Everything you need to know about Sheffield's new luxury sports bar The Wildcard – it has 40 TVs, a massive 'jumbotron' and a museum of city legends
A new venue that unites sport, dining and fine cocktails has arrived in Sheffield – a place where valuable memorabilia from city luminaries in football, golf and boxing takes centre stage inside glass cabinets, and a massive ‘jumbotron’ system broadcasts top-flight competitive action on enormous screens above the bar.
Welcome to The Wildcard, a venture billed as Sheffield’s only ‘luxury sports bar and grill’ that is now open inside the old Napoleons casino on Ecclesall Road.
Two years in the making, it is the vision of Pete Harpham, Dave Nicholson and Mark Holland, the owners of another Ecclesall Road bar, Kettle Black – and word has already spread far and wide about what’s in store.
"We’re fully booked for the next three Saturdays,” says Alix McFadd, sales manager at The Wildcard which has created dozens of jobs.
“There's a need and demand for this sort of sports bar within Sheffield. We knew we were going to be busy but we didn't expect this amount of interest.”
The venue – divided into two levels with a mezzanine providing restaurant seating on the upper tier, and casual bar seating downstairs, where bi-fold doors open on to an outside terrace – features more than 40 TVs that will show every sport the bosses could think of. Individual booths each have a screen that can be switched to a channel of the customer’s choice.
"We’ve got all the Sky Sports and BT Sports channels, and the F1 channel,” says Alix. “During the day we'll just have a lot of things playing, like all the qualifying rounds for the Grand Prix that are going on, and all the baseball. We didn't want to limit ourselves to one sport. Our general manager Jack Hartley is really into ice hockey, he plays for the Don Valley Vikings.”
The weekend will bring NFL Sundays, when American football games will be shown at 6pm and 9pm, while Saturday is the occasion for the big Premier League fixtures.
Meanwhile the jumbotron has four separate sides that can each show a different sport.
"We had it shipped in from Germany – it was one of the things that pushed us back a little bit on the opening date because it didn't come for ages, and then getting it up was a bit of a nightmare,” says Alix. “It's a stunning piece of equipment that obviously cost us a lot of money, but we're so glad to get it up and it looks amazing. No matter what seat you're in, you can always see it.”
The Wildcard’s luxury aspect is strongly emphasised.
“If you stretch out to Leeds and Manchester, they've got some big sports bars in there but nothing of a bar and grill type – they're either purely sports bars that don't serve food, or only a small amount, but we also wanted to focus on the food side of it,” says Alix.
Head chef Mikey Freeman, formerly of Yankees on Ecclesall Road, has put together a menu consisting of US classics like chicken wings and burgers, alongside more varied fare such as tuna sashimi and lamb shish kebabs. Breakfast items including waffles and pancakes, and bottomless brunches, are on the cards in 2021.
There are 32 taps on the bar – the list of beers on offer extends from Budweiser and Peroni to the house Wildcard Lager, alongside a menu of 24 cocktails. People can order an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan, a Collins or a speciality Bloody Mary.
"They've got bacon syrup in, they're really rich and meaty,” says Alix of the latter. “They come with little bacon bits on the top as well, they're lovely."
And then there is the sports memorabilia – shirts worn by star footballers Lionel Messi and Frank Lampard are displayed on the walls along with a ticket signed by top Olympians including Sheffield’s Jessica Ennis-Hill.
City sporting greats are the focus of glazed cabinets that contain a signed Sheffield United kit from Billy Sharp, an autographed Sheffield Wednesday strip from Barry Bannan, Joe Root’s Test Match cricket outfit, and a kit donated by Mike Tuck of the Sheffield Sharks basketball team. Kell Brook’s boxing gloves, shorts and boots are on show, as well as Danny Willett’s golf bag from the 2016 Masters.
“We're very grateful to all the people who donated things to us,” says Alix. "We just wanted to show off Sheffield sport and its heroes."
The Covid-19 pandemic has unsurprisingly had an impact on The Wildcard’s plans. Capacity has been reduced from 600 to ‘not even up to 200’, Alix says, and the idea of a standing area has been dropped for now and replaced with socially-distanced tables. The pool table and two dartboards upstairs can’t be used at the moment because of government guidelines, and it’s table service only in the bar.
When Napoleons left the premises in 2018, the casino’s owner Dave Allen claimed Ecclesall Road was ‘not what it used to be’, but Alix disagrees.
“I think where we are is a good position,” she says. “The building is painted blue so they're not going to miss us. I don't think Ecclesall Road itself is not what it used to be, but having a casino here was the wrong sort of venue. Casinos are a later night sort of thing and people didn't want to travel this far up Ecclesall Road just to go to a casino when there is one in the city centre, there's Genting’s down there.”