Living in Worcester, it’s a pretty easy commute to Brum. I’ve lived in The Jewellery Quarter, the worst parts of Wolverhampton & West Bromwich, and was born and raised in Harborne, so I know the pros and cons of big city living. I must admit, it is nice to have the best of both worlds these days, historic medieval city with scenic river and hills, and the fast paced forever changing face of the UK’s second largest city.
However, the week before Christmas I had a few things I needed to do in Brum, some of which involved drinking, so no car option, and with train strikes affecting my commute, I decided on a two day stay over to enjoy the delights of Brum. I caught my train into the city centre, and took the tram into St Paul’s Square, dropped my bag off, freshened up and headed out.
My first port of call was 1000 Trades, who came on as clients with Grapevine in their first year of opening. I attended the launch back in 2016 and had my £130 new shirt christened by a seagull whilst stood outside. This was obviously a good omen for John and team as they are still serving me cider six years later. The atmosphere was busy, cosy, and the team were bathing in the success of their recent pop-up collab with MasterChef Professionals winner Daniel Lee. There was a real buzz about the place, no.. not the beehive on the top terrace… Pan Asian street food kool kids Canoodle had been lined up as the next food pop-up. The team opened in 1000 Trades kitchen start of Jan 23 and are in residence until 18th Feb – go check em out they’re ace! …1000 Trades, home to Jinxy the artist.
16 Frederick St, Birmingham B1 3HE
Bar + Block
My next stop was Bar + Block who had invited me and a guest to dine and review the Christmas Menu. Having eaten here before in 2016, I was interested to see if the same quality and customer service was there, or would I be disappointed?
To begin, we were greeted by friendly staff who seated us right away. There were Christmas parties and large groups getting slowly sozzled, but it offered a festive atmosphere and quite chilled considering the time of day/evening.
We both chose a main each off the festive menu, my guest chose the Sirloin Wellington, chargrilled 8oz sirloin It looked fab and I am told tasted as good as it looked.
I was tempted by the Steak Experience. 4oz fillet, 4oz sirloin and 4oz rump, served with beer-battered onion rings, beef dripping triple-cooked chunky chips and peppercorn sauce.
Steak, is not something I order often, simply because I have been let down in the past. I can tell you that the fillet, and sirloin, were possibly the best I have had in Birmingham, second only to Anderson’s when that was open, on a par with Gaucho. The tenderness and succulent meat, cooked medium rare, could not have been better. Easy to slice, almost melted in my mouth and brilliant value for money. Bar + Bloc really do thrive off consistency and would highly recommend.
For desert, I could not resist the Sticky Toffee Pudding with custard, and my, was it good! Bar + Block have reminded me that you don’t need to spend a fortune in the city centre to get good fayre, and to me, consistency counts for everything.
3-6 Waterloo St, Birmingham, B2 5PG
The Church Inn, Hockley
After allowing our food to go down, and another vino, we said our goodbyes and I traipsed over to The Church Inn, Hockley which I had been meaning to check out since new management took over in 2022.
The Church is a classic Victorian corner public house, full of wonderful features, in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter. Upon entering, the cosy front bar will be your first port of call. A wide offering of beer, including cask ale from Everards of Leicestershire, wine and cocktails will have something for everyone. The pub menu is served seven days a week and a quick snoop out back, I could see the restaurant was busy (the kitchen is headed up by Josh Hall and his Sous Chef Hayden Price formerly of The Wilderness and Opheem respectively).
After being in the city centre, I needed somewhere out the way and chilled, and this was the perfect choice. I clocked Jack Spicer Adam’s in the corner with friends, always a good sign if Jack is in your gaff, he’s Brum’s best food photographer and is the man on the scene (with a new haircut – no longer 60s psyc band The Byrds style).
It was so beautiful, to sit there, with dimmed lights, a cool gathering of people wandering in and out, and fab tunes on the playlist, such as Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Tell Me When, The Specials – Friday Night and The Cure – Pictures Of You. The Mulled Cider was… frick’n ace! So much so I sank more than I should and didn’t feel the need to wander off anywhere else. After a chat with Ed the landlord, I picked up my weary bones, and with a big cheery red face embarked on the short journey back to the hotel.
2 Great Hampton Street, Hockley, B18 6AQ.
My accommodation of choice was Bloc Hotel in the Jewellery Quarter. Bloc have been clients with Grapevine since 2015 and of the many times I have stayed, it has always been an enjoyable experience. The hotel itself is rather beautiful and modern, stylish brick exterior and boutique style rooms inside. The cleanliness is always second to none, soundproofed rooms and an impressive Smart Room Control via your phone. This allows guests to unlock the room, customise the temperature, adjust the lights, blinds and TV. It was a pleasure to get into the large comfy bed after a night on the tiles, and the drench shower in the morning was the perfect way to wake up! Bloc is so well positioned to enjoy all of the Jewellery Quarter, with great on-street paid parking in the day and free in the evening, and a hop skip n’ jump into town on foot or by tram/train.
77 Caroline St, Birmingham B3 1UG
The Borrow Shop
After a sneaky lie in, I collected my thoughts and things, and strolled fifty metres to The Borrow Shop where I ordered my first, and only, coffee of the day. The Borrow Shop sells itself as a Library of things, Vegan coffee house and shop for Eco-friendly gifts & homewares. I was served by owner Sophie, who offered interesting conversation. The candles and art prints looked sweet and the coffee was superb, so I promised to return. It’s well worth popping in, a nice mix of people make this place, and anyone staying in Bloc, will be able to utilise this cool little joint!
Unit E, 15 Caroline St, Birmingham B3 1TR
As I was now set up for the morning, I decided to have a little mooch around the Jewellery Quarter. First port of call was Branston Street to photograph the car park which once housed dance music superclub Wobble (at The Venue). The building, sadly long since demolished, holds many happy memories for clubbers of the 90s. We would weave between Wobble, Fun at The Steering Wheel, Moneypenny’s and Tin Tins to dance wildly – without mobile phones in the air, I should add. I make music myself, and was fully immersed in the house music scene. I befriended Wobble cohorts Phil Gifford and Si Long who were interested in signing me to their label, House Of Naughty. We worked in the Taxi Rank studios above The Venue, to create a three track EP which was pressed to vinyl but never released. I dug the vinyl out for this article and have included it below. Great days, which also saw me offered time working with Tony Devit in his studio on a different track, and sitting in the offices of Network Records, Bostin and Global Grooves playing my house demos to whoever would sit and listen (Adam from Global Grooves & Fun later went on to set up The Plough Harborne who have been clients and friends since 2016). I even met a love interest at Wobble, Bonita, and had a few mad adventures. The Jewellery Quarter was never quite the same after Wobble left, the good news is.. Phil Gifford still runs Wobble nights around the UK and Si Long runs Home Bass from a rave van, links below.
Saint Paul’s House
Heading back towards town, I randomly bumped into Stuart Robinson, a mate whom I first met in The Lord Clifden (I miss Graham’s UAB presence in the city) via another DJ mate Rob J. He was waiting for his haircut and suggested we nip into Saint Paul’s House for a quick mid morning pint and catch up, which we did, and nice it was too!
I appreciate what the owners have done with Saint Paul’s House, stunning from the outside, and in, it offers something a little more high end without being pretentious. Ideal for a pint of Guinness and chin-wag, or a night of fancy cocktails all dolled up, and a popular, ever-changing, menu. Again, consistency here is the key to their success and a vast improvement on the old Rope Works pub. I have also stayed above in the boutique hotel some years ago, so they do have the complete package. Anyway, we spoke mostly about music, as ever, and I will post a link to a recent release Stu and Rob (and Richard Hall) were involved with to continue from the Wobble mention (purchase here). Stu tells me they are about to release a new track on vinyl for 2023 so keep an eye out for Wrekin Havoc.
15-20 St Paul’s Square, Birmingham B3 1QU
The Electric Cinema
Stu and I said our goodbye and I made a mad dash to The Electric Cinema to get some snaps for their new listing on Grapevine. If you didn’t know, The Electric Cinema in Birmingham is the oldest working cinema in the UK.
With two digital screens, showing a mixture of the latest quality mainstream, independent, foreign and classic films, comfy sofas, snacks and a licenced bar. The Electric Cinema opened on the 27th of December 1909. It was Birmingham’s first cinema. Unfortunately its doors closed in March 2020 because of Covid-19.
However, new owner Kevin Markwick, who also owns the 104-year-old award-winning Uckfield Picture House cinema in East Sussexand re-opened The Electric along with his daughter Katie in 2021.. the legacy of The Electric lives on and it was a priviledge to have access to so much we rarely see when watching a movie, the projector was a highlight.
I’d highly recommend becoming a paid member to enjoy year round benefits including complimentary film tickets, no booking fee, exclusive member events, discounts as I think they have exciting plans moving forward.
47-49 Station Street, Birmingham B5 4DY
A dash to Digbeth was my next endeavour, to meet Robb from homeless charity SIFA Fireside. I have written a few articles to highlight the issues surrounding homelessness in Brum over the years, making sure I emailed all the top politicians after each piece, the only reply I ever had was from Caroline Lucas of the Green Party. Anyway, I have offered SIFA free advertising on Grapevine as a way of promoting their good work.
Each and every one of us could be confronted by poverty, depression or addiction and could soon find ourselves vulnerable and searching for long-standing, sustainable routes out of homelessness. In Birmingham, many adults are homeless or vulnerably housed with the true figures often unknown due to the hidden homelessness that’s associated with sofa surfing, modern slavery and individuals not making themselves known.
SIFA Fireside supports clients in their recovery from the effects of homelessness. From essential services such as the Adult Support Hub, Tenancy Support Services and the essential needs met through the Drop-in Centre, the range of services exist not to ‘throw money at the issues’ but to stand by people while they rebuild their lives with safety and dignity.
Robb’s invite was a brilliant opportunity to spend an hour on their front-line of support. Whilst it would not be right to tell some of the stories I witnessed and heard, it is safe to say these guys are sincere, they care about the people they support and do not have an easy job at times – though I can see the rewards and felt an overwhelming sense of positivity whilst there.
Check our their website and feel free to donate, it will not go to waste. Cheers Robb x
48-52 Allcock Street, Birmingham B9 4DY
Food was very much in need at this point, so a chance to review Crazy Pedro’s Pizza in The Custard Factory nearby was a welcomed break. Crazy Pedro’s is a Manchester based Pizza brand specialising in late night party pizza vibes. As I sat there, I could not help reminisce again, about the many DJs and musicians I was lucky enough to see at the Medicine Bar. Brum lost an institution when the Medicine Bar closed, but kudos to Crazy Pedro’s for re-imagining this wicked space and bringing their whacky tasty filled pizzas to the second city. The staff are so friendly and if you sit up top, you can look out towards the city centre or inward into the Custard Factory itself. A great date night spot or somewhere to have a stress free time with mates until 3am seven days a week..
I chose the Fried Chicken & Waffle (pictured), which was blessed with fried chicken, smoked bacon, maple syrup, and broken pieces of waffle – sweet and delicious!
Custard Factory, Deritend, Birmingham B9 4AA
Crazy Pedro’s was loved and left, and, after finding The Ruin and Spotted Dog not yet open, The Anchor on Bradford Street was calling.. I do love The Anchor, it’s one of the city’s oldest continuously run pubs and has been taken over some years ago by Julian, who I first met when he worked at The Botanist in the city centre.
A fellow House music lover, host of a few Wobble events, and client of Grapevine for a few years now, I’ve enjoyed many chats with Jools before and this was no exception. The Anchor beer garden is such a peaceful oasis from the dirty gritty streets of Digbeth and a perfect spot to enjoy my mulled wine. Good conversation, a pool table, fine drinks, beer garden and cool music policy with three rooms make this pub a cosy little bolt hole when you’re heading back and forth to Deritend.
308 Bradford St, Birmingham B5 6ET
I needed catch up on some work, so I meandered my way up through Digbeth, The Bullring and packed Christmas Markets to the beautiful stylish shared office space I use within Alpha Tower.
Alpha Works is a fantastic set-up, spread over three floors, ideal for co-working, hot-desking and for small to medium size companies there are dedicated offices. Workers can utilise quiet rooms, communal working spaces with stunning views over the city (see below). I feel so lucky to be able to use this space and it provides a safe haven from the madding city below, accessible 24/7. I think it probably kept me sane during the pandemic lock-downs. The staff are so friendly and we’ve also hosted Sunset DJ sessions for Grapevine clients and Alpha Workrs. A quick coffee and catch up with Erin the office manager was a nice way to reset my mindset before heading back out into the city.
Alpha Tower, Suffolk Street Queensway, Birmingham B1 1TT
Hockley Social Club
My final stop in Brum was Hockley Social Club to see old pals Damian and Pritt who were Djing. Hockley Social is set within a former 10,000 square foot printing factory. It is effectively Digbeth Dining Club in a larger covered area with more scope to entertain and build a solid scene of street food, DJs and live music. I’ve always had a soft spot for DDC and proud to have had them on as clients with Grapevine since 2018.
A relaxed dining food hall, bar, event space coffee shop, late-night hangout and record store that’s welcome to anyone and everyone four days a week. There’s live music every Friday, classical music with the CBSO, monthly comedy nights, and a Sunday morning lifestyle market. With three permanent kitchens in situ, plus a rotating monthly resident, HSC have one of the most exciting and diverse offerings in the Midlands under one roof; you can even swing by and grab a takeaway.
It was good to see D and Pritt spinning their vinyl to an appreciative audience, a reminder that Brum really does have some talented cool knowledgeable people propping up this small scene. Damian has been enlightening me with records since the 1990s, and DJ’d with our Barefoot in the Head night since 2000, later becoming a resident at some of our clients such as Bourne & Co and The Plough.
Before I left, I had a quick mooch around Cafe Artum record shop, and boy are there some titles here. It’s a mini scene all under one roof and so easy to get to from St Paul’s tram stop. Just a fab way to end my 48 hours in Birmingham before setting back by tram, and train, to Worcester. And not a single ounce of interest to attend the Christmas markets which seem to dominate the city centre around this time each year – there is so much more to Brum, you just have to take the time to find it.
60 Hampton St, Birmingham B19 3LU
Words by Nick Byng for Grapevine Birmingham