Pints spilling over fingers as we make our way to the one table going spare in the Tap today, it's hard to imagine that, until a few years ago, these beautiful rooms stood empty. Once an Edwardian "refreshment room" for first class passengers at Sheffield station, in the 70s the place fell out of use and into a desolate few decades. When the Tap's doorkeepers welcomed the public inside for the first time in 2009, the general reaction was a combination of "Yes! Good beer!" and amazement: this place had been here all along? Barely anyone seemed to know that, behind the blackened arched windows of Platform 1B, high ornate ceilings had been gradually crumbling away; that elegant Edwardian tiles had, quite inconspicuously, become cloaked in grime over the years.
It took a great deal of vision and perseverance to turn the site around from such a state of dereliction; luckily, two traits that the Tap’s owners Jamie Hawksworth and Jon Holdsworth have in considerable measure. With a little help from investors and the Railway Heritage Trust, the duo and their team set to work in 2008.
Restoring a mahogany bar here, replicating original ceiling moulds there, repairing cracks all over the place – they didn’t stop until the place became a fine emulation of its former shining grandeur. So grand is the Tap, in fact, that we reckon it must easily out-shine whatever those well-to-do Edwardians enjoyed there back in its refreshment room days. And the bar is no doubt better stocked: its cabinets today are lined with over 200 bottles of beer from around the world, and there's always around twenty barrels and kegs on the go.
If you time it right, your nostrils will be met by the teasing aroma of brewing beer as soon as you enter the Tap. You’ll find the source of that malty scent in the back room where, inside huge copper vats, the pub’s own beers froth and ferment away. The Tapped Brew Co. has a core line-up of six beers, including Miami Weisse (American wheat beer), Liberty (treacle stout), and Bullet (IPA), and sets about brewing two or three times a week.
A little more about that back room: this welcome addition to the Tap was opened in 2013 and, like the rest of the Grade II listed building, dates back to 1904. It originally served as a fancy dining room before, again, ending up as a dump site. Today, with its mirrored wall reaching into the cornices and those glistening copper vats on stage, it is an absolute wonder of a beer hall. I’m not sure what time of day Nigel took his photos but, trust me, it is rarely so quiet in here.
The Sheffield Tap was taken to heart so quickly by people in Sheffield, it feels as if it has been around for decades. Far from an extension of the station’s waiting rooms, the Tap is a destination in its own right. And that’s all down to Jamie and Jon’s intuition; tapping into the remarkable character of the place as they revived it, and filling it since with the best beers around, their discerning customers thank them by returning time and again.
Order a pint of Bullet or, if you’re really treating yourself, a bottle of German smoked beer, take a seat (by the window in the far corner of the back room, if it’s free), and absorb yourself in an afternoon of casual trainspotting and people-watching in the most atmospheric pub in town.
If the Sheffield Tap keeps you from making it any further than the station on your next visit to the city, well, you’re excused.
- Words by
- Kathryn Hall
- Images by
- Nigel Barker