The BarLifeUK bartender interview tour arrives at the home of steel and snooker, as Ethan Fellowes tells us What’s Happening In Sheffield.
For many the city of Sheffield may call to mind snooker, or steel. For me, it is cheese, as I had the best cheese toastie of my life at Public Bar after judging a Hayman’s Gin competition heat there a few years ago. Sadly, that was an in-and-out visit and I didn’t get to explore the bar scene, so in the latest instalment of our bartender interview tour of the UK, I speak to Ethan Fellowes, of Cubana, about what’s happening in Sheffield.
BLUK: Ethan, tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been in the industry and where have you worked?
EF: I’ve only ever worked in two places, funnily enough. I started off in 2015 or 2016, I basically needed some part time money so I went into the bar life. I was at Uni and realised I preferred earning money and having fun to owing money and hating myself, so I started at Revolución de Cuba. I did well there and moved up to management pretty quickly, so I’ve been supervising or managing since I was nineteen. And then the dreaded Covid came and I got the opportunity to work at Cubana. So I’ve only worked at two places, but I’ve been here for three years and I was there for four and a half or five… There aren’t a hell of a lot of bars in Sheffield and I’ve managed to work in the two Cuban-themed ones.
BLUK: Were you furloughed during Covid or did you do other work?
EF: I was furloughed, then after we went back I got the offer from Cubana, and I was delaying it because I wasn’t sure what was happening with lockdown. Then sadly, when they announced the new lockdown it was two days after I moved jobs so I got kicked off the furlough from Rev’s so I had to do a bit of call centre work, which was pretty soul-destroying. I thought we get talked to like shit over the bar…
BLUK: So for someone who hasn’t been to Sheffield, what is the city like? How big is it, how easy is it to get around?
EF: What kept me when I moved here is, it has that title of ‘world’s biggest village’, and that’s definitely not wrong. There’s not high-rises everywhere, there’s not a built up city centre like you get in Leeds, Liverpool, and Manchester. It’s got that big village feel, you see the same faces. You get to know people, especially the bar scene, which is really tight knit here. It’s more spread around, we’ve got our city centre bars on West Street, and then you’ve got Ecclesall Road where you get a lot of cocktail bars and eateries, then there’s Kelham Island which is up-and-coming and a bit more industrial, with independent bars. It’s quite spread out, but no-where is more than twenty minutes away from anywhere else. Where we are based, Cubana, we’ve got like a little sub-section of town that has got about four or five bars and restaurants, it’s an old school and we are based in a square which was the school playground.
BLUK: If a bunch of out-of-town bartenders where coming to Sheffield for a visit, where would you take them?
EF: Obviously I work here, but I would genuinely end the night at Cubana, that’s where I know we would end up because we are open until two. We’ve got a huge rum selection, about 305 to 320 rums. If you come in daytime on Saturday, we’ve got dancers and salsa, but if you come in later at night, it’s quite dark and the bartenders are dancing on the bar, so I’d always end the night there. We’d probably stop at the bar next door too, Bamboo Door. It’s a cracking little tiki bar, one of the bartenders there, Connor, just won a national Chairman’s competition. We’d probably start off at Caffè Tucci which is fairly new, but it’s a proper Neapolitan place, incredible coffee and home-made Italian breads and panini. There’s a cracking Italian restaurant called Domo down in Kelham Island too. I’m still a sucker for dusty old man pubs, I grew up in Liverpool and those are the pubs my dad used to take me to. So I love going to a little Irish bar called The Grapes, best pint of Guinness I’ve ever had outside of Dublin. And back to cocktails there’s Public which is cocktail-cocktail, which has got a lot of national recognition, and Shakespeare’s as well. That’s where I always go drinking.
BLUK: What post-beers and cocktails eating joints do you recommend?
EF: Me and my friend recently booked a Saturday off because we were supposed to go on holiday. It fell through but we kept the day off and did a taco tour of the city, we hit six of seven taco joints. We started at the top of Abbeydale Road and worked our way down. Barrow Boy’s food is top notch, and we finished at Piña which is a little tequila and mezcal place, but they do incredible tacos as well.
BLUK: The fictional bartenders who are showing a good time end up at Cuban. Which rum would you want them to taste, and what cocktail are you making them?
EF: Obviously not a lot of people try it because of the price, and I’ve yet to try it because I think the owner would sack me if I got caught, but I’d say Havana 1519. We always like to show it because I don’t believe it’s a bottle people will see anywhere else. So that’s our little baby, it’s got its own section on the backbar. But what I always end up going back to, especially if I’m trying to introduce people to rum, is El Dorado 12. It’s the rum that made me fall in love with it, it’s the reason I’m working somewhere like this. As for the cocktail, we’ve got a brand new menu coming out in two weeks, so off that new one, I’m a sucker for old school, so I’d say the Rum Manhattan with the Diplo Seleccion De Familia which is really nice, a little bit sweeter that some bartenders might pour. Or, and it’s an easy answer, I would say our Mojito, because we make it with Havana Club Especial so it’s almost a Dirty Mojito, we make it with home-made demerara syrup. It’s a staple at this bar, which has been open for 22 years, it’s like an immoveable object here.
BLUK: Sheffield is well known for being the home of the Snooker World Championship, held at the Crucible Theatre. Do you get the players dropping in for a drink?
EF: We don’t get a lot of the players in, it’s a little bit of a walk and I think they would get harangued on the way. But, Eddie Izzard came in a lot recently while she was running for mayor, she loved it here. We also get the basket ball team in quite a lot, and Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire and a lot of the footy players with their caps pulled right down, but the snooker players tend to stay up where the Crucible.
BLUK: I judged a Hayman’s Gin competition heat in Sheffield before the pandemic, and it got a really good turnout. Do you think more brands should do comps in Sheffield?
EF: I think so, yes. It’s got a different vibe than any other city, it’s not intimidating, it’s a genuinely nice place, I wouldn’t have stayed here otherwise. I want to start banging the drum about Sheffield a bit more, we’ve got a hell of a lot to offer. And here at Cubana we’ve got loads of room, three stations, a ton of rum, and a terrace that catches the sun. So come down and do the competitions here.
BLUK: Is there anything you would like to say about Sheffield that I haven’t asked a question about?
EF: Just start coming here more, we’re so central. Not far from Leeds, not far from Liverpool. We’re 40 minutes away from Manchester, costs 6 quid on the train. Come down here and have a great night out and see what we’ve got to offer. We’re very much a city still in development, and I’m excited to see what it looks like in ten years time.
If you work in a town, city, or neighborhood that doesn’t get enough coverage would like to do a ‘What’s Happening In…?’ interview, send us an email: email@example.com