A Weekend in Neepsend
When you talk to people about Sheffield – usually those people who have never been here – what do they think of? Our numerous parks, leisure facilities and top-end restaurants? The eclectic music scene? The rich suburbs of the West?
Nope. Steel. And Industry.
And so they should in a way. For all of the gentrification, Sheffield still remains a city steeped in industrial history, and it can be all to easy to forget that these days, what with the sandstone blandness that makes up most of the city centre regeneration programme. Head instead, then, down past the Wicker and the Seven Spices (your last curry outpost for quite a while), and you get to the real heart of the city, full of factories, cobbled streets, and dark alleys – Neepsend.
There aren’t many these days who don’t spend an evening out in this part of Sheffield every now and then – and not just because it is famous for being Sheffield’s Red Light District (not so much these days due to the influx of posh flats). As we all know, this area is home to the best group of real ale pubs in the city (if not in a much larger area), and I’ll look at just a couple of them now. The comprehensive list includes The Gardeners Rest, The Riverside, The Kelham Island Tavern, The Fat Cat, and potentially The Harlequin and The Wellington (fka The Cask and Cutler) too.
This weekend however, I was mostly in The Riverside, The Kelham, and The Fat Cat.
The Fat Cat now has an annual tradition of a rather splendid bonfire night party in its spacious back yard. In a privileged position backing onto the Kelham Island Industrial Museum, the Cat is an institution that really seems to have upped its game recently. When I was younger I always found the place dark, dingy, and not very welcoming. These days that couldn’t be further from the truth. Both of the (very small) lounges are cosy and welcoming, and the clientele is always a complete mix of people. The actual bar is one of the smallest I’ve ever seen, with staff squeezing past each other to get to ice/ale/lemon slices etc. Charming, but not sure how great this is for them! It is also home to the famous Kelham Island Brewery – housed rather modestly out the back.
Bonfire night on Friday was a triumph – hundreds of people packed into the cobbled yard (and spilling onto the street), the lovely beer garden, and inside the pub itself. An enormous bonfire cast the whole square with a warm glow, and it was clearly one of those times when the world becomes small, as I bumped into swathes of different people I knew (and lost a few too!). The fireworks weren’t up to much, but I don’t really think anyone was paying much attention. My friends and I – planning to head to the Kelham – instead started playing some music outside, which seemed to add to the general tipsy and revelatory atmosphere.
A lovely video: http://www.facebook.com/v/716315483105
Later then, and on Saturday and Sunday too, I was in the Kelham Island Tavern. This little pub has won Camra’s Sheffield Pub of the Year award for seven years running now, so they must be doing something right! The pub has a very distinct atmosphere – bright, airy, light, and not at all inkeeping with the dark velvet/wood panelling stereotype that many might have with regards to ‘real ale’ pubs. The staff are always friendly, and the clientele are loyal (but welcoming) and again mixed. The place has been a bit of a constant in my life really, as since it opened my mum has run a regular English folk session on Sunday nights (currently the first Sunday of every month). When the whole place was flooded in 2007, she was down there sweeping out the water giving a hand. The place is most famous for its range of ales, of course, and this is the reason to come and to stay. If you saw various drunk musicians this weekend (all three evenings) that’s me and co. Sorry.
The Riverside then – a completely different kettle of fish. Just round the corner, this is far more of a contemporary bar, but still has a good range of ales. The terrace overlooking the river is lovely, and although I haven’t been out there in the summer, I expect it is quite lovely on a summer’s day. On Bonfire Night they had a fire down on the banks of the river, with a hatch and a ladder from the pub’s cellar opening out for staff to stoke it. It was quite atmospheric, but as stated, my thoughts were elsewhere – I hope all in attendance had a great time. Saturday, however, it was the host venue for my friend Gavin‘s album launch for his new ‘Brief Lives’ solo debut. The upstairs room was packed – people were hanging off the walls. Gavin and a host of talented friends took the small stage to share some traditional music for the evening, and he was clearly delighted at the turnout. Stand out track for me was his self-penned ballad set on a South Yorkshire council estate – an incredibly subtle combination of the traditional ballad and contemporary themes, which managed to make the two sound utterly natural together and in no way gimmicky (no mean feat, believe me).
Previous ventures to the Riverside have also been for folk (there is a common theme in all these pub trips – granted), as it is a regular stop off point for Rapper Sword teams pub crawling the area. Saturday night found me joining Black Swan Rapper at the end of a rather boozy afternoon for them; previously Smutt Rapper have ventured there too.
I’m sure you’ve been down – just take my perspective I guess. A good weekend had by all.
Rosie @ LoveSheffield