, reminding me that having a First only bus pass adds hours to my weekly wait. A short trip later I got off near the University and headed down Broad Lane, Sidall Street and right down Solly Street to the Red House. Except, I was at the Red House, but it wasn't open. I waited patiently until gone 19.00 but there was no sign of life, just a light on in the entrance behind the locked door.
I'm not going to leap to any conclusions but for a pub so out of the way which had undertaken so little advertising and publicity, being closed on a Saturday night is, at the very least, bizarre. I finally found their Twitter page and tweeted them, only about an hour ago, to ask for their opening times - they haven't even posted any tweets yet, and don't have a description of their pub. The last time I went in, about ten days ago, we were once again the only customrs, and the beer tasted like it had been on for a week or more. I will let you know what, or if, I receive as a reply to my query, soon.
Cutting down the less salubrious back streets of Snow Lane, Smithfield and Allen Street I was soon on the main road and heading for the Ship. Not as brightly lit as it was on its opening weekend the pub was still busy, thronged with punters of all ages and types, soaking up the atmosphere and the ales and kegs and wines. It was, in what is my sixth visit, a busy, popular venue.
There were three cask ales on - Monkeytown Mild from Phoenix,, a Lytham Witch Wood, and Golden Boots from Jolly Sailor. An interesting range, granted, but still not as good as that offered before (and more expensive). I tried and had a pint of the Lytham which reminded me slightly of Taylors Golden Best, a hoppy amber mild in style. It was actually very enjoyable, but the beer range brings me to a comment by Dave Unpro. He said he hadn't been, but the main complaint he had heard was it was described and marketed as a Craft Ale House but did not sell any Craft. I think he is right.
The bottled range is underwhelming in comparison to other local real ale boozers, i.e Shakespeares and the Kelham for starters. The real ale range is sometimes interesting, often uninspiring, and with the exception of the now much less punchy Punk IPA on keg, there hasn't been a strong pale hoppy beer on yet. Sheffield, as ye fules kno, is a pale ale city. Pale ales are surely the popular pint....?
However, putting aside a nonsensical debate on what the chuff is Craft anyway (its is a word, that is all) the pub seems to be doing rather marvelously despite this obvious shortcomig. In fact, I think that Artisan have been quite clever. In introducing a range of less hoppy but sometimes pale, and sometimes unusual real ales with more standard fare, and reinvigorating the decor inside, the pub has managed it seems to retain the regular customers, as well as attracting new ones. It may not sate the desires of the hoppy independent cask and keg ales drinkers, and its cask range for me is quite disappointing, but it has managed to change its identity and retain it customer base. That, readers, is a difficult trick to pull off.
The other issue is that all but the Wellington locally offer an astounding range of changing independent real ales. It would be overly optimistic using four handpumps, to try and compete with that sort of range and availability. I say well done then, to the Ship, for making a successful if mis-marketed transition into the drinking venue, and pub, it has now become.
Overall, assuming the Red House is in fact still open, we have seen three very different pubs reopen since mid September and two at least, have been very successful. The difference between the two that are and the one that isn't is plain and simple - advertising, publicity and promotion. Attracting new customers whilst not, it would seem, alienating regulars. Yes, a couple of blokes walked in the Punchbowl on its first weekend and asked for smoothflow John Smiths and were disappointed not to have it on offer. This doesn't seem to have affected it popularity overall. Meanwhile, am sure some of the Ship's regulars baulk at the higher prices, and miss the Chinese food late on a Friday night, but the pub isn't noticeably suffering a loss of trade. In fact, it has improved.
Its just a shame that the same could not be said of the Red House. Its a cause for concern how little effort was made to attract customers to this traditional back street boozer. I sincerely hope this isn't a false dawn, and that the pub becomes a success in its current form, as opposed to a set of yet more student flats.