Putting the graft in: Taking a look at Kelham Island’s newest courtyard bar
The story of Kelham Island’s latest bar is a tale of two sets of siblings and begins in post-war, 1950s Sheffield when our first set of brothers, Jim and Tom McAnearney, escaped tough beginnings in Dundee by journeying south to become professional footballers for Sheffield Wednesday FC.
Following a successful playing career, which included banging in ten goals for the Owls, younger brother Jim went on to manage the Millers and during this period in the early-70s he also opened Jim McAnearney (Machine Tools) Ltd in Neepsend.
The Burton Road unit stayed in the family long after Jim’s retirement, with his son Paul taking on the business and continuing its legacy with PJ McAnearney, the name of which can still be seen on the front of the building to this day.
As the area’s industry has declined though, the current generation of McAnearneys saw potential for a different kind of family-run businesses, one that capitalised on the rise in popularity of Kelham Island (and its ever-increasing encroachment on Neepsend) as a destination for a night out.
Spotting this trend and heeding their dad’s advice not to follow in his footsteps, brothers Brad, who works as a drug counsellor for teenagers, and Ash, a PhD student and former teacher, set to work, with the help of their mum, to transform the outdoor space next door to their dad’s workshop into an all-new courtyard bar.
“This building has been in our family since the 70s,” explains Brad, “and we’ve seen this area change from what it was years ago, with drug dealers, drug users, prostitution, to what it is now with cool bars, breweries and places to eat.”
“We wanted to be a part of that change as the area’s had so much of an impact on us. We didn’t want to leave. We’re a family-run venue, and we’ve put a lot of work in ourselves to create somewhere that we would like to drink.”
Ash added: “When we started, there was never any talk of getting contractors involved, we’ve done as much as we could ourselves. Hence the name Grafters.”
At the beginning of September, on a Peddler Market weekend, after lots of hard work and their fair share of family disagreements (often resolved by rock, paper, scissors) they finally opened Grafters to the public for the very first time.
Brad said: “I think we underestimated the volume of people that we’d be getting through the door, which is always nice.
“It’s not a huge space. But we wanted it to feel comfortable if there’s only ten people in but equally comfortable if there’s 80. We wanted it to feel rustic, with a nod to the area, and I like the fact it feels more like a garden than a beer garden.”
Ash added: “A lot of people have said it’s like a rooftop bar without the rooftop, and when you’re behind the other side of the gate, it’s like your own little secret nook.”
Beer drinkers won’t be disappointed either, as while the bar may be small, with just three cask and two keg, it’s definitely mighty, offering a broad selection of cans and bottles, as well as premium spirits.
“We knew we wanted to do craft and draught,” says Ash. “There’s so much real ale in the area we’d be silly not to.”
Brad added: “We want to have premium as standard. We’re in Sheffield, which we consider to be the brewing capital of England, so we’ve got Abbeydale on at the minute, but we’ll be going to Neepsend, Sheffield Brewery, Kelham Island Brewery, Triple Point, Lost Industry, Bradfield and Saint Mars, and more in the future.”
As well as the local beers, they also plan to have beers from beyond the Sheffield boundaries and, slightly contentiously, currently have a pilsner on from Kirkstall Brewery, which is just down the road from where Ash lives in Leeds and was of course decided by the traditional rock, paper, scissors method.
They also serve premium lagers (including bottles of Alhambra, which is mainly to please their dad!) and beers from abroad, with Brad harbouring ambitious plans to have beers from every country that has a brewery.
As the nights are beginning to draw in, it may seem a strange time to open a bar that is predominantly an outside space, but their outside heaters make sure you’ll stay nice and toasty through those winter months (they’re either off or on, so you don’t have to take it in turns to knock it back into life) and the brothers also plan to add retractable awnings in the future.
Brad said: “We’ve opened a summertime venue going into winter, and that’s our biggest challenge at the moment. We wanted to open in April this year but that wasn’t to be, but the response, in the short time we’ve been open so far, has all been really positive.
“I think one of the challenges is that as a family we do get on, we all love each other, but that can be stressful at times. But so far so good. I think I’ve ended up down here every day!”
How to enter the bar is not immediately obvious (at least it wasn’t to your writer), so to find them, look out for the festoon lighting as you walk down Burton Road past Peddler, and head back up Percy Street to find the hidden entrance.
The bar opens from Thursday to Sunday every week and you’ll find Ash working behind the bar every night, with the occasional help of Brad. For more info, head over to Grafters socials.