CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Portland House
Portland House, 286 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, South Yorkshire
When I heard that Sheffield’s second micropub had opened several months ago I knew I would naturally have to visit it at some point. But when I learned what the name of it was, there were suddenly a number of reasons convincing me I had to visit it as soon as possible. First of all, not only did my mother spend her childhood and early retirement in Seaside, Oregon, a small town located 80 miles northwest of the fine city of Portland, but I revisited Portland a couple of years ago with my Bay Area friend Mistah Rick when we spent four glorious and pint-strenuous days barely making a dent in all the wonderful pubs and breweries. And there’s one more association with the name: for the benefit of the Concrete Appreciation Society, while in Portland Rick and I videotaped our pilgrimage to the city’s Portland Cement Studios.
The association with Portland and Sheffield seems to be industrial. Built in the late 1800s Portland Works, located near Bramall Lane, was the global centre of stainless steel manufacturing. And of course a lot of the concrete buildings in Sheffield contain Portland cement, which was originally produced from Portland stone quarried on the Isle of Portland in Dorset.
None of this, of course, explains why the name has been used for a tiny pub in trendy Ecclesall Road.
Nevertheless, a week ago I finally had the chance to visit Portland House. Located on Ecclesall Road at the bottom of Collegiate Crescent in a former Cooplands Bakery, this is Welbeck Abbey Brewery’s first pub. It was a dark balmy day when I walked down from Walkley, passing my old work place, the Collegiate Crescent Learning Centre. Back in those days I had to walk the two miles downhill to work every day because no buses ran that way, and this meant that after work I was faced with a two-mile uphill walk back home. (Do I sound like somebody’s granddad? “When I was your age I walked ten miles barefoot through 20-foot snowdrifts every day to school hauling a 30-pound bookbag…”
Portland House is very small, of course, hence the “micro” bit. It’s also my first single-level micropub, as the only other two micropubs I’ve visited so far have both been on split levels. The atmosphere seems very cafe-like, with some chairs at a window counter, little tables and chairs spread around, and a sofa on the back wall. On the small bar were six handpumps, three featuring beers from Welbeck Abbey. I decided to go for a pint of Aromantica (4.2% ABV, Brewster’s Brewing, Grantham, Lincolnshire). When I mentioned the slight sour character of the beer the barman because nervous and tasted the beer himself. I had to quickly point out I meant it in a good way, as I have enjoyed some of the sour beers that are starting to becoming popular. But it was the sign of a good barman that he wanted to make sure the beer was okay to serve. Overall it had a nice sharp bitter character which brought a bit of brightness to such a cloudy day.
They also stock a small but select collection of spirits including gins and whisky, as well as bottles of Welbeck Abbey brews to take home. As I sipped my pint and gazed out the window at the view of Wizard Guitars across the road, I noticed the exposed ducting all over the pub’s ceiling which reminded me of some of the 21st-century American coffeehouses I’ve visited that are very serious about their beans and roasting methods. I was also reminded of the classic film Brazil, of course, although this image would have been a bit more effective if Harry Tuttle had been sitting at the next table sipping a pint, perhaps next to the couple who were both dressed in orange. Could they have been Dutch football fans? No, I think it was probably just one of those dressing coincidences.
Aside from the handpumps there are a few keg offerings. Two European lagers are available, including one my favourites, Pilsner Urquell, and also Welbeck Abbey’s own lager, Pivo, and a rotating craft beer. Snacks are available as well, including pork pies from Waterall Brothers and a changing range of cheeses from Porter Brook Deli.
Recently I read that a third micropub is due to open soon in Sheffield, somewhere in Broomhill. I think this is a great use of former shops. I mean, just how many sandwich shops do we need? Or hair salons? Why not open up a string of “beer salons” in former beauty parlours? I personally think that would be a much better use of urban space.