That’s it then. One final clink of the glasses tonight with your household or bubble, and then it’s time to put a stinker of a year to bed. Although few and far between, there has been the odd silver lining here and there; families may have been pushed apart, but wider communities were brought closer together, sustaining a business has no doubt been harder, but meant building better relationships with others has become a given, and although it might be a miserable winter, we briefly got to enjoy some form of summer – including half price dinners! Anyway, hopefully if you have a few minutes to spare and a beer to hand you can enjoy a meander through our ramblings on our first full year in business as “a bar”…
We rolled into 2020, like almost everybody else, not knowing what was to come. January was long, dark, cold, wet, and all in all, pretty forgettable. The three of us were still working full-time day jobs, somehow running the bar, and generally not sleeping much.
By the time we arrived in February the bar was busy again; dry January was over, Abbeydale Road was buzzing, and for a brief few weeks, everything seemed to be ticking over nicely. What a distant memory that now seems. We were lucky enough to attend our first industry event in London (free craft beer everywhere, all day, it was an absolute dream!). We even managed to host our own successful event in the form a Tiny Rebel Tap Takeover; celebrating their 8th birthday with 8 different beers, pairs of which could be poured half-and-half into the same glass to create new beers, exciting stuff and very popular! Sadly, one of only a couple of events we would manage to enjoy over the coming months.
It was increasingly evident life was about to change for the worse in March. However, Sheffield Beer Week arrived to provide some distraction, with the main event handily taking place just across the road at the Abbeydale Picture House. It’s worth mentioning that we were still pretty green to the whole game at this point, and our staffing (or lack thereof!) certainly showed it. So when I checked the CCTV footage to see the bar four deep – with only Adam behind it, looking pretty short on glasses, energy, and smart ideas – and a queue out of the door, we realised we might have made a mistake. Looking back now it’s funny to laugh at, and luckily our friend and butcher/baker/yet-to-be-candlestick maker, Simon Barnes came to our rescue. Standing towards the rear of the queue, Simon quickly realised he wasn’t going to get his pint anytime soon, and took it upon himself to jump behind the bar, serve, and claim his just deserts shortly after the backup arrived. Thanks, Simon!
The week following was a particularly bizarre one. You know the one, the one where you weren’t sure if you were allowed to the pub or not. We limped through the week, and a very peculiar St Patrick’s Day, which in the context of the week overall, could be classed as “busy”, but by no means a true Paddy’s day.
Then our inevitable fate was sealed for the following months. The doors were forced shut and we launched our Bar in a Box, which proved popular enough to encourage us to fling the whole of our offering online, quickly re-opening as a shop and takeaway too. Shortly after this was followed by now infamous free local same-day delivery service. Pioneers, eh?! Ha, hardly in all honesty, but it provided an outlet for us, as well as a steep learning curve!
Like many businesses up and down the country we were feeling our way through a whole new way of operating. We’d only had a couple of months getting used to the previous model, and instead of pouring beer into nice branded glasses and placing them on the bar, we were pouring that same beer in to cardboard milk cartons and coffee cups (ugh!) and frantically trying to balance them in the car as we raced to deliver them to thirsty folk before they were flat, warm, or all over the dashboard.
It was clear this couldn’t last, this same beer that was meant to be poured into glasses just wasn’t meant to travel this way. Enter the canning machine. God bless the canning machine! Our saviour and knight in shining armour. In fact, I’m quite sad it has never been affectionately named (suggestions on a post card?). At this point, describing it as life changing might possibly be an understatement, and it has allowed draught beer to be enjoyed much more easily at home, although not before countless frustrating hours and wasted cans getting the setup right (none of us are engineers, that’s for sure).
The rest of the period up until reopening in July seems one big blur now, with gradually changing restrictions and gradually improving weather, bank holidays coming and going, and that groundhog day feeling soon settling in. We launched The Freedom Pack, currently still available and easily the best value craft beers you will get, at just £9.99 for six delicious brews, and ran loads of different promotions giving away freebies ranging from the sensible (15% off), to the silly (a year’s free beer, or a night out on us!).
Then we were open again. A new outdoor terrace proved popular, and we rolled with table service from the start, which proved enjoyable, and something we might eventually stick with anyway – who’d have thought?! It was also really nice to welcome people back into the bar, especially after seemingly delivering to their doors or driveways for such a long time. The super popular Eat Out to Help Out scheme kicked in and life seemed to be that little bit more enjoyable again. We even managed to squeeze in some more events, including a Bhaji and Beats August Bank Holiday Weekender – massive props to Drunk Dog Funk and Growmore DJs, as well as local legends The Bhaji Shop for providing the standup grub! (Which was enjoyed seated, of course.) Then shortly followed by Oktoberfest, the schooners were tidied away, and instead the Steins and Bratwurst were out – big thanks here goes to Herr Grillmeister and the MVP himself, Sir Nathan Gould, who has helped us out far too many times to count this year, we love ya, pal!
We enjoyed it while it lasted. October swung around and a “tierful” (sorry!) exit from the boozer on the final night was reminiscent of that final Friday in March, still a strange feeling, but this time one that felt somewhat recognisable. The groundhog feeling was suddenly back and the race to Christmas was on. The delivery service was relaunched, with the infamous photo of us on the roof of our cars, holding up traffic on Abbeydale road that morning while it was taken by Steve the builder – another neighbour and friend who has helped us out on many occasion, thanks Steve!
This time we launched The Sheff Support Pack, supporting many of our great local suppliers and friends, fitted a projector and a huge screen for our Friday night, after work, beer school sessions (the highlight of our week), gave away tapas from our local friends La Mama’s, wore scary masks while delivering at Halloween, and even attempted to “celebrate” our first birthday.
The end of this year has been chaotic, as the usual December madness seems to have been amplified, back to little sleep and long hours. These have been hard yards that’s for sure, but we’re extremely grateful to have been kept busy. We were very lucky to be able to host a few pop ups in the more recent weeks, with a couple of visits from Satan’s Glaze and their beautifully indulgent donuts, as well as Get Wurst and their fantastic variety of authentic German sausages.
Throughout December we are also super proud to have supported the Sheffield Children’s Hospital with our Christmas Charity Pale Ale, and in the process we have raised over £3,000 and counting for such a worthy cause – thank you to everyone who has pledged their support, it’s nothing short of amazing in such times, and will hopefully go someway to helping make up for a massive deficit the charity are currently facing. Christmas arrived, and we finally treated ourselves to a few days off, some sitting down time, some walks, and some sleep – hurrah!
Which finally brings us to today, 31st December. I hope you’ve just about finished your drink, or maybe a second that you grabbed half way through, and hopefully some of this might have been vaguely interesting or funny, even if no one reads it we will look back on these ramblings in a year’s time no doubt and hopefully manage a little smile and a laugh at what was. Here’s to a brighter and better 2021, here’s to being in the pub again, hugging family again, and seeing those mates you haven’t seen for ages again. Goodbye, 2020.