Tucked away down a backstreet in a northern industrial city, The Fat Cat is a public house with more than 150 years of history to its name. Far removed from the glass and chrome chain pubs that are the current staple of most modern city centres, The Fat Cat was the first real ale freehouse in Sheffield and has been the recipient of many prestigious awards in the relatively short period it has existed in its current incarnation.
Every effort has been made to keep the atmosphere of The Fat Cat consistent with what most people would equate to that of a traditional English pub. There is a distinct lack of anything electronic in the place (save perhaps for the cash register and the cigarette machine), which means no jukebox and no flashing fruit machines to attract the pub gambler eager to lighten his wallet. Conversation is the only acceptable background noise there, and it makes a change to be able to hear yourself think.
The walls are covered with the obligatory 'olde worlde' sepia photos but, as the rest of the pub fits in with this motif, they are far less offensive than the sort you find in most establishments. The fires are large, open and real, adding another element of authenticity to The Fat Cat's atmospheric appeal. There is even a resident pub cat, which is apt to slink through the pub secure in the knowledge that it is the feline master of all it surveys. It must be said, however, that the cat in question is rather less than fat itself.
The building currently known as The Fat Cat was completed in the year 1850 and began life as a public house known as 'The Alma', possibly because it is located at No 23 Alma Street. The Alma later became a hotel, mainly patronised by itinerant steel workers, located as it is across the River Don from the former Kelham Island steelworks (now a working museum). In 1912, however, the building was bought by the Sheffield-based William Stones Brewery (later swallowed up in turn by the larger Bass Brewery Company) and The Alma became a public house once more.
After many years under the ownership of the large brewery, The Alma was put up for auction in 1981. The pub was eventually sold to a partnership of Sheffield Hallam University (at the time Sheffield Polytechnic) lecturer David Wickett and local solicitor Bruce Bentley. Relaunching the old pub as The Fat Cat, they introduced the first real ale freehouse to a city long dominated by a small number of big-name breweries selling mass-produced lagers and beers at a high price.
The Fat Cat soon won the acclaim both of its clientele and CamRA1, earning various awards, such as 'best value pub' in the Good Pub Guide, 'best vegetarian pub menu', and 'pub of the year' on three separate occasions. In 1990, Wickett bought out Bentley to become the sole owner of The Fat Cat, and the Kelham Island Brewery was set up nearby to produce its own real ales. Still going strong into the new millennium, The Fat Cat's popularity and reputation show little sign of flagging.
The Important Part
As might be expected of a real ale pub with its reputation, The Fat Cat has a mighty repertoire of beers, ales, wines, and even mead, which varies throughout the year. The pub stocks a line of traditional English wines in an extraordinary variety of flavours2. Also on offer are more spirits and ciders than you can poke a stick at - something you may not be capable of after you've sampled them.
But the ales are the main attraction for most, and these are changed regularly, so there's usually something new to try each time you visit. Often the ales on offer are priced according to their strength, and a pint can cost as little as £1.50 and a half-pint around 70p3. Don't let the fact that some of the beers are quite low in alcohol volume put you off, as the taste more than makes up for it - these are ales to be savoured rather than knocked back. And if you feel the need to be a big, tough, manly drinker, then there are always stronger drinks to be had as well.