The Diary: Drinks to temp-t you

Kara Chapman at the The Whistle Stop Temperance Bar and sweet shop on High Street, Rotherham
Kara Chapman at the The Whistle Stop Temperance Bar and sweet shop on High Street, Rotherham
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THEY were the weird and wonderful drinks dreamed up by Victorian abstainers to keep men from the pubs.

Sarsaparilla, blood tonic, and black beer with raisins may be unfamiliar brews in the 21st century – but these herb based concoctions were big business in an age when soft drink didn’t mean fizz and additives.

Now these old-fashioned glugs – once served in ‘dry’ parlours – can be sampled again after South Yorkshire’s first temperance bar since World War Two opened in Rotherham this week.

“We had one chap ask for a pint of hot sarsaparilla,” says owner Kara Chapman. “He said ‘I’ve been waiting all my life to order that, love’. He used to drink it with his grandad but didn’t think they made it any more.”

That’s the kind of place The Whistle Stop Sweet Shop and Temperance Bar is.

If you’re after rhubarb and rosehip juice, blackcurrant and liquorice twist, or the delightful sounding blood tonic (“made from nettles and rich in vitamins”), you’ve come to the right place.

If you want a cup of tea, there’s the door.

“We’re not a café,” says Kara. “We’re a 21st century temperance bar, and that means you don’t get the moral crusading but you do get temperance-style drinks by the pint, half or bottle.”

If it seems an unusual venture, it developed – like those drinks – organically enough.

Kara and husband Tony, of Swinton, opened their sweet shop in High Street in 2010. It was an instant hit but after a customer said they wished it sold old-fashioned drinks to go with the old-fashioned sweets, the pair got thinking.

“Rotherham has a history of being a temperance town and we thought the drinks would work,” says Tony, 42.

They moved into larger premises next door and set the sweet counter (600 different kinds sold) at one end while placing the bar (complete with reclaimed Thirties furniture) at the other.

“Our tables have been full every day,” says Kara, 38. “It’s older customers who remember the drinks from being kids but young people and families like them too.”

The most popular brew is that sarsaparilla – although not everyone’s enamoured.

“It’s made from thistle,” says Kara. “We suggest people have a sample before they order a pint.

A couple have spat it out and ordered a cream soda instead.”

Now the parents-of-three, are already planning their next step. Next month they open a small sweet-making area. And then they want to – gasp! – get a licence.

“We know that’s the complete antithesis,” says Kara. “But we wouldn’t serve traditional alcohol. It would just mean we could put bitters in the tonics.”

Opens 9am-5pm.