Pub of the Month September 2015

Shakespeare’s, Gibralter Street.

I’m sure I’m not the first CAMRA member to have moved home to make a favoured pub my “local” but this was the case almost two years ago when I decided to move from Doncaster to Sheffield as proximity to Shakespeare’s on Gibraltar Street was a very important factor my in flat-hunting.

The pub was opened as The Shakespeare in 1821 as a Georgian coaching inn on the site of an earlier establishment dating back to the 18th Century. After experiencing mixed fortunes under a succession of licensees in the late 90s and early ‘noughties’ it closed its doors in January 2010. Subsequently purchased and restored by real ale and music fan William Wagstaff it reopened as Shakespeare’s just in time for Tramlines in July 2011.

The small front bar to the right on entering is the heart of the pub – containing the bar itself and the regularly updated “Shakesbeers” board. This is a lovely place to enjoy the fine beers on offer when the pub is quiet but can become quite congested at weekends.  To the left is a side room dominated by a superb grandfather clock. Two distinct drinking areas with barrel tables and bar stool seating are located to the rear of the bar and through here to the right is a long back room which was originally a passageway for coaching horses (and subsequently brewery drays). Now known as The Archway this is furnished with long ‘picnic tables’ & benches, a darts board and a classic jukebox (recently returned to working order). The walls here are decorated with a huge array of pump clips, beer mats and posters. The large garden to the rear of the pub is very popular on warmer days, with the enclosed area to the left having been the stable back in coaching inn days.

Upstairs is the renowned “Bard’s Bar” which hosts a varied programme of gigs and the very popular monthly King Bee night, as well as meetings, private parties and even book launches. It’s been a great pleasure to see my favourite band (Sheffield’s own High Hazels) play here three times – and two of the band’s videos were partially filmed in the pub!  Also upstairs is a small games room with darts, bar billiards, table football and a selection of board games.

Moving on to the all important beer there’s always 9 cask ales on sale (over 3,250 in the four years since the pub reopened) and it’s the range and quality of these that quite rightly wins plaudit upon plaudit from discerning drinkers looking for something a little different to/over and above the norm. Beers from highly regarded UK breweries such as Hopcraft, Siren Craft, Buxton & Mallinson’s regularly feature alongside fine local breweries including Steel City and Blue Bee. Abbeydale Deception is the one regular beer – always popular and at a very reasonable £2.30 per pint. The guest beers are also competitively priced given their calibre and (in many cases) rarity. When the pub is quiet the helpful and knowledgeable staff are happy to serve any beer from the cellar that’s tapped and ready to drink.

The ‘less traditionally minded’ beer connoisseur can now enjoy at least three quality keg beers from pioneering breweries in the US, UK and Europe. There’s also three cask ciders and a superb selection of over 100 single malts.

Food (very commendably in the author’s opinion) is limited to good value (70p) filled bread rolls, Stobart’s pork pies and a range of bar snacks in the shape of crisps, pork scratchings and nuts.

Although the main criterion for any CAMRA award has to be the availability of a range of high-quality cask beers (clearly achieved with flying colours in this case!) a pub can only be as good as its staff – and here Shakespeare’s excels yet again. Manager Chris Bamford has been there from the start and what he doesn’t know about sourcing and caring for quality beer really isn’t worth knowing. Chris is very ably supported by Assistant Managers Chris Wadsworth and Keisha Wright, together with the wonderful bar team of Wendy, Louis, Lizzie & James.  All, and many of the lovely “regulars”, have become friends.

Downstairs the strong musical links continue – with ‘Sheffield Rapper’ early Monday evenings, Ceilidh sessions in the back room on Tuesdays and ‘sing-arounds’ in the front side room on Wednesdays.  The pub also plays a major role in the “Sheffield Sessions” annual Folk Festival. Chris hosts an excellent quiz every Thursday at 9:30pm (fans of the Bard will no doubt appreciate the eloquent rendition of an extract from one of his works which forms the basis of Question 25).

The ‘Shakey’ appeals to a wide cross-section of people including musicians, artists, writers, theatre and studio staff and students as well as CAMRA members and other beer connoisseurs from all over the UK (and often even further afield).

The presentation of this richly deserved Pub Of the Month award will take place on Tuesday 15th September at approximately 8pm. All are welcome to attend – it’s bound to be a fine evening

Martin Clark