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Previous Pint Pleasures - March 24, 2008

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The Harlequin, 108 Nursery Street, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

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The Milestone, 84 Green Lane, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Before I continue with my Summer of 2007 Pacific Coast America and Northern Scotland Pub Crawl columns, I thought I'd take a break by writing one column based in my home city of Sheffield.

It irks me when I read or hear people referring to the flooding last year in Sheffield as the "Great Sheffield Flood". Although there were 8 deaths as a result and £30 million worth of damage, this was no comparison to the real Great Sheffield Flood of 1864 in which at least 250 lives were lost. On the night of 11 March, 1864, the Dale Dyke Dam above Bradfield burst, sending 650,000,000 gallons of water raging through Sheffield with the force of a tsunami and destroying homes and factories. Over 7000 claims totalling £458,552 (which is over £31 million in today's money) were submitted, for which the Sheffield Water Company paid out a somewhat paltry £273,988.

Because I worked on a Sheffield Hallam University research project on the 1864 flood, I'm probably a bit obsessively interested in the disaster. This is why I was quite excited recently about visiting two pubs which had been affected by both the 1864 and the 2007 floods. The Harlequin, located on Nursery Street at the west end of the Wicker, was not too long ago called the Manchester. But things have totally changed since Manchester days: the pool table has been replaced with a dart board, a reference library has appeared by the single malt display, and very cheap lunches are now served, with weekday prices of £3.00 for scampi and chips and £1.50 for sandwiches. There are several handpumps as well.

We ordered pints of Farmers Gold (4.0%, Bradfield Brewery, Watt House Farm, High Bradfield, Sheffield, South Yorkshire) and took them into the "smokers' lounge", aka. the small beer garden out back by the Spital Fields gate. Farmers Gold is a nice crisp golden brew with surprising body and a well rounded bitter flavour. As we sipped our pints while admiring the sunflower mural on the upstairs building we chatted with the smokers and ex-smokers about how so many marriages have broken up since the smoking ban came into effect because the outside smoking areas have become a new social scene. I will admit you're more apt to talk to total strangers outside than you are inside the pub. but I think this increase in social intercourse is a positive thing, because a pub is supposed to be a social place.

The pub that is now the Harlequin started life around 1849 as the Manchester Railway Hotel. In the Flood of 1864 the entire front of the pub was broken down, and landlord Isaac Rose claimed £58 worth of damage, while William Bradley of the Soho Brewery also claimed £87 for repairing the pub. The total of £145 for the two claims might not seem like much, but again you have to remember this was 1864, so in today's terms that was over £10,000 worth of damage. In contrast, after the flood of June 2007 it took the Harlequin a mere 2 months to reopen for business.

A bit further up on the Flood Route was the Ball Inn which opened in 1833. In the 1864 flood landlord John Stringer filed two claims: one amounting to £75 for loss of business due to the Ball Street Bridge collapsing, and one for damage to the pub itself and its cellar, although this claim was later withdrawn. There was also a brewery's claim for 7 bottles on loan to the pub.

By the mid-20th century the Ball Inn had become a printers' office and then later became a paint wholesalers. Today the former Ball Inn is the Milestone, whose cellar in June 2007 was flooded with 7 feet of water. As the Milestone -- which specialises in fine food, wine, and cask ales and has a restaurant upstairs -- bakes its own fresh bread, flour sacks were used as sandbags.

On the day we decided to check out the pub, we found it situated on a corner across from a vast new building with scaffolding all around. I started to imagine an army of cardigan-clad Perry Comos standing on the scaffolding singing "Magic Moments", but alas, that was just a rather alarming dream I had once when my house was covered with scaffolding. So, um, never mind£

So that I wouldn't be reminded of any more dreams we hurried inside where we found ourselves in a nice open but comfy pub with light wood floors and a friendly helpful staff. There is a huge selection of newspapers near the entrance, and the food menu looks very attractive without being pretentious. I ordered a pint of Seven Hills (4.2%, Sheffield Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire), which turned out to be a very nice hoppy pint. I felt my taste buds hopping up and down the 7 hills of Sheffield, all prepared to fly off and cover the 7 hills of Seattle and Rome as well. This brew definitely had my name on it, and it was a very well kept pint. Andrew tried the Imperial Ale (3.8%, Wentworth Brewery, Wentworth, South Yorkshire), which is more of a traditional bitter and very nice. Andrew described it as a postwar beer, with a gentle round maltiness but with a satisfyingly crisp overlay of English hops, along with a good bitter introduction that continues. It's a very friendly pint. I think it has a touch of Scot in there somewhere, perhaps a great grandmother. Andrew said it definitely has a Stewart red hue.

Although the pub is a great place for a good pint of cask ale, the Milestone is especially proud of its fine food which is not cheap but not outrageously expensive. Chef Shaun Hopes previously worked with Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsey, and Marco Pierre White, and he was also head chef at Tosca, a Dublin restaurant owned by U2. So it would be nice to stop back sometime for a meal when we're feeling a bit more flush (and no flood pun intended). At least we know we'll be able to have a fine pint as well.

Harlequin Updates
(Last updated 21 March 2014)