Once a powerhouse of Industrial Britain, Birmingham is blessed with a wealth of wonderful Victorian and Edwardian buildings, many of which now house drinking establishments.
We toured the city’s streets to find the best places for a travelling bartender to have a cocktail, beer and a shot, and, lets be honest, find shelter from the weather, because there’s a good chance it will be raining when you visit Brum.
Rose Villa Tavern: 172 Warstone Lane, B18 6JW
The Rose Villa Tavern is a big old boozer with high ceilings and those dark brown and green ceramic-tiled walls which bring to mind a Victorian train station. You will find a large open saloon bar with large tables, suitable for group-boozing, as well as nooks and crannies stocked with comfy leather armchairs for a more intimate (hungover) session.
We visited in the early afternoon and found ourselves in immediate conversation with a nice older couple of beer enthusiasts who gave us a list of Birmingham’s best CAMRA pubs to visit. The other guests were mostly students skiving lectures and nursing pints, which probably gives you a fair indication of the venue’s daytime trade. We have it on good authority that The Rose Villa Tavern’s American Diner food is very good, with the Philly Cheese Steak a highlight. A good venue for Sunday Bloody Marys and the newspapers or pre-tear-up beers.
The Church: 22 Great Hampton Street, B18 6AQ
Built in 1830 and serving time as both a boxing ring and shooting range in previous lives, The Church is a bar and restaurant specialising in New Orleans drinks and soul food.
First impressions upon walking in from the street will lead you to believe that the venue is tiny, but in actual fact the bar is just the start, as a doorway towards the rear leads to a large dining hall and an elevated deck area perfect for Summer drinking.
Back to the bar (we visited on a cold and rainy day, and so didn’t linger upstairs), and you will find an impressive back bar and very knowledgeable staff. We gave one of the chaps a bottle of Bulldog Bold and asked him to knock something up. Here’s his creation:
Aman Johl, head bartender
The English Patient
- 60ml Bulldog Bold
- 10ml Capponia Mustikka
- 15ml St. Germain
- 15ml Apple juice
- 3 Drops Peychaud’s bitters
Combine, shake and strain into a cocktail glass with a lemon twist.
The Church is wonderful bar that could hold its own in any of the UK’s cocktail scenes, and we recommend it goes to the top of your list of venues to visit in Birmingham. Go with an empty stomach, their New Orleans soul food is great and provides the perfect foundation for a night on the sauce.
Bureau: 110 Colmore Row, B3 3AG
Bureau used to be a corn exchange, whatever a corn exchange is, but will most remind you of the bank where the Dad from Mary Poppins works. Its high ceilings and marble walls and floor make the place feel very airy, and we imagine that on a hot school night, the after-work-office-crowd can be found here in large numbers.
The cocktail list is a mixed bag of classics and sweet crowd pleasers and there are beers on tap. Nice and peaceful during the day, and a likely place to impress someone from accounts with your tats and alternative lifestyle, should you be a single bartender out on the prowl.
Dan Upton was behind the stick during our visit, and made us this drink with Bulldog Bold:
Never Mind the Bulldogs
- 50ml Bulldog Bold
- 15ml Rose’s Lime Cordial
- 15ml Noilly Prat Ambre
Combine, stir, strain into a cocktail glass with a grapefruit twist.
Fumo: 1 Waterloo St, B2 5PG
Fumo is a big white restaurant which, during our visit, was full of beautiful young couples on dates. It’s a shiny suit and pointy shoe place, clearly a destination for Brum’s well-healed young set, and we half expected Tony Montana to take a seat with us at the bar.
The bar team has a large Italian contingent, which as is often the case creates a pleasing brand of silver service with tiki leanings. Assistant Manager Rocco Polcin made us a cocktail with Bulldog Bold but didn’t name it, so we present to you:
Say Hello to My Little Friend
- 40ml Bulldog Bold
- 20ml Fresh grapefruit juice
- 10ml Lime juice
- 5ml Simple syrup
Combine, shake, strain into a highball glass with crushed ice. Top with soda and garnish with a pineapple slice.
The Lost and Found: 8 Bennetts Hill, B2 5RS
The Lost and Found is part of Marston’s pub brand, Revere, and is well worth a visit for the décor if nothing else. It’s a huge space with a curious mix of Victoriana and Amalfi Coast garden elements. At night and softly lit it looks lovely, and had a nice vibe during our visit.
Bear in mind that this is a pub company doing a bar, and stick to the excellent range of bottled and draft beers. We tried the Rhubarb Negroni so you don’t have to.
Island Bar: 14-16 Suffolk Street, B1 1LT
Island Bar is Birmingham’s tiki offering and the place you will likely find off duty bartenders drinking their wages. It is a large, red-lit space with tiki art on the walls and, perhaps unexpectedly, a table tennis table at the rear.
As you can imagine, towards the end of a night’s drinking, a spot of ping pong becomes irresistible and BarLifeUK spent a good portion of the evening being schooled by locals who have learned good hand eye coordination whilst under the influence. If you go on a session in Birmingham, you’ll probably end up here.
Head bartender, Edd Fish, made us this Bulldog Bold cocktail:
- 40ml Bulldog Bold
- 10ml St. Germain
- 10ml Lillet Rose
- 15ml Lemon Juice
Combine, shake and strain into a cocktail glass.
The Victoria: 48 John Bright St, B1 1BN
The Victoria is a 19th Century theatre pub, all flock wallpaper, antique mirrors and nice old rugs on the floor. It’s a very welcoming space, both during the day as a traditional boozer, and late at night when it assumes a supper club feel. One of Brum’s best bartenders works here in the form of Lucy Horncastle – if she’s behind the stick, you are in very good hands so dive into the cocktail menu.
Another bartender hangout, the Vic is almost guaranteed to be your last stop before a kebab and a taxi. It was also our last stop of the night, and duty manager Edgar Kaciulis sent us on our way with this Bulldog Bold creation:
- 60ml Bulldog Bold
- 15ml Monin Pistache
- 10ml Tuaca
- 15ml Lemon juice
- 1 Dash Fee Bro’s grapefruit bitters
Combine, shake and fine strain into a coupe with a grapefruit twist.
It’s probably fair to describe Birmingham’s cocktail scene as fledgling, with lots of hybrid, half-pub-half-bar venues to be found (a few of which were closed on the Tuesday night we visited). While these places look great and provide excellent nights out for Birmingham’s yoof, this half-and-half approach sometimes provides you with a pub gin and tonic at bar prices.
The Church is the standout venue for cocktails, being an out-and-out bar which could slot quite happily into London, Manchester or Edinburgh’s scenes, with The Victoria and Island Bar also knocking out some decent drinks in very welcoming, bartender-friendly environments.