If I’m honest, I was more interested in the new looking Bar Stewards on the other side of Gibraltar Street. Thing was, it didn’t open until 5.30pm and when we came out again I got outvoted. A pike through the window revealed a selection of quality, progressive cask and keg beers.
Anyway, Shakespeares sounds like a success story to me. It was listed on the Closed pubs (Sheffield) website in 2009 as closed. Thankfully the 1821 coaching inn reopened in 2011 and doesn’t seem to have looked back since and actually wrested the coveted Sheffield CAMRA pub of the Year from it’s near neighbour The Kelham Island Tavern in 2012/13.
I’m glad I didn’t write this up back in early December when I visited with Martin, Simon and Roger. I’d made a start, but there was something … not sure what? Something niggling me, summat I just couldn’t put my finger on. I exchanged views with Sheffieldalepub who thought Shakespeares was their Pub of 2017. They also agreed with me around the presence of a landlord being vital and cited other local (Sheffield) examples.
Revisiting the Place, People, Beer and Time theory in the post about The Angel in Scarbro’ caused the penny to drop. Externally the pub is rather unprepossessing. To some the most striking feature is probably the wall art on the gable end and the adjacent derelict plot which reminded me of one of my Grandma’s sayings, ‘you don’t want to be going down there it’s nowt but bomb sites’. Sadly this part of Shalesmoor brought to mind what the old girl meant when she referred to the state of much of post war Sheffield. The old girl could obviously do with a bit of TLC, the Shakespeare, not my Grandma, she’s been gone years now.
The eye catcher for me is the ‘Wards Fine Malt Ales’ lettering on the front of the pub, which is repeated in the stained glass leaded lights of the bar window. Even though the brewery belonged to Vaux when I started drinking it, I was partial to a pint of Septimus Henry Ward’s Best Bitter. I wouldn’t touch any of the Ward’s branded beers with yours now. I believe Robinson’s brew it?
Inside it’s all a bit gloomy, like they’re still on gas lights, there’s not much luxury, in fact it’s all a bit spartan, apart from a very attractive, yet incongruous, French long case clock and a few nicknacks and repro beer signs. Yes, you can sit down, but that’s about as flash as it gets. It felt like it had been shut for donkeys years and then someone had opened it up and just dusted everything off again. I suspect this isn’t far from the truth?
If you like proper old school then this is destination heaven, especially in the bar where there’s some reasonable seating. If you walk round to the nether regions then it all gets a bit austere and studenty.
It might sound like I’m slating the Shakespeare a bit? I’m not actually, it’s got something ..? This brings me back to the, I really need a name for this Place, People, Beer and Time pyramid. Lets forget Time and flatten it into a two dimensional triangle; time is now.
I’ve described the place. People? Defo, it’s got plenty of customers on a cold and dreary late Tuesday afternoon in early December. All decent types, pub folk, a chatty crowd who apart from us, were all sat in, or stood around the bar area which is the centre of attention with it’s nine cask ales on.
Three of us went for Stancil Barnsley Bitter. I was interested to compare it with the one I’d drank in The Wortley Arms towards the end of November? Same decent quality, around NBSS 3.5, if I’m honest I thought The Wortley Arms pint was slightly better, maybe subtly different? Martin gave Shakespeares a good account and rated the ale NBSS 4, suggesting I might be a bit skimpy on my assessment?
Roger went for the Blackjack Stout, similarly declaring it excellent. Both ales were very reasonably priced, the Barnsley Bitter was only £2.60 a pint, the stronger Stout was a bit more expensive, I can’t tell you the exact price because there’s a famous beer writer stood in the middle of the photo!
There’s got to be some contextualisation here. Three pubs in three hundred yards almost, each one with a fine selection of excellent cask ales. Too many beers to keep them properly, some would say. My findings disagree with that, the presence of other customers in these pubs on what elsewhere might be a quiet afternoon in the edgelands of the city centre, confirms these pubs have something worth seeking out.
This brings the Beer element of the triangle firmly into play and underlined my thoughts on the place element (parts within a place); ‘I’m not going in that back bit unless I have to.’ Okay, there’s a time and a ‘wider place’ (geographical) element to all this; in some places day time drinking seems to have gone a bit flat, and if it does occur it happens in places like Wetherspoon’s and their ilk. Not in Sheffield though.
Verdict: Rescued 18th century coaching inn that beyond being clean and tidy appears to have had little interior decoration in a good while, yet manages to be splendid through it’s excellent cask ales and keen patronage.