The days when a pub could survive as little more than a room with a bar are long gone.
Now landlords have to cater for a wide range of demands, whether customers want the latest craft beers, the best local bands or the most interesting spots in which to watch the world go by.
Thankfully Sheffield is well served with plenty of excellent pubs, ranging from traditional real ale excellence to pop-up parlours and everything in between. And the size of the city means it’s easy to spend an afternoon walking between some of the best.
Sheffield: beer city
Heeley, for example, is a great place to start. Boasting a few well-known pubs within minutes of each other, and with popular newcomers adding something extra to the area, it’s tempting to spend a whole day in the ‘Heeley triangle’.
Rick Larbey is landlord of The Brothers Arms, the former Ye Olde Shakespeare Inn, which was taken over by members of band The Everly Pregnant Brothers two years ago. It’s a shrine to real ale, focusing on Sheffield-made beers which are complemented by brews from further afield.
“With a pub like this, what appeals is the community side of it,” said Rick, who has worked in pubs for 10 years.
“Heeley is essentially like a village attached to an enormous city. We’ve got a sense of a real community base here, particularly the regulars as well as those who travel in.
“You come across all walks of life, and that’s what I really like about this pub.”
Musical owners means good entertainment at The Brothers Arms. Thanks to a unique setting, overlooking Heeley People’s Park and the wider city, all-day music events often attract huge crowds. And watching the sun set over Sheffield with a pint of Brothers Best takes some beating.
Rick said: “Good beer, good company and occasional music sums it up.”
A short walk away is The Sheaf View, popular with football fans on matchdays and with beer lovers all year round. It’s one of a number of pubs that attracts ‘beer tickers’, enthusiasts who travel the country seeking out new ales.
Dave, a 66-year-old regular, walks to Heeley from his home in S5 because of the great pubs and friendly staff.
“I like to come down for a couple at lunchtime – it placates me,” he said. “I’ve known the owner since they came here. It’s a fantastic pub.”
Heading into the city centre, The Rutland Arms is a key part of Sheffield’s cultural industries quarter. The artistic influence is obvious, from the striking piece by Sheffield’s Phlegm on the outer wall to the beautiful courtyard – and even a Lego version of the building taking pride of place above the bar.
“We’re sort of going for a home feeling – relaxed,” said Heather Griffin, assistant manager.
“But we don’t want to just be that traditional old pub. We have the nicer beers, the art on the walls. We want to get that younger vibe.”
A jukebox – with a list of banned artists, from Meat Loaf to Sigur Rós – and excellent food on the menu only adds to the atmosphere.
Real ale enthusiast Tim Jackson, from Huddersfield, was impressed. He said: “It is good to see other places and sample what other places have to offer.”
Moving back out of the city centre, Kelham Island is renowned for beer. The Fat Cat began the real ale revolution and is high on the list for any pub crawl.
But hidden away along Neepsend Lane is another treasure, The Gardener’s Rest. A yard full of quirky furniture that catches the sun makes it the perfect place to while away an afternoon.
Landlord Eddy Munnelly, hard to miss in his colourful waistcoats, has been in charge with partner Pat for 18 years. Eddy has embraced the hidden treasure label with an ‘Off The Beaten Track’ beer festival, which also includes The Forest and The Hillsborough Hotel, running from September 1 to 4.
“We have always been community-oriented,” he said. “A lot of community groups use the pub. We have live music and we have changing art exhibitions from local artists.
“We created a place where we would like to be. People appreciate that we are doing something a little bit different.”
Sheffield’s real ale stalwarts are renowned for the quality of their beer, but there are plenty of newcomers hoping to appeal to the modern customer. One is The Beer Engine on Cemetery Road, just off London Road.
The pub offers a wide selection of beers and spirits, as well as a varied menu. Landlord Thomas Harrington is keen to support Sheffield brewers, but puts his focus on quality over locality.
Beer Engine staff – paid above the living wage – are all cellar-trained, so know how to look after the beers they sell.
“We just try to do everything properly,” said Thomas.
“People say it’s got a nice vibe. People come in and they feel welcome.”
Thomas is well aware that customers expect more from their pubs today – and are no longer loyal to a single establishment.
“Thirty years ago there was a pub on every street,” he said. “There were no phones, no cheap booze in supermarkets. Pubs were your social media. People would finish work and go to the pub.
“Now, although it’s a shame that pubs shut, the others become an oasis of excellence.”
That modern thinking is serving The Beer Engine and many others well. And a new breed of pub has also entered the mix. Places such as Hop Hideout on Abbeydale Road and Walkley Beer Co on South Road combine the traditional off-licence with a bar offering cask and bottled beer to be enjoyed off and on the premises.
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