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guinness eileen

The Blind Monkey, 279 Whitehouse Lane, Walkley, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Last year I and my fellow Walkley friends were excited to learn that a new cask ale pub was going to open in lower Walkley in the former Firwood Cottage. Early in the year, after the Firwood had closed as a pub and was put up for sale, a planning application was submitted to turn it into social housing. After a fierce battle from local residents and businesses the application was withdrawn, and new buyers who wanted to keep it as a pub proceeded with a nine-month-long major refurbishment of the Edwardian building and grounds.

About a month ago the Blind Monkey finally opened. The name, which attracted me in the first place, was apparently inspired by Prohibition-era speakeasys that were often named after sight-challenged animals. A week after the Monkey's opening party, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I walked down the hill to the pub to meet up with a couple of friends. It had been a long time since I'd been to this part of Walkley, as I'll freely admit I'm one of those Upper Walkley types. As I emerged from the bottom of Industry Street and walked back up toward Carr Road I recognised the pub from the outside, having stopped briefly into the Firwood a couple of times in the past.

But once I walked through the door I didn't recognise it at all. It has really been done up beautifully, with brass monkeys here and there, stained glass details, darkwood panelled snugs, and art deco sconces. After spotting Carmel and Wendy in the front bar I made my way through the crowd to the bar to peruse the five handpumps. I went for a pint of Blonde Rogue (3.8% ABV, Beer Monkey Brewing Company, Skipton, North Yorkshire). The price was £3.60, which seemed a bit steep for such a low-ABV beer. And as my pint wasn't even full, with a too-thick head that didn't even reach up to the top, I decided the least I deserved at that price was a full pint. As a friend of ours happened to be working there, I went to the end of the bar and quietly asked him if he could top it up to a proper pint, which he did. While I waited for my pint an aged yuppie standing at the bar glared at me as if I were some sort of despicable local who was trying to cause trouble. At that point I realised that probably 95% of the pub denizens on this particular day appeared to be -- for want of a better word -- yuppie types.

I left my pint with Carmel and Wendy and took a quick tour of the rest of the pub, squeezing past people who didn't even acknowledge my existence or feel it was necessary to smile back when I smiled and said "Sorry". As Sheffield is an extremely friendly city I decided the crowd must have been yuppie types who had travelled in from somewhere else. I had a quick peek of the beer garden, which is quite big with new decking and several covered areas, included a heated shelter. As it was a sunny day the garden was packed, so I repaired to the darkness of the interior to rejoin my pint and my friends.

We were eventually joined by Victoria and Proper Dave and momentarily by Andrew. On the other side of our snug behind the next snug over was a glass divider case that had "Whiskey Emporium" engraved on it, and within were bottles of various single malts on shelves. I walked over at one point to check out the whiskies, eliciting a disapproving glare from the woman sitting at a table in front of the divider. I felt sorry for her, actually, because I've always considered the perusal of someone else's bookshelves, curios, and displayed artefacts to be an informative, creative, and life-affirming activity as well as a tacit approval of another person's life experiences and tastes. But then I suppose I've always been a bit weird.

The food menu features a "classic bar menu", with £9.00 fish and chips and an £11 pie of the day, and the stone baked pizzas are all around £9.50. The "street food inspired menu" is cheaper and features such items as German bratwurst and Deep Fried Beef Tortellini. You know, typical street food. Hmm...

Carmel, who lives very close to the pub, was hoping this might become a comfortable local for her. But she was equally as disappointed with the atmosphere, as was Wendy. To be fair, we were hoping it was just teething problems with the initial clientele, and that maybe a lot of these people would eventually go away and be replaced by local Walkley cask ale lovers. And since my visit that's what I've been hearing from other friends who live close to the pub, so it's definitely worth another visit. When I can afford the price of the beer, that is.

PUB UPDATES:

  • RUTLAND ARMS, SHEFFIELD: A few months ago I met my friend Scott at this pub before we headed off to the Theatre Deli for a Party After The End of the World, the first of two Festival of Debate events we attended. I first tried a taste of Art of T (3.6% Red Cat Brewery, Winchester, Hampshire). Brewed with Earl Grey tea and Tettnang hops, this was floral and pleasant but a bit smoother than I was craving after a week of work. So I went for a pint of DDH Cascade Glitter White Label (4.2% ABV, Twisted Angel Brewing Company, Beverley, East Yorkshire). After taking our pints out to the garden, as we sat waiting for our sandwiches and discussing some local gossip as well as death, I gradually realised this was a really nice pint: hoppy and interesting and irresistibly drinkable. (I also realised I had somehow lost my phone, which caused a major panic until a life-saving customer pointed out, to my extreme embarrassment, that it was in the back pocket of my jeggings. But never mind, as Scott had left his regular glasses in a friend's car, so he was faced with wearing dark glasses all night.) When our food arrived we decided to have another round of the same beers. At this point I was curious about the DDH and pulled out my phone to research. Did it stand for Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip? Or possibly Ding Dong Holder, Disciples of the Dark Hand, or Dimming Daylight Harvesting? No, it stands for Double Dry Hopped. I suppose that makes more sense.

    A week later I met Scott again at the Rutland for a pre-show pint and food. This time we were off to Trump! The Musical, again at Theatre Deli. And once again I had a fish sandwich which was decent but really difficult to eat, as the fish goujons stuck way out beyond the very chewy bread and the sandwich itself was quite tall, and I don't have a very big mouth. This time, as a native Californian I had to go for Faultline (4.0% ABV, Kettlesmith Brewery, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire) which was hoppy with a hint of a dry malt following.

  • WELLINGTON, SHEFFIELD: Recently Andrew and I stopped in here where we first had a taste of Mandible Claw Mango Smoothie IPA (5.2% ABV, Shiny Brewery, Derby, Derbyshire): Just like the barman had described, this is a mango smoothie. It's quite yummy but it's not beerlike in the least. It would be nice as a cocktail, or perhaps an alcoholic smoothie, sitting out on somebody's sunny but breezy deck in the late afternoon. But as we weren't we went for more reasonable pints of White Amarillo (4.1% ABV, Durham Brewery, Durham, County Durham). This isn't super hoppy but it's got a nice flavour of Amarillo hops. As it was a pleasant day we took our pints out to the beer garden, and it's grown since we last saw it. There is a big covered heated area which has new picnic tables as well as two side ledges with stools, and on the other side of the outer ledge is an open garden with more picnic tables. And if you walk around the side toward the front of the pub, there's another hidden section of picnic tables which were nice and sunny on the late May afternoon. So remember the Wellington on those nice summer days, because it's now got tons of outdoor seating.

  • PRINCESS ROYAL, SHEFFIELD: Just this past weekend we popped into this pub as a quick breather from the World Cup where we had pints of Jess' Canadian Summer (4.5% ABV, Welbeck Abbey Brewing Company, Welbeck, South Yorkshire). My first sip was one of those Oomph! hops effects which I haven't experienced for some time. As the pub was surprisingly empty on this sunny Saturday afternoon, we sat at a table and spent our pints trying to figure out what kind of hops that would be. Chinook? No, surprisingly it turns out to be Mosaic and Simcoe. So what do we know?

BOTTLED/CANNED BEER UPDATE:

  • CLWB Tropicana Tropical IPA (5.5% ABV, Tiny Rebel Brewing Company, Newport, Wales): This features a nice tropical flavour of grapefruit and peach, and there's a drawing of a pineapple on the tin. It's not overly hoppy but it's quite refreshing. Also on the tin is a drawing of a drunk teddy bear with a black eye. I don't quite understand that...

  • BA + B Double Dry Hopped Pale Ale (4.8% ABV, Bad Seed Brewery, Malton, North Yorkshire): This is brewed with Lemon Drop, Centennial, and Cascade hops, which are all hops I really like. A cloudy beer, it's a collaboration with Abbeydale Brewery in Sheffield where it's brewed. It's nice: hoppy with a dryness on the tongue. Considering the massive downpour of rain I had just managed to avoid on my way home from work, the dryness was welcome.

  • Hoppiness (6.5% ABV, Moor Beer Company, Bristol): This is another unfined New World IPA in a tin. On the front of the tin it say "Hoppiness = Happiness", a sentiment I totally agree with. After a lousy boring hopeless workday this was another welcome refreshment.