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Previous Pint Pleasures - May 31, 2009

guinness eileen

Wig & Pen, 44-46 Campo Lane, Cathedral Quarter, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

The first time I remember visiting a pub catering to the legal community was years ago in London when I was searching for a programming job. After a late morning interview at a Fleet Street agency I stopped with my friend and chauffeur Dave at a nearby pub. I don't recall the name of the pub, but I do remember it featured lots of clean dark wood panelling and was packed with barristers, solicitors, and legal clerks, all in nice suits and all guzzling pints as they presumably discussed their cases.

That's why I was surprised when I first saw the Wig & Pen in Sheffield. From the outside it looks nothing like a solicitor's hangout but more like a small pastel cafe you might find on Haight or Masonic in San Francisco. This impression evaporates once you enter the pub, because it's a deceptive tardis: definitely legal-looking and surprisingly huge. Covering 2 floors, the pub features lots of snugs and nooks and crannies and rooms with plain square features, hardwood floors, leather furniture, and hi-tech lighting and sconces.

We sat in the back at a table looking out onto Paradise Square. Although "Paradise Square" might suggest a gorgeous oasis with palm trees and a rainbow sky, it's actually a historic Georgian square bordered by offices of solicitors and estate agents and usually full of parked cars. Built in the late 18th century on what had been an orchard, the square quickly became the home of solicitors, doctors, and a Freemasons Lodge. The sculptor Francis Chantrey had a studio there, and John Wesley once preached in the square to a massive congregation. As you would expect there were several pubs around the square, including one called the Q In The Corner where customers were entertained by 6 blind fiddlers.

Today the only pub on the square is the Wig & Pen, whose back door leads out to a small beer garden on the square directly next to my estate agents. I couldn't help wondering if they stop into the pub at all, as I know these are much rougher times for estate agents than they are for solicitors.

Needless to say Andrew and I had stopped in, and we're definitely not solicitors. I'll admit the prices for pints and food are a bit steep compared to what we're used to paying, but hey, you only go around once. There's nothing the matter with pretending to be on a solicitor's wages every now and then.

We both had pints of Silver Tally (3.7% ABV, Prospect Brewery, Wigan, Lancashire). This is another lovely pale hoppity brew which was perfect on that first day of spring, that sunny vernal equinox which was coincidentally the first day of the year's first period of non-scarf-and-gloves spring weather. (What I mean by that, for my American friends who might worry that I've changed from my cold-weather-loving self, is that it was a warm toasty 52 degrees Fahrenheit. So quit worrying.)

There is a certain taste to this lovely beer. What is that taste? It suggests a nostalgic ice-skating experience from my childhood, with a soundtrack by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, with little swans gliding through tall reeds. Could it be honey? Yes, it's honey -- we both think it's made with honey. And honey is nostalgic, reminiscent of comfy things like campfires and bears with little brains.

For lunch there were a lot of interesting options, including a nice-looking list of tapas. I nearly ordered the falafel sandwich but decided on the blue cheese rarebit, and Andrew had a sandwich with brie, cranberry, and bacon, and we shared some frites. Although pricey the food was good, the salad was nice, but the "frites", as opposed to being like the frites a Belgian friend makes, were more like McDonald's french fries.

As we sipped our honey nostalgia and dined we listened to the loud wedding planning session in the next room. The family group, obviously unbothered by the pub's prices, waxed on in their loud posh accents about all the posh arrangements they were making. Just when we were heaving sighs of relief that we were strangers to them and therefore wouldn't be invited, we instantly warmed to them when we heard they were sticking strictly to casks of locally brewed cask ale. I could feel the cockles of my heart warm like melted...honey.