We visited the pub voted best in Sheffield by punters to find out what makes it so special

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What is it about this Sheffield institution that has earned it such a special place in people's hearts?

A truly one-of-a-kind pub in Sheffield has been voted the best in the city in a huge online poll.

Shakespeare's came out on top in the Battle of the Boozers, a knock-out tournament run by Pints of Sheffield in which a whopping 31,000 votes were cast.

We visited to see what it is about this Sheffield institution that has earned it such a special place in people's hearts.

The much-loved watering hole, on Gibraltar Street, just off West Bar and across the ring road from trendy Kelham Island, dates back to 1821 but is rather unassuming from the outside.

That all changes when you step inside. Shakespeare's is the antithesis of the stripped-back aesthetic favoured by so many modern bars. Almost every inch of wall space is covered with paintings, posters or other knick knacks including pump clips from some of the thousands of beers served there over the years.

It's an assault on the eyes, in the best possible way, which is a testament to owner William Wagstaff's fondness for collecting beer memorabilia.

There's also everything you could expect from a traditional pub, including a darts board, jukebox, pool table and table football, and a cosy snug dominated by a beautiful old grandfather clock. There's an inviting beer garden too, with a sheltered area in which to take refuge from the elements.

Times are tough for pubs but at mid-afternoon on a Thursday two weeks before Christmas there's a buzz to the place. In the front parlour, a group are discussing where to head next on their beer tour, while in the side room a younger crowd are chatting and playing darts.

Tasting notes are exchanged at the bar, with staff and customers displaying their knowledge of beers, but it's not one of those places where non-afficionados are left feeling like outsiders.

Shakespeare's was built in 1821 as a coaching inn and a note above the bar explains how it has had many custodians over the years but few have lasted long.

It was once a Ward's pub, as can be seen from the stained glass window at the front, and was a Punch Taverns boozer when it was closed in early 2010.

It was reopened some 18 months later by the current owner and has been doing pretty well since, firmly establishing itself as a cradle of craft beer, real ale and live music.

Assistant manager Ethan Brown explained how it had 'kicked off' Sheffield's craft beer scene when it reopened in 2011, introducing a huge range of international beers.

Today it still serves an ever-changing list of beers from around the world, including many from Sheffield's acclaimed independent breweries.

The two constants are Deception, from Sheffield's Abbeydale Brewery, which Shakespeare's has supported since the pub's relaunch, and Feckless, made by the Macclesfield brewery Red Willow.

Ethan proudly tells me how the pub has been keeping count of the different beers it has served since 2011 and the total stands at more than 7,000 cask beers and 2,800 keg beers, meaning it is closing in on the 10,000 mark.

"We get beer tourists from all over and they often start here before moving on because there are a lot of great pubs in this area doing a mixture of traditional cask beers and more modern craft and keg beers," says Ethan.

"We often have people from around the Midlands and we've had people travelling from London, Newcastle, all over really."

There's also an extensive range of whiskies and an ever-expanding list of rums.

No hot food is served but Shakespeare's does stock pork pies from F Funks Butchers in Hillsborough, along with a wide selection of crisps.

Upstairs is the Bard's Bar, a bastion of Sheffield's independent music scene, where a mural pays homage to various musical legends.

It hosts an eclectic range of gigs, including regular indie punk nights by promoters Jarred Up and punk sessions by Earwig.

There are folk sessions too in the back room on the first and third Tuesday of every month, where people bring their own instruments and jam.

It's hard to sum up what makes Shakespeare's so special but as Ethan explains there's just something about the place.

"I first came in on my 18th birthday some 14 years ago and I started coming on my birthday every year after that," he says.

"I liked the feel of the place and I knew I wanted to work here. All the staff adore the pub. That's why we work here, not just for the money but because we want to make it the best place we possibly can.

"It's nice to get the recognition from the Battle of the Boozers that we've been doing a good job here."

I can't leave without sampling one of the beers from the huge list at Shakespeare's, with Ethan recommending Doctor Morton's Rude Elf, from Abbeydale, a classic 4.1 per cent pale ale priced at £4.40 a pint.

It slips down very smoothly and I exit into the winter chill with a warm feeling inside, secure in the knowledge that the good folk of Sheffield who voted in the Battle of the Boozers know their stuff.

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