Birmingham has a growing selection of cool hang outs and bars. But what makes a bar “cool” and stand out above the rest.
It’s subjective of course, but a few pointers may include, free entry, alternative eclectic vibes, best in its own field, stylish, quirky, good music policy i.e. non commercial or cheesy, friendly and often independent or run by people with a passion for what they do, not just to make money.
Here’s our take on the best bars in Birmingham:
The Hare & Hounds
The Hare & Hounds is run by one of the city’s most eminent musos, Adam Regan. This stunning Victorian boozer in Kings Heath, has a traditional front bar, trendy back bar, and two function rooms upstairs with great sound-systems which are host to a wide variety of DJs and bands playing every musical genre under the sun. It is also home to Adam’s own Leftfoot nights, bringing into Brum the likes of Norman Jay, Giles Peterson and the world’s newest underground electronic outfits.
1000 Trades is a cosy little bar which exists inside a beautiful old Victorian workshop, with exposed brick walls, a log fire, and function room upstairs. Gaffer John, has a keen ear for a good tune and hosts regular weekend DJ nights on a permanent vinyl/CD setup from indie, to acid jazz, house and balearic vibes.. week nights are cool playlists of the same ilk and live contemporary jazz takes place weekends. Look out for good pal Ollie Lloyd’s Yardbird sessions and our own Barefoot in the Head nights.
Cafe Artum sits on a quiet section of Corporation Street in the city centre. New to the block, this cool little cafe bar hosts some cutting edge electronic DJs and producers not to mention another good mate Roc 1’s Few Good Men events, where you can hear underground hip hop & breaks. More of a day bar or early evening but an important spot for those who take their dance music seriously.
Digbeth Dining Club Venues
So everyone knows Digbeth Dining Club; award winning street food and now home to Spot Light, Cafe Colette and Mama Roux’s. All these venues have music at their heart, with DJs spinning vinyl in all three, and live bands in Mama Roux’s. The music policy is varied from reggae to house, baearic to acid, hip hop, funk and more. Look out for Rob J, Morais Vibes, Stu Robinson, Phil Gifford and Ming who grace the decks from time to time keeping things fresh.
40 St Paul’s
40 St Paul’s has gradually built up a second to none reputation based on its stylish presentation of gin. Recently voted the world’s Best Gin Bar 2019, this intimate cool space offers 140 gins which are served in a relaxed and exclusive environment. Booking is highly recommended with table service only.
The Lord Clifden
Champion of the best Sunday Roasts, live sport, Thursday quiz nights, Banksy Art and.. wicked DJs playing Friday and Saturday nights. Mainly in the awesome eclectic beer garden, DJs such as Steve Thornton, Lee McBride, Dean Smith and gaffer Graham Smith, the Clifden has a very London vibe at times, slightly quirky and has brought in some top balearic names over the years to Dean Smith’s Great Outdoors. Check out the jukebox as well mid week!
The Sunflower Lounge
Opened in 2002, The Sunflower Lounge is a bar with live music venue down stairs. Anyone of note with regards to the city’s indie alternative scene will have either worked here, DJ’s, hosted a night, or played in a band downstairs. It is a micro music hub and would not look out of place in NYC or some boho European district. The music policy is eclectic at times and the diversity of up and coming bands from around the UK and touring international bands is a breath of fresh air to the city centre.
The Wolf Bar
Sitting at the bottom of Constitution Hill, and a stone’s throw from Snow Hill station is The Wolf craft ale bar. The Wolf is a Birmingham born and bred family business. This quirky pub exists within an industrial Victorian building, with floor to ceiling windows which look out onto the busy street scene of Constitution Hill. Inside you will find a large premises with ample seating and a nice chilled vibe with a cool colourful decor. There is a growing array of graffiti style artwork, an adornment of pictures, bottles and fascinating pump handles, which all add to the craft ale intrigue. They do some ace pies and a crackin’ Sunday Roast too!
Bourne & Co.
Located on Suffolk Street Queensway (a short hop, skip and jump away from John Bright Street and New Street Station), Bourne and Co. is a stylish cocktail lounge dedicated to serving up some of the best tipples in town. Bourne & Co create a vibe, mixing remnants of the past with a more convivial era. Cool music is at the heart of this enterprise. DJ Damian (UK Vibe) graces the decks every Saturday until late with soul, disco and electro boogie, from old classics to the latest underground beats, bringing a bit of London and NYC vibe to the second city! You might also be tempted the fabulous, delicious and humane food of Bah Ha.. a must try in the city!
The Ruin on Floodgate Street is a sign, that Birmingham is bucking the trend with pubs reopening, rather than closing. This cosy little pub has been a back street boozer since at least 1891 and landlord Rich has brought it back to life. Shabby chic meets 1980s Hip Hop with a touch of Manic The Miner! DJs play eclectic beats weekends with Steve Bignell and Chris Bridge hosting their notorious Dessert Island Disc parties ad hoc.
Opened in early 2018 The Vanguard @ 1000 Trades is the UK’s first Cocktail bar & Meadery. Based in the historical JQ, customers and locals can enjoy 1000 Trades on the ground floor, and the cocktail bar upstairs on level three. Expect urban industrial charm. The Vanguard’s menu features an array of artisan spirits and creative cocktails, focusing on offering the consumer a relaxed and enjoyable cocktail experience. Lo-fi beats play in the background and another bar that wouldn’t be out of place in NYC.
Tilt Bar & Cafe
Tilt is a multi-functional space that explores and celebrates the concepts of Craft Beer, Specialty Coffee and Pinball. Tucked away in the old City Arcade, Tilt bar offers high end Craft Beers on tap and in bottle. Along side the Specialty Coffees, there are 10 different Loose Leaf Teas, 5 different Hot Chocolates, a range of soft drinks, wines and small selection of high quality spirits. Inside is a modern, urban decor with a superb array of new flashing pin ball machines and a cool soundtrack – oh and Robert Plant has been in for a drink too!
Rock and Roll Brewhouse Bar
Rock and Roll Brewhouse Bar is a 100% vegan microbrewery based in the historic Jewellery Quarter with their own bar selling beers brewed on the premises. There are 3 handpulls featuring a regularly changing selection of beers. It’s all in the name but inside you will find an Aladdin’s cave of rock n’ rock memorabilia including weekly playlists on the turntable and occasional live music. Take note, this bar only opens on the weekend but all good things come to those who wait!
The Victoria is well known for its inventive cocktails, and as a music pub. DJs play indie and disco upstairs on the weekend, with regular live music. It’s a good all rounder with promoters bringing in a wide spectrum of musicians and bands, both local and touring. Something that makes this bar unique is the decor – the original Victorian features have been enhanced with a cool modern arty twist!
Ana Rocha Bar & Gallery
If you are looking for opulent decor, and a stylish clientele then Ana Rocha takes some beating. Not only does it offer fab cocktail and tapas, it also doubles as a fascinating antique shop and art gallery. The Spanish owner often DJs playing jazzy disco and house with occasional live jazz acts – truly unique!
The Plough, Harborne, has it all really, old Victorian pub updated with a modern stylish trendy interior, wicked playlist, awesome pizza and food pop ups, a fab wine list and one of the best beer gardens in the Midlands with the funky soulful Barefoot In Head nights which take place during only the warmest of evenings. Owner Adam and team have made this into a choice location for those in the know – constantly evolving!
Island Bar, is a tropical tiki themed cocktail refuge with DJs who play anything from afro-beats to disco, funk and reggae every weekend. Set over two levels, Island is a local favourite and one of the first themed cocktail bars in the city. The party goes on late here so expect a bit of hustle and bustle, the ultimate independent party bar without the same cheesiness of their competition.
Bar based in the arches of Digbeth, serving Craft beer, natural wine & cider, Kilder is the cool sister venue to Original Patty Men. Along with a considered selection of spirits, British led ingredient menu Kilder is an urban oasis which opens Wednesday to Sunday and is worth a mooch when heading into Digbeth.
The Birmingham Whisky Club & Bar
A Bar & Tasting Room For Discerning Drinkers. Specialising in whisky but serving other fine spirits, wine, craft beer & cocktails. All served by knowledgeable, friendly staff in a warm and relaxing environment. Open to the public Wednesday to Saturday. This bar exists within the city’s historic Jewellery Quarter – part of the Museum of the JQ. Stylish decor – owner Amy Seton really knows her stuff!
The Old Crown
There has been a pub in this building on and off since the 14th century, and the present day Old Crown plays host to some great events throughout the year in its large beer garden. Various live bands and DJs entertain from disco to house, not to mention its peaky blinder tours. Serves great pub grub and offers accommodation too!
Still a firm favourite for many, this fab little 1950s style cafe bar is always busy, has great food options, vintage style decor and some great beers on tap and in bottle. The upstairs is a nice little hide-away when things get busy. Food is simple, cooked to order, and with options for all diets. Expect nice little touches such as local free range eggs or cakes that are homemade. Cherry Reds have been supporting local brewers since 2010.
18/81 is the specialist cocktail bar concept from Robert Wood (former head bartender at The Edgbaston Hotel and 40 St Paul’s, and owner-operator of Smultronställe) and Joe Schuppler (founder of Independent Birmingham). A destination hotspot for cocktail lovers in Birmingham’s Southside and across the city. Open from Wednesday to Saturday.
The Actress & Bishop
The Actress & Bishop is the city’s late night muso bar, and a regular haunt for musicians, bands, and weekend revelers. This makes the list because the team work tirelessly to keep live music in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter and.. because they work closely with Carlo from Birmingham Promoters, thus bringing in some ace up and coming alternative indie acts. Look out for Lou Woodley’s knickerbockers.
The Bull’s Head
The Bull’s Head by Davenports, is a listed traditional pub. This beautiful old boozer provides traditional, award-winning cask beers made here in Birmingham, giving Brummie drinkers, and visitors the chance to taste some local history. Combined with new local craft beers, unique cocktails, coffee and a grilled food menu created to compliment the new range of drinks. Live music acts perform in the purpose built Club Room upstairs, watch out for Henry’s Tuesdays blues nights – also famous as The Garrison in Peaky Blinders TV hit series!
Pint Shop Brum is the third in a micro-chain of bars which also exist in Cambridge and Oxford. Inside you are greeted with a stylish modern bar, adorned with cool art, and an emphasis on real and craft ales. There’s also a fantastic selection of Gin, Whisky and Wine. Pint Shop serves a number of hot & ambient snacks & small plates throughout the day – without doubt the best bar snacks in the city centre. Look out for DJ Morais Vibes gracing the decks weekends with his soulful disco vibe!
The Stable Pizza Company
The Stable Birmingham is one of a small family of Stable companies dotted around the UK. It offers a wide selection of high quality, creative pizza and an equally impressive selection of ciders, but it’s also a live music venue on weekends with an array of creative up n’ coming bands and DJs. Watch out for music All-Dayers – Jon the gaffer loves his disco, funk and house and keeps a n eclectic music policy.
If you arrive into Birmingham by coach then The Anchor Digbeth is your nearest watering hole and it’s a great one at that. This exquisite Victorian ale house has been brought into the 21st century by landlord Julian, with an eclectic music policy, anything from reggae to classic rock, and a fab little beer garden out back, great drinks menu and a few nooks n’ crannies to explore.
Others that could have made this list include: The Gentleman & Scholar – a surprisingly cool music playlist and local heritage on walls, Rose Villa Tavern – gorgeous Victorian features with a modern twist, Sun On The Hill – a cool indie music policy, Spotted Dog – live contemporary music, Flapper & Firkin – rock bar, Castle & Falcon – pub and music venue, Jekyll & Hyde, Cuban Embassy, Scruffy Murpheys, The Edgbaston, Subside, Snobs, Digbrew, Mockingbird Cinema & Bar, The Juke, Hop & Scotch, Digbrew, Clink, Digbeth Works, Kongs, Nocturnal Animals, Red Lion and Attic Brew to name a few.
Words by Nick Byng for Grapevine Birmingham