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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 After a fierce battle from local residents and businesses the application was withdrawn, and new buyers who wanted to keep it as a pub proceeded with a nine-month-long major refurbishment of the Edwardian building and grounds.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.
BOTTLED/CANNED BEER UPDATE: