It gets a terrible rap. Just terrible. People seem fixated on Birmingham as it was circa 1976, with the Bullring all concrete and crap, and the rest of the city in thrall to a modernist brutalism. Handsworth happened. Birmingham just never seemed like a place you wanted to go. Somehow, while Manchester went through an upsurge in the ’90s, and Liverpool made it big thanks to some timely regeneration around the docks, Brum has never had quite the same cache or quite the same urban glamour – despite being the UK’s second city.
The Specials - Enjoy Yourself
Left For Dead
Nosh & Quaff
Well, we’re happy to report that such an outmoded view is total crap nowadays. Birmingham is rather lovely, with a brilliant spread of bars and restaurants to indulge in, as well as loads of decent shops and offbeat, quirky places to explore. Yes, the Bullring is still the centre of the city, but it’s spacious and bright and it’s actually a place you might want to go to do some shopping.
Once home to Duran Duran and UB40, the city has shaken off its gritty rep and has started doing up the city centre, making sure that on a Saturday night, the city’s glamour kids are out in their numbers, taking advantage of plethora of clubs and bars open till dawn.
Not only that but Birmingham has Aston Villa, which is probably one of the nicest football clubs in the country, where they play so-so football (but do a great balti pie). All in all, a weekend destination you’d never think of. But you should.
Saturday night’s alright for… playing pinball at Tilt. Home to loads of vintage pinball machines, as well as loads of craft ales, this tiny hole in the wall tucked down an alleyway was a dream find as we started our wanderings. In fact, it ruined our plans, because it started to rain and we had to play just… one… more… game of pinball on the KISS machine.
The Old Crown
It rained a lot while we were in Birmingham, which meant we had to keep popping into pubs to get out of the wet. The Old Crown was one of the nicest places we popped in to. Timber beams (it’s Brum’s oldest pub, apparently), proper old-fashioned inside, great selection of beers and ciders and tasty food, too. Plus it’s close to The Custard Factory – handy.
Normally this place is SO not our cuppa. But we’d wandered through the MailBox and wanted a drink, and this place has a massive bar where we sat and watched well-dressed couples parade through to the restaurant on ‘date night’. We drank martinis and congratulated ourselves on not being on ‘date night’. Food (tapas) looked good, though.
The Bartons Arms
So… technically this is a pub. But it’s a pub that’s A: amazing-looking (check out the Victorian panelling, tiles and the stained glass windows); and B: serves up the most delicious Thai food in a hurry. The place is always heaving on match day – it’s 15 minutes on foot to Villa Park from here – but somehow the waitresses are always smiling, no matter how many blokes in claret and blue they have to serve. Their mussaman curry is the best. Even if you’re not going to a match, go here.
Harper & Lewis
This was a bit of a find in the Bullring. It’s a rather cool vintage store with a great selection of retro clobber and new stuff (if you don’t like the smell of old high-school sweatshirts). Nice staff too, and the perfect place to browse through the racks of Americana.
Left For Dead
Great selection of vinyl in The Custard Factory, ranging from golden oldies up to present day. Plus some cool prints and magazines, too.
What we did:
Walked a lot in the rain. Got wet. Explored The Custard Factory and the backstreets of Brum. Headed into the Bullring and sated our need for retail therapy. Walked over to the MailBox and admired its pretensions. Should have booked a tour round the National Trust’s Back-To-Backs (but weren’t that organised).
The Specials - Enjoy Yourself
Love this version of the Guy Lombardo classic; I defy anyone to hear this and not be instantly up on their feet and dancing (or maybe that was just me after a couple of ciders).
What we bought:
Born Bitchin’ sweatshirt from Monday Mo Co; come on, who could refuse such a thing? Plus a Deus Ex Machina T-shirt from the same place. Plenty of cool clobber on display and my wages were burning a hole in my pocket.
Where we stayed:
House Of The Dead / Crazy golf?:
No… but the vintage pinball in Tilt was a suitable alternative. I just wish I was better at pinball. I’m shit.