On first glance the King William IV seems like the sort of old-fashioned Victorian corner boozer that would fit neatly into a Patrick Hamilton novel. Then you look again and see the smart splash of damson pink wrapped around its lower half upon which is written in a wavy, italicised script, “Micro Ales from near and far”. I had been told it was “well worth a visit” and these words suggested that my informant seemed to be spot on.
Push through the door and you immediately clock the pub’s warm and friendly ambience. The usual pub bric-a-brac hangs on the wall, including a veritable crowd of pewter mugs plus a sword and a musket (there’s also a small alcove filled, for some obscure reason, with lava lamps). But most rare – and pleasing – is the sight of ceramic hand-pump handles engraved with hunting signs.
“Take your time,” I’m reassured by the friendly barman at the island bar as I scan the selection of eight real ales. Do I want mild, bitter or something stronger? I’m not the dithering type but it’s a darn tough choice. Eventually, I plump for Kelham Island’s Pale Rider, a former Champion Beer of Great Britain.
This is a sparkling golden ale whose bitter notes are balanced by a swish of Muscat orange on the palate. Given that it’s made in Sheffield, I wonder if it counts as “near” or “far” (but at 5.2% it’s definitely “something stronger”). As my pint is pulled, I scrutinise the food choices. The King Billy offers simple sustaining pub fare: a selection of cob rolls commodiously filled with beef, ham or cheese. There are also proper pork scratchings; the sort to make your arteries squeal but which really do cosy up to a good pint to create a match made in heaven.
Over from the back bar, there’s a sudden blast of sound; guitars and fiddles clearly being tuned. “It’s the King Billy sessions,” I’m told by a friendly cove as I stand at the bar glass paused halfway to my lips. “They’re on every second Thursday of the month and they’ve got Captain Earthquake here tonight.”
Geophysical stress aside, the sound of the musicians (and no doubt Captain Earthquake) adds to the buzz. And before you could say “mine’s another”, the pub is filled with the sound of voices telling jokes and tall tales, rollicking folk tunes with an accordion leading the way plus the odd discord of bar stools emitting a nails-down-blackboard screech as their owners move them about like chess pieces on the tiled floors.
I meanwhile continue to enjoy the Pale Rider, as the King William IV’s convivial melange of voices and music wraps itself around me like a blanket. “Time for another,” says a voice next to me. I couldn’t agree more and raise a grateful toast to my clued-in informant.