A Weekend In Birmingham

Chamberlain Square

Chamberlain Square

So, if you were to mention Birmingham, England to many people across the UK, it’s quite possible you would receive a screwed up face, maybe a snide comment about the accent or about the city being a culture-less concrete dumping ground which is only good for passing through en route to somewhere else. In this article you will be enlightened by some of the restaurants in Birmingham, the city’s nightlife and live music in Birmingham.

For the better educated, Birmingham means something quite different. Those in the know have been making a b-line for Brum since the construction of Brindley Place and the reinvention of the canals in the city.  Many improvements and changes to this mighty Industrial Metropolis are gradually turning Birmingham into a fantastic place to spend a weekend.

Stylish Shopping

Sexy Selfridges

Sexy Selfridges

Birmingham’s Bullring has long been the centre of trade in the city. With the original markets dating back to middle ages, what now stands in the original heart of Birmingham is a mecca for shopping addicts. The huge indoor Bullring Shopping centre offers all the usual high-street brand names, but it also offers some lesser known brand names, it’s a buzzing hive of activity and is constantly changing.

Adjacent to the Bullring is the award winning and futuristic Selfridges building. Covered in hundreds of aluminium discs, the space age store does not disappoint inside with many quirky and ultra stylish clothes concessions, not to mention some incredible rotating sushi bars.

For people more interested in independent shops, there are plenty to be found in the city. For clothing, shoppers will find cutting edge independent clothes stores off New Street such as A Too Menswear, Size (for trainers), Disorder (locally designed clothing) and many other small stores.

Custard Factory Shopping

Custard Factory Shopping

New Street itself and also Corporation Street are littered with some funky clothes stores, not to mention the huge Rackhams department store (House of Fraser).

No visit to Brum is complete without a mooch around some of the city’s markets. The urban Oasis indoor shopping markets offer a variety of stalls, from tattooists to t-shirts prints, vintage clothing to stylish footwear, skate wear to beads, it’s part of the fabric of Brum but well hidden at the end of High Street. The Bullring area has several markets worth visiting toom if you;re around mid week there’s the fruit stalls, and the indoor Rag markets are of high interest as are the food markets, expect some banter as you walk through. Digbeth is a growing bohemian area and there are Flea markets in the Custard Factory on a weekend as well as a few vintage retro stores along the high street.

Award Winning Food

Dine above the city at the Cube

Dine above the city at the Cube

The city is currently bursting with fine eateries and restaurants. Birmingham now boasts more Michelin stars than any other city outside London and it’s easy to see why. The city was also recently declared the food capital of Britain by the London press, though this is likely to be based on the burgeoning independent food scene, affordability and friendliness.

The Balti is Birmingham’s home, a superb spicy Indian dish served all over the city and made famous in the city’s Balti Triangle taking in Ladypool Road. Gordon Ramsey made Lasan famous in the Jewellery Quarter and Glynn Purnell is flying the flag for Birmingham quisine as an award winning TV chef, now with his own restaurants along Newhall Street in the Colmore Row Business District.

The cultural mix of styles of Birmingham has led to many different styles of food being catered for. If you’re looking for Chinese food then the China Town area is home to some fantastic restaurants, for a quick bite Cafe Soya is a taste worth sampling. Other popular restaurants are Italian (with San Carlo on Temple Street and Pasta Di Piazza off Newhall Street), West Indian, South American (try Bodega on Bennetts Hill) and Japanese restaurants in the Bull Ring and Mailbox development.

Hotel Du Vin

Hotel Du Vin

For those with a penchant for North African delights, La Fibule in the Bohemian suburb of Moseley is a great way to taste some Moroccan dishes and you can take your own bottle of wine in to save on the bill.

TV celebrities can’t get enough of Brum, while Parnell’s and the Asquith are locally owned by Glynn Purnell, the city now has a Jamie Olivers Italian and Marco Pierre White has recently opened a steak house within the glass top of The Cube building which overlooks the city 25 storeys high. If you’re looking for more local brands on the hoof, try Urban Pie in the Bullring or The Handmade Burger Company in the newly built and futuristic Spiceal Street. There are literally hundreds of fine restaurants and eateries across the city so a little research before hand will serve you well. One of the city’s local celebrities is the owner of the Greek restaurant ‘Athens’ near Paradise Circus, if you want to get involved in some traditional plate smashing then book a table for the weekend.

Real Ales

The Old Joint Stock

The Old Joint Stock

If you’re after a pint of real ale, the city centre has several decent boozers, such as: The Old Joint Stock by Colmore Row (grand ornate bank conversion with theatre upstairs), The Wellington on Bennetts Hill (huge choice of ales), The Postage Stamp just off Victoria Square (The Wellington’s smaller sister), The Victoria on John Bright Street (traditional boozer turned bohemian with wknd DJ nights upstairs), The Jekyll & Hyde on Steel-house Lane (Victorian inspired Gin Parlour with wknd DJs and occasional cinema upstairs) and The Old Contemptibles off Colmore Row (great choice of beers).

There are umpteen traditional pubs throughout Digbeth’s gritty Irish Quarter and the oldest public house in Brum ‘The Old Crown’ still serves a pint, a few steps away is the Anchor, which has won a few awards for its ales. In the Jewellery Quarter there plenty of other bars and pubs, such as the beautiful Rose Villa Tavern (traditional Victorian pub turned real ale modern pub with wknd DJs), The Red Lion and Lord Clifden (see Rose Villa) and the large and newly converted ‘Drop Forge’ which is a more contemporary vibe with some great ales on tap.

A Pint in the Anchor, Digbeth

A Pint in the Anchor, Digbeth

If you really want to get off the beaten track, you could try a taxi or a drive to The Bull on Price Street (just outside Snowhill area), this used to be at the heart of the now mostly demolished world famous ‘Gun Quarter’, the pub serves fine beverages and has been selling ales since the 18th century with a friendly atmosphere and if you call in advance you may catch a few of the Welsh Male Choir who practise weekdays over the road. Further out of town is the quite superb Prince of Wales in Moseley, with real ales and an outdoor area which tackles some beating, featuring a cigar store, wine cellar, beach bar and snugs, the Prince of Wales is possibly the most diverse pub in the city where young and old meet and drink. Other pubs in Moseley worth trying are The Bulls Head, Patrick Cavanagh, Cross and The Fighting Cocks, and just up the road the very music orientated Hare and Hounds serves a decent pint too.

Stylish Bars & Live Music

Soul & House at The Vaults

Soul & House at The Vaults

Brum’s nightlife has seen a few ‘heydays’, from the late 60s Brum Beat scene to the early 90s house ‘super club’ days with global brands such as Sundissential, Moneypennys and Gatecrasher starting off life in the city. These days the underground is slightly more buried away, and for most, this offers some great gems to discover off the beaten track.

For the more up market bars in the city, well, there aren’t many left these days which some would say is a good thing, but for those wanted a more stylish dolled up crowd, the Arcadian, nearby Gay Quarter, and Summer Row offer some trendy bars. The Jewellery Quarter is home to some of the city’s best these days, with the wonderful underground ‘Vaults’ bar and restaurant (with wknd soul/house DJs), the Rectory and Jam House all getting extremely busy on a weekend. Bar Room bar and the 25th floor of the Cube also offer some high class drinking clientele.

Bohemian: The Victoria

Bohemian: The Victoria

For live music and DJs, the city is most busy on a weekend, with events on at the Rainbow development in Digbeth for electronica, Gatecrasher on Broad Street for commercial house, Snobs (one of the city’s oldest clubs) for 60s beat and indie, The Yard Bird near the Library for live funk and jazz, The Jam House for live bands and the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath for some really funky live bands and DJs.

Other bars to try in the city centre include the Sunflower Lounge for MOD and 60s beat DJs, the Island cocktail bar on Suffolk Street Queens-way, and the faux medieval Bacchus bar beneath New Street and Actress & Bishop in St Pauls Square which stays open late most evenings with live bands and a DJ.

The city centre has a wide choice in larger live music venues, and perhaps too many to list here, but a quick search online will bring up venues where international musicians and bands play frequently, from indie, rock to classical. Major venues range from the NEC, NIA, Symphony Hall and Town Hall to the HMV Institute and the O2 Academy.

Ikon Art Gallery

Ikon Art Gallery

Culture & The Arts

If museums float your boat then there are a few worthy places of interest. The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is a superb building which is free to visit and packed full of ancient artifacts and art, especially pre-raphaelite works. The Waterhall Gallery close by is also free and home to some great exhibitions.

The Barber Institute of Fine Art is a five minute train ride away next to the Magnificent University of Birmingham with its clock tower (taller than Big Ben). Nearby is the fabulous Cadbury’s World, and only one stop on from the University.

The Millennium Point museum hosts more industrial artifacts and the National Sea Life Centre is great for an afternoon and situated on the extensive canal network (also well worth a walk around).

Birmingham Canal Boat

Birmingham Canal Boat

Smaller galleries include the interesting Ikon (free to enter), Museum of the Jewellery Quarter and the Pen Museum (nearby).

Many festivals take place throughout the year, from Europe’s largest free arts festival ‘Arts Fest’, the largest St Patrick’s Day Parade outside of Ireland, the largest German Christmas Market outside of, well, Gay Pride, Germany, The MoseleyFolk Festival and many small arts and music festivals.

In all, the city has a great deal to offer the humble tourist. There are some exclusive apartments and great boutique hotels in Birmingham such as Hotel Du Vin, The Rotunda, Hyatt, The Cube and Bloc in the Jewellery Quarter. The combination of diverse cultures and friendly nature of the locals leads Birmingham into a prime position to take advantage of tourism in the 21st Century. For a ‘Whats On in Birmingham’ guide follow the link to Grapevine Birmingham.

Article by Simon Lucas.

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