I am never as happy as when I’m in cafés. I am a caffeinista, you could say, always on the hunt for new places to hang out, drink mind-blowing coffee and span time, as I’m sure the line in Buffalo 66 goes (not spend time). But this blog post isn’t all about me , oh no no. It’s actually more about how a city or place’s cafés speak volumes about the cultural state of things. In other, and local, words: Sheffield, at last, is getting the café culture it deserves.
I’ve lived in Sheffield 14 years now (shhhh!) and while that’s not a lifetime, it’s a fair swathe of adult life. For a very long time, I would wager, there was no café scene at all. Rare and wonderful joints like Casablanca’s – as it was known in my time in Sheffield – (also went by the name of Mr Kyte’s; now The Green Room) gave us hope, but for the most part, coffee and conversation took place in terraced houses, bars and greasy spoons. The super-duper Showroom, of course, has held its own for 15-20 years now as a home for all things artistic and a place for the countercultural to meet. A honorary mention must also go to Bukowski’s cafe/wine bar which existed decadently and dangerously for a flash in the early 2000s, when it felt that Sheffield was really having a Bacchanalian/Berlin moment (cf Absynthesis in the Drums).
But while I’m tempted to get all misty-eyed about those rollicking film/art/spoken word times of the mid-noughties, I’ve got a serious point to make here. I do believe Sheffield’s got a new spring in its step, a South Yorkshire swagger, that shows its growing self-belief. We have serious creative, craft, entrepreneurial and food communities here now who are taking risks, getting noticed, going places. Creatives, thinkers and doers need places to meet and talk. That’s what cafés have traditionally been about, for centuries. A space for socialising, conversation, community. There’s finally an air of transformation about our city, as neighbourhoods start to sprout the cafes (and shops) that locals want in places like Heeley/Meersbrook, Abbeydale/London Road (see ohgosh’s ace map) and Sharrow Vale. Even though there’s still argy-bargy aplenty about the future of the city centre, The Moor development’s taking shape and interesting things are happening again on Division Street (parts are still a battleground).
My point is, Sheffield’s evolved culturally over the past few years, no doubt about it. It’s in part due to the efforts of the City of Culture bid, that was a game-raiser, and it’s also down to a collective of creative thinkers and doers who get their hands dirty doing things, connecting people, making a living and supporting one another. We have food bloggers like Feast and Glory who do excellent work promoting the city’s food scene and pioneers like Our Favourite Places who celebrate our culture tirelessly. *Obviously* the Glastonbury Arctics-generated 0114 hashtag had a hand in things as well. And the Jessica Ennis afterglow. The fact is, for the first time, it feels like Sheffield no longer Manchester or Leeds’ poor relation, and the café society that’s emerging is a big, traffic-stopping neon sign that proves it.
Here are my favourite new cafés round and about:
Recently relocated from Sharrow Vale to bigger premises smack bang in the middle of Nether Edge, Homemade by Thelma’s is my idea of the perfect café. Three veggie salads a day to die for, hearty US and Mediterranean-style sandwiches, and divine cake. Think Ottolenghi meets Nigella: what a heady mix. Bistro nights will be starting up soon too, and packed they will rightly be.
A stylish, post-industrial coffee bar in the heart of the CIQ, with New Zealand creds and seriously cool coffee. The service is splendid, the crockery has vintage touches, and the coffee is probably the best in the city. Food is imaginative, brunchy and artesan. Arrive early. It gets busy. What can I say? It’s top-class.
Occupying the pleasing corner spot between Abbeydale and Chipping House Road, Amici & Bici is the Sheffield outpost of the growing trend of bike cafés sweeping the nation. Superb coffee, doorstep sandwiches, comfort food in mid-century modern-inspired surroundings. Plenty of high chairs too, which is handy if you have small kids. I like it. This corner of Abbeydale should definitely be able to support Amici and Bragazzi’s.
A Turkish/Mediterranean café that’s brought decent coffee, wifi and falafel to a long-starved Meersbrook massive. The coffee’s strong (can you handle it?), the service’s zippy and the food is Turkish with a French twist. Ideal for family lunches or solo missions with laptop/time out alike.
Not strictly new, but Café Ceres opened new premises on Hunter’s Bar roundabout last year. It gets a special mention in my café list because their all-day veggie breakfast is awesome, the aesthetic is all gingham and teacups, plus they have a capacious upstairs, which is dead handy given just how thriving Sheffield’s cafe society can be of a time-pressed lunchtime.
One last plea to independent coffeehouses across the city and further afield: don’t forget the baby-changing facilities! Many of your daytime customers are going to be parents on leave, after all.
And remember: anytime is coffeetime…