Photo by Tim Ellis
On Saturday The Guardian featured Kate Burt’s blog Save The Boozer, dedicated to pubs that offer ‘a slice of real British life, where real people still drink. Think dodgy jukeboxes, patterned carpet, photos of the Queen Mum pulling a pint…’
Save The Boozer rewards the best of Britain with STB Awards, which has categories such as The Ultimate Jukebox, The Terrifying Pub and The Sticky Carpet. What I love about Digbeth is it’s a great cluster of these places. For our last birthday me and Tone did a Digbeth Pub Crawl and fitting them all in was a difficult job, we even had to cull The Old Crown from our list. Digbeth should win an award in its own right. Sticky Village. Or something like that.
Anyway, here we are – the ten best boozers in Digbeth:
Had to come first by virtue of its rebel landlord John Tighe and his fight against the Noise Abatement Order. John is assisted by his harem of beautiful young barmaids, all carefully chosen to appease the older male clientele. The bar feels as homely as your living room whilst the spacious back garden hosts family parties and the like. It also has a great live music line-up. I never could have imagined The Pogues sung in the style of Johnny Cash by a guy with a head like a baked bean, but now I know. Dir-ty-old-tow-nnn…..
2. The Lamp Tavern
A compact and cosy pub with a lot of lamps. This was the culmination of me and Tone’s pub crawl and we didn’t get out until sunrise. Landlord Eddie seemed to be in a race with us to drink the stock dry. If he takes a shine to you he’ll invite you upstairs to “share the cot”. I somehow resisted. The Lamp Tavern is the regular home of Friction Arts’ Pub Conversations.
Had to miss this off the pub crawl because a fight broke out in the back bar. As I’ve mentioned before, does great grub for very reasonable prices. I’m not sure if they still do it, but they used to have a He Man’s Grill that consisted of what seemed to be a plate of fried meat (steak, sausage, bacon, etc.) with a separate bowl of chips and beans. Typing about it makes my mouth water with hunger and nausea at the same time.
4. The White Swan
A lovely pub with a large, long front bar and nice back lounges, it’s one of the few older pubs where recent ‘improvements’ have not meant the opposite. The last time I was there in the evening following a Birmingham City home match so it was crowded with loudly slurred arguments, declarations of love and an elderly couple who, despite being very unsteady on their feet, were still managing to chew each other’s faces off. Who said romance was dead?
5. The Anchor
The place to go for real ale in Digbeth. A great big pub with four rooms surrounding the bar in the centre, so has lots of nooks and corners for drinking, chatting and snuggling, with a new outside patio for smoking.
6. The Woodsman
This one’s off the beaten track on the other side of Digbeth near the Millennium Point. When I was last there the traditional old pub style was wonderfully mismatched by a DJ playing deafening, thumping hard house. I didn’t know whether to buy a round or get the pills in.
Bit of an obituary this, as it sadly closed in January. A small and snug place on Cheapside. Every weekend it would have a bad loud disco for young ones to get down and get off to, which was inevitably popular.
Another good live music venue with bands that range from blues to rock to acoustic. Visit their website if only to play their keyboard of a navigation bar. Kept me amused for hours.
9. The Market Tavern
Yet another obituary and proof that Save The Boozer really has its work cut out in trying to save ‘a fast disappearing breed’. Rumour has it the owners plan to turn this former lively punk venue into a gastro pub. Which is a pity, as it would have been a worthy contender for Boozer Bogs of the Year Award. Not to put too fine a point on it, they fucking stank.
10. The Fountain Inn
Not one of my haunts as this old man’s drinking hole comes under the category Terrifying Pub. But makes the list thanks to West Midlands Police, who mistook it for another The Fountain Inn, Wrentham Street, ‘one of Birmingham’s busiest gay bars catering to skins, bears, daddies, scallies and leather & denim guys’. I’d love to have been there when the police raided The Fountain Inn, Cheapside and accused the Irish bar of dealing in drugs and gay porn. Feckin’ ace.