The Fat Cat is a Sheffield legend: http://www.thefatcat.co.uk/86index.htm. It’s not the only award-winning real-ale pub in the city – there’s another round the corner on the next street – but it was the first, and it has a special place in the affections of beer-drinkers. It welcomes anyone who enjoys civilised traditional conviviality and home-cooked food within easy access of public transport – so you don’t have to drive home (though there’s ample car-parking if you do).
There was a Kelham Tavern on the site by the 1830s. After the street was named Alma Street to commemorate the Crimean battle of 1854, the pub was renamed the Alma Hotel.
The exact date of the present building is unclear: it’s of straightforward artisan construction, with a traditional bar inside. Though it has been extended, the only significant architectural alteration is the blocking of the original corner entrance door.
For many years it was crowded by surrounding housing and the noise and dirt of heavy industry. Now it’s much quieter.
The saving of the Alma Hotel was Stones’ Brewery’s failure to implement 1952 planning permission to extend the building, doubling the number of bedrooms to eight and creating an open-plan interior.
Because the building survived intact while the local community contracted, it was an ideal location for Dave Wickett and Bruce Bentley’s scheme to reintroduce traditional beers to Sheffield. They gave the building its current name when they opened in 1981 serving beers from independent breweries. The first pint was pulled by the much-loved Sheffield football legend, Derek Dooley.
Their policy has proved durable and enormously successful: good beer well served, home-cooked food ranging from carnivore to vegan, no piped music or gaming machines. (There is a Monday quiz-night, when for lack of a microphone Stephen the quizmaster flits between rooms shouting the questions and answers.)
Dave Wickett became sole owner in 1989 and began brewing beer behind the pub the following year. Within ten years he built the Kelham Island Brewery next door, and now you can find his beer in real-ale pubs across the country, and buy bottles in Waitrose.
Dave Wickett died, aged 64, on May 16th 2012: http://www.thestar.co.uk/community/real-ale-legend-who-revitalised-city-dies-64-1-4554900. The Fat Cat is a memorial to a man who added a great deal to the sum of human happiness.