CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Two Crookes Venues
Reet Pizza at the Punchbowl, 236 Crookes, Crookes, Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Crookes Social Club, Mulehouse Road, Crookes, Sheffield, South Yorkshire
I first discovered the Rutland Arms in Sheffield years ago when I was still living down south in Kent. On one of our rental-house-hunting visits to Sheffield we spent a couple of nights in one of the Rutland's tiny triangular rooms and enjoyed fine pints of Barnsley Bitter downstairs in the pub. Although I liked the pub back then I was happy to experience its gradual evolution into one of today's essential cask ale stops on Sheffield's real ale trail. A few years ago the current owner Andy took over two other pubs as well, the Three Tuns in town and the Closed Shop in Commonside, and more recently Sheffield's own Blue Bee Brewery -- hence the Reet Ales Pub Company was born. Seeing as how the Closed Shop is one of my locals I was happy to see this happen.
My introduction to the Punchbowl years ago, on the other hand, was not very memorable. To me it was simply one of the venues for our local pool team, so the only time I found myself there was for a pool match. There was really no other reason to visit the pub, except in more recent years when Jungle Lion, Sheffield's excellent ska band, were still small enough to perform there, albeit to a massively packed crowd, necessitating strictly vertical dancing only.
So I was excited to learn that the Reet Ales Pub Company planned to open a cask ale pizza pub in the former Punchbowl. I mean, I knew there would be a good selection of real ales, and I hoped that the pizzas would be good. And who can knock pizza and beer? I'm reminded of the now-defunct Piecora' in Seattle, where my friends and I would often go for a yummy thin-crust roasted garlic pizza, or pesto and caper pizza, and a few pints of craft beer.
Thanks to the invitation of my friend Victoria, my first visit was on Preview Night two days before the official opening. When we walked in we were struck by the taupe walls, the light-coloured wood, and lots and lots of bare floor. Is this the new trend, I thought: clean, soulless, and hipster/yuccie friendly? The bar staff were all standing behind the bar, mostly familiar faces from the other Reet Ales pubs, smiling and eager to serve from the eight handpumps. Victoria and I both had pints of Ginger Beer (4.5% ABV, Blue Bee Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire), which packed a sharp and spicy whopping of ginger. It was quite nice, actually, but you'd only want one pint, really -- unless you were absolutely mad about drinking lots of spicy ginger.
When Mike joined us we took over a booth within view of the pizza ovens and prep area. After perusing the pizza menu – a simple list which featured starters, a choice of six pizzas and a list of additional toppings -- we each ordered one complimentary pizza. It turned out that our pizzas were each a generous twelve inches in diameter, so as the smaller appetite I requested the assistance of Mike and Victoria to help me eat mine, a challenge to which they rose admirably. Victoria's goat cheese and beetroot pizza was overflowing with beetroot, which is why I didn't order it, as I don't really like sweetness on my pizzas – but Victoria said it was excellent. And Mike enjoyed his vegetable pizza. When my fungi pizza with added jalapeños arrived they'd forgotten the jalapeños, so I was disappointed that to rectify the problem they simply sprinkled some on top instead of cooking them in with the melted cheese so that the flavours would blend. Still, it was a very nice pizza indeed, and I would happily have it again.
So the beer and the pizza were both well worth the visit. Still, the atmosphere was getting me down. It felt a bit like a Thornbridge pub, but without any classic pub fixtures or live music rooms. And it was a bit sad to see that the rear room that had housed pool tables, and that was once the scene of a few controversial pool matches, was now just a somewhat soulless restaurant room. But what can I say? C'est la gastropub...
A few weeks after Reet Pizza had officially opened, we met Victoria and some other friends for drinks on her birthday. It was a Friday after work and the place was buzzing, giving a much warmer feel to the place. Andrew and I had pints of Reet Pale (4.0% ABV, Blue Bee) which was excellent as always. While we were there mostly for the beer there were quite a few people, including some friends with their two little girls, having pizzas, so I must admit that the feeling of soullessness I sensed on my first visit had been completely banished.
Although Reet Pizza is basically a gastropub – or a pizza and beer parlour, as you might call it in America -- it's still a much needed cask ale haven located on a busy corner of Crookes, which suits me just fine, thank you.
And more cask ale things have been happening in the neighbourhood. We've been hearing about another spot on the other side of Crookes Road that we would never have thought to visit, except as perhaps a further lesson in traditional British culture for a curious American like myself. The Crookes Social Club, which is affiliated to the Club and Institute Union, is an example of the old working man's club, where paid members could get discounts on drinks and their families could have a regular meeting place for such social pursuits as snooker, bingo, and karaoke. (Just imagine "Phoenix Nights" for an example.) Located on the corner of Suthard Cross Road just down the road from Bole Hill, the Crookes Social Club was founded in 1926 and consists of a large concert room, a function room, a large snooker room with two full size snooker tables, a pool table, and darts, a bar, and a bowling green outside. The club offers weekly entertainment with live bands, solo acts, and cabaret nights, bingo six nights a week, and occasional boxing in the concert room. It also hosts community activities such as dance classes, health and fitness classes, self defence classes, Weight Watchers meetings, community forums, and coffee mornings with local politicians. And, most importantly, the club encourages nonmembers to come to their events.
Recently the Crookes Social Club has been advertising its range of cask ales, so that's when I first became curious about it. In November it hosted a Real Ale Festival, so we decided to finally venture over and check it out. On an extremely rainy and windy pitch-black afternoon we parked on the street out front and, holding onto our hats, made our way across the car park the door. Inside we found a lobby with a register for members, along with flyers advertising everything going on at the club. Passing through the bar, which features Stancill Sheffield Pilsner among its handpumps (for only £2.60 a pint), we found ourselves in the Concert Room where the festival was being held. At one end of the vast room was a large stage where a hard rock band was doing an extremely loud sound check. (And I'm saying this as not only a current live music fan but also a former rock musician who's done plenty of sound checks. It was extremely loud.)
On the other end of the room behind long rows of tables was a large selection of casks of festival beers, all served on gravity. As we had to be somewhere later we decided to just share two halfs. So we went for one of Hop & Glory (3.8% ABV, Wentworth Brewery, Rotherham, South Yorkshire), which was quite pleasant, with very subtle zingy hops. Our second half was our favourite: Triple Hops (4.5% ABV, Maxim Brewery, Houghton le Spring, Tyne & Wear). Brewed with citra, cascade, and cluster hops, this was a rather exciting hops journey of a beer, an energetic stroll around the hops palate. While we sipped our halfs we chatted with the about the beers. Apparently the cask ale is really going down well, and more and more nonmembers are venturing into the club not only for the live events but for the beer.
As there were only a small handful of attendees there yet, including a group who looked like they were definitely there for the band, we decided to sit at one of the tables to finish our drinks and soak in the atmosphere. "We could stay, lass, and have a reet laugh," joked Andrew. It was a tempting thought, but we did have somewhere else to be.
Perhaps next time.
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(Last updated 4 April 2016)