IT was some ten years ago, while pub manager Trevor Wraith was looking to buy his own boozer, a friend mentioned the derelict Kelham Island Tavern, in Russell Street, was for sale.
“I had no interest whatsoever,” says the 56-year-old. “It was an awful area full of Sheffield’s most unsavoury characters.
“The pub had been shut five years but it still had a terrible reputation. I didn’t think anyone could make it work.”
Today, Trevor is standing behind the bar, preparing to celebrate a decade in charge.
The evidence he has made it work, meanwhile, is both behind and in front of him.
Behind, it’s on a wall where certificates show the place has not only won the Campaign for Real Ale’s best Sheffield pub for an unprecedented eight years running, it is also the only boozer in the entire country to be named national pub of the year twice on the trot.
And in front, it’s at the bar, where a chap stands methodically pouring samples of ale, through a funnel, into empty bottles, making notes in a jotter and then popping them into a briefcase.
“Beer spotter,” confides Trevor quietly. “We get a lot of them. One lass comes from Peterborough every Wednesday to try our ales. It’s as good a hobby as any.”
In 2002, of course, Trevor had never heard of a beer spotter.
Back then he was at The Rutland Arms, in Brown Street, but, after becoming disillusioned with owners Punch Taverns, had decided to set up alone.
He’d spent months looking for a decent house but, with nothing coming up, the Kelham Island Tavern – despite those potential faults – had started to hold a certain charm.
“I slowly came round,” he says. “But even after my bid was accepted my first thought was ‘What have I done?’”
It was something he would think again when he realised how dilapidated the place was.
Birds were roosting in the roof and ceilings had caved in.
“And I’ve never seen so many condoms as were in the yard,” he says. “There were thousands from the ladies of the night who worked round here.”
It says something about Trevor that within 18 months that yard had won an In Bloom award.
“Running a good pub is pretty simple,” he says. “Make it look half decent outside, keep it warm inside and look after your beers.”
He’s being modest. Ten years of national accolades requires more than that.
For starters, those unsavoury types, who had plagued the pub’s earlier incarnations, were moved on.
“There had been so many police operations here, I knew we had to change that,” says Trevor, who had been an engineer before taking over The Rutland in 1992. “We froze the troublemakers out.”
He ensured staff were knowledgeable (“I ask potential employees what they drink and if they say Bacardi Breezer they’re not right for a real ale pub”) and kept prices down.
The recipe has ensured it is not only those beer spotters who have come.
“The average customer?” ponders Trevor, who originally comes from Conisbrough and whose parents, bizarrely, are virtual teetotal. “There isn’t one. The age range is 18 to 80.
“Kelham Island is a great place for an evening now. I hope we’ve been part of that.”
There seems little doubt it has been.
“I’m so glad I took it on now,” he says before heading back behind the bar. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
The 10th anniversary, on March 7, will be celebrated with a five-day beer festival featuring ales and live entertainment. See www.kelhamislandtavern.co.uk for details.