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Previous Pint Pleasures - April 17, 2002

guinness eileen

The Springvale, 1 Commonside, Crookes, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

In early summer 2009 the Springvale closed for business. By October the pub opened again under completely new management. Over the course of the next three years it opened and closed several more times. In 2012 it re-opened under the management of Josh and once again became popular. At the end of 2013 it closed again and re-opened under yet another new set of landlords. And then...oh, I've lost track...

Writing about all the good pubs in Sheffield may seem a straightforward task. But what exactly defines a "good" pub? Obviously, if you try to imagine the perfect pub for the classic real ale lover, you might come up with a cosy 15th-century former coach house with low-beamed ceilings, plush red velvet benches and stools, old drawings of the original building on the wall, and perhaps a few horse brasses and/or maritime artifacts here and there. And, of course, a group of beer-bellied regulars will be huddled around the blazing hearth, dogs at their feet, while nearby a couple of lads play bar billiards, skittles, or darts.

On the other hand, if you're an exhausted parent with a menagerie of hyperactive children in tow, perhaps you'd picture a large pub in a peaceful country setting with a massive beer garden fully equipped with play equipment and pet bunnies and lambs -- and an all-day restaurant serving good value meals. Or, if you're a university student, it might be a buzzing city pub with cheap drinks specials, cheap food served in portions to satisfy a lumberjack, live music and/or disco and a good jukebox, and plenty of other university students to meet. Of if you're an avid Man U supporter who spends her or his leisure time engaged in sports and computer games, it would be a huge barn of a place with multiple big screen TVs, multiple pool and/or snooker tables, plenty of the latest fruit and quiz machines, cheap food served in portions to satisfy a lumberjack, and a choice of three lagers and at least two styles of Guinness. Then again, if you're a historical traditionalist who doesn't get out much, you might picture a remote pub completely unchanged since 1910, which consists of one tiny room with one tiny bar, a brick or hardwood floor, a grizzled dog forever asleep across the threshold, no modern conveniences, and only one choice of drink, which would be a local bitter poured directly from the cask.

In other words, the perfect "good" pub is purely subjective.

Which brings me to the Springvale. The first time we walked into this pub was immediately after moving to Sheffield -- about an hour later, to be exact. As we walked thirstily down the road this was the very first pub we spotted, and of course the big CASK ALE PUB sign beckoned instantly. The place was quite crowded for a Tuesday night, mostly with university students, and the jukebox seemed to be well stocked and the choice of real ales was gratifying. As we bought two pints of Tiger Best Bitter (4.3% ABV, Everards Brewery Ltd., Narborough, Leicestershire) we were handed a card entitling us to two more pints for the price of one -- the Tuesday Night Real Ale Special. Aahhh, yes, what a splendid welcome to our new life! The Tiger Best was satisfyingly bitter and welcoming as well.

Although popular with students the Springvale is a pub for all types and ages. Both the staff and the regulars are very friendly -- as I'm finding with most Sheffielders I meet -- and consist of students, teachers, old age pensioners, builders, computer geeks, chefs, musicians, entrepreneurs, etc. With a vast range of drink specials, depending on the day of the week, the bar features several handpumps with a rotating choice of real ales including Tiger Best, Landlord, Tetley's, Boddingtons, and Caledonian 80/-. The food menu is reasonably priced, the servings large, and there are several vegetarian choices. On one end of the long pub is a cosy clustering of sofas, chairs, and large TV screen, and on the other end is a heavily used pool table. Tucked away behind the hearth is an area where diners can sit and enjoy a spectacular northeastern view. There is a garden out back as well which hopefully will be open by summer.

But back to the beer! On our next visit we had pints of Old Hooky (4.6% ABV, Hook Norton Brewery, Banbury, Oxfordshire). I'd forgotten about this beer -- it's a nice drop! It makes me think of the Sportsman's Bar in Folkestone where we were rapidly gaining respect for the ace talents of landlord Stuart Gresswell. Although Stuart has moved on to the Guildhall, my memories of the vast array of excellent real ales at the Sportsman's lives on forever, and Old Hooky is one of those memories. This beer seems to be quite popular in Sheffield: it's a nice warming pint with a tawny velvety bitter taste, like a welcome rich wood coffee table with comfortable rounded edges, allowing for putting one's feet up. Yes, this is definitely a footrest beer.

The next beer we tried was Bombardier (4.3% ABV, Charles Wells Brewery, Bedford). One of my all-time favourites, this is always a satisfying pint, and quite appropriate for the day we drank it: it was exactly six months since September 11, on which day we had consoled ourselves with post-traumatic pints of Bombardier.

Our pints of King & Barnes Sussex (3.5% ABV, King & Barnes, Horsham, West Sussex) proved this beer is not what it used to be, which apparently was once crisp and very nice. This was my very first taste and I found it rather characterless, with a slightly sticky taste, which suggested little hairs clinging to the skin from a dryly sticky blob on a table top. I kept thinking of insects: it was the first week of spring and giant bumblebees kept flying in through cracked windows, bashing themselves noisily against the glass. At least there were no bumblebees in my pint. Why are bees so stupid, anyway? I mean, would a human willingly throw himself or herself into a giant ocean of beer? Hmmm, on second thought, I have known people who'd be stupid enough to do just that...

Next we tried the Abbot Ale (5% ABV, Greene King, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk). Having been used to drinking Abbot Ale in Kent and Sussex this was a strange experience. The traditional Yorkshire real ale is served through a sparkler which creates a creamy head. Many beers lend themselves to this style -- Tetley's, for instance, simply has to be sparkled to be appreciated. But somehow sparkling Abbot Ale creates a completely different beer with a different taste and character; it loses its religious edge and becomes a more pagan beer. Abbot doesn't need sparkling -- it's naturally holy. To give credit to the Springvale staff, on a suggestion they did remove the sparkler from the London Pride (4.1% ABV, Fuller, Smith, and Turner, London), and it sold just as quickly.

Since we visit the Springvale often our two favourite pints have become Landlord (4.3% ABV, Timothy Taylor & Co. Ltd., Keighley, West Yorkshire) and Tetley's (3.7% ABV, Carlsberg-Tetley Brewing Co., Leeds, West Yorkshire). Landlord, one of my favourite beers, is always a welcome, satisfyingly bitter pint, whether served through a sparkler or not. And as I already mentioned, Tetley's -- when served properly through a sparkler -- can be a very decent everyday session pint at a most reasonable price. Having had unpleasant experiences with Southern pints of Tetley's I think Sheffield, the Real Ale Spa City, is going to cure me of my Tetleyphobia. I just need a few more treatments...

There are some interesting stories associated with the Springvale. Situated on the edge of Crookes by Netherthorpe and just around the bend from Walkley, the pub is across the street from a row of shops and restaurants. Above these shops are several flats marked by an iron railing path which reminds me a bit of New Orleans. In one of these flats Joe Cocker used to live, at which time he frequented the Springvale. On the corner is the Take 5 Cafe, whose building dates from the 17th century and used to be part of the Springvale House (now a petrol station). Members of the band Human League once live in a flat above the cafe, and it's been reported that one of them still owes some rent. And finally Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper, was reportedly drinking in the Springvale on the night of his arrest. Just proves you never know who you might meet over a pint of beer...

There are a lot of weekly events scheduled at the Springvale. Monday night is Pool Night with the Walkley-Crookes Friendly Pool League, and Thursday night features a Pool Knockout with a £50 prize for the winner. There's a Sunday night Quiz with a prize of £50 as well, and all major televised sporting events are shown. There are all sorts of drinks specials throughout the week, including the 4-pints-of-real-ale-for-the-price-of-3 deal on Tuesday nights. And other offers and promotions come up as well, including the mountain bike drawing from a couple of weeks ago. The poster for the drawing said it would be on Tuesday 6th April. But since the 6th of April falls on a Saturday this year, did they mean Tuesday 2nd April, Saturday 6th April, or in the year 2004, which I believe is the next time there's a Tuesday 6th April? As it happens the drawing occurred on Saturday the 6th, which suggests the Springvale may well be located in a vortex which allows for the rearranging of calendar days. This could be most convenient for working people: imagine stopping in for a couple of pints on Sunday night and waking up the next morning to discover it's only Saturday! Not only would you still have the weekend ahead of you, but you'd still have the money you thought you'd spent on Sunday. So you could stop back into the Springvale for a couple pints and find yourself in an infinite loop. No worries -- there are plenty of people to talk to and plenty to keep you amused. Just as long as they don't run out of the Landlord...

Springvale Updates
(Last updated 28 November 2019)