You can see The Kelham Island Tavern from the The Fat Cat. I’d been eyeing it up through the front windows. Strangely I neglected to take a photo of the front of the pub, or indeed any exterior feature. I’m non too sure why? I can only apologise Lewis.
Lewis? He’s the landlord. I don’t know his surname, he wouldn’t tell me. He suddenly came over all suspicious like. Accused me of being a tax investigator or similar. No need to worry mate I wasn’t quite as bad as a tax investigator, but I retired from all that a few years ago. Anyway it was all a bit tongue in cheek. That’s what proper landlords do, engage in friendly banter with customers.
I couldn’t resist a bit of detective work when I got home, runs right through the middle like a stick of rock and all that. Turns out Lewis’s surname is Gonda and he’s joint owner with a guy called Trevor Wraith; according to my sources they seem to be doing quite well.
Now is it a coincidence or is there something going on here? Two excellent pubs in less than two hundred yards walk and in both we’ve been served by the landlord? You could go in some pubs day in day out and and never see the landlord(lady), general manager or whatever they want to call themselves. They’re as rare as hens teeth in some pubs.
Make what you want of this but I am 100% convinced that the regular and frequent presence, in the bar, of a landlady(lord) and the existence of a proper good pub go securely hand in hand.
Lewis told me he’d been the landlord at The Rutland previously, where he’d turned the pub around and managed to get things going again , which made him realise he’d be better off working for himself. So he bought The Kelham Island Tavern which at the time was a bit run down, in a run down part of town.
Seventeen years later, and it’s been the CAMRA National Pub of the Year two years running (2008 & 2009), Sheffield CAMRA Pub of the Year for every year bar one since 2004, as well as being the Yorkshire Pub of the Year 2017, an accolade it’s won another five or so times previously. ‘Foresight or good luck’, I asked? ‘Bit of both,’ replied Lewis and his wry smile.
They serve up to thirteen cask ales. I went for North Riding Brewery Amarillo which is one of their American single hop range. They had another North Riding American pale that I can’t make out from my photo! I could also have had Town House Castoria, Mad Squirrell Mister Squirrel, Hopcraft Sharks against Surfers, Pictish Crigo Rogo or Brewers Gold, Abbeydale Are there Hops in Hell? (complete with ad hoc ‘I’m Hazy’ sticker), Acorn Old Moor Porter and Barnsley Bitter, Half Moon Dark Masquerade, Bradfield Farmers Blonde or Brodies Jamaican Stout which is the first time I’ve seen this brewers beers outside London.
Price? £11.60 for three and a half pints, work that out. Roger had the same as me, Simon had the Town House beer and Martin the Brodie’s. Quality? Spot on. Just, and only just, under NBSS 4, I reckoned, and so did everyone else to be fair and that’s across three different beers. This sort of defeats the ‘too many beers on’ theory and raises the, ‘unless you have got the customers for it’ premise.
The Kelham Island Tavern obviously does, I didn’t do a head count but there were several stand up drinkers at the bar, a couple in every cosy corner, of which there are a few and a couple of larger groups in the room at the back. From engaging conversation with the blokes at the bar it was pretty obvious that they were here because of the beer, something they were fairly knowledgeable about. They weren’t travelling beer tickers neither. Think blokes on their way home after work still in their blue collar work clothes, exactly the sort of person this type of boozer was invented for mingling with smartly dressed people having a quiet afternoon drink. Impressive.
The images I took were none too impressive actually. I definitely haven’t captured the pub, apart from the beer and the jovial mine host. I got more wrapped up talking to Roger about his favourite Good Beer Guide? Millennium 2000 edition apparently, brilliant cover with an old flagon and a modern glass. Simon and Martin are like giggling like girls when he disappeared to the lav. ‘Shall we go in his bag and find out what the new entries in GBG2019 are going to be?’ ‘He’s retired from doing all that.’ ‘Oh yeah.’
I did think that Simon embarrassed himself further when he said he used to go out with his mates drinking Speckled Hen and thinking it was the bees knees. Not so. Roger reckoned Ruddles County was ‘the’ drink when he first went to work with CAMRA. Thinking about it I can remember it being pretty decent as well, mind you North Bar built it’s reputation on the rare and esoteric brand of lager that is Kronenburg?
So, were these beers truly good in their day? Are they still decent now? I saw Steve Davis commentating on the snooker at York Barbican and he answered that for me; snooker players today are so much better than when I played, things just move on (or something like that).
I could have happily stayed in The Kelham Island Tavern all afternoon and then returned the next day and the next and the next. It’s almost like a cosy village local nestled in the heart of town, all friendly, no edge, just brilliant beer from some decent breweries, and a bit of summat for everyone too.
If you’ve read any past posts involving ‘The Tickers’ you’ll know that two pints in one pub isn’t allowed, so I reluctantly moved on.
Verdict: Pretty obvious why this boozer has won so many accolades. Is it the best pub in the UK? Seeing as none of the other current contenders are in Sheffield or Leeds then it’s got to be.