Monday, 16 January 2012

Birmingham's Top 10 Pubs

The Evening, sorry Birmingham Mail recently pronounced it's Top 10 Birmingham pubs and it's a solid list.  Admittedly it's based on unspecified criteria, but this is not intended as a nit-picking blog post, more of a conversation starter and gosh darnit, a celebration of some fine Brum establishments.

The Wellington, The Anchor, The Black Eagle, The Bartons Arms, the Old Contemptibles are no-brainers: places that combine good beer choices with a convivial atmosphere/good decor etc.

For the rest of my five, this is my thinking (in no particular order): 

Lord Clifden
Lovely artwork, good music, ping-pong, a GREAT beer garden and just enough good beer to top things off.  Cool pub.

Post Office Vaults
New kid on the block and already the subject of it's own blog post.  Could be the City's top venue soon enough.

Lamp Tavern
Small, located on an industrial estate, and fantastic. The welcome is warm, the beers are well kept and the banquette seating takes me right back to Syston in 1992. A magnificent survivor.   

The Shakespeare (the Summer Row one, not the Lower Temple Street one)
The Mail chose Bacchus, but I've gone for a different Nicholsons pub.  I love the arrangement of the L-shaped front room, with it's elegant street aspect.  I love the fact that it is Brum's most reliable stockist of Moor beers - this fills me with a deep joy.  This is almost my favourite.

The Brown Lion
This one scrapes in if I'm honest, as it is still a bit underfurnished and not quite lived in, although it is early days.  The beer is what brings me here, because the BroLi is the brewery tap for Two Towers - one of Birmingham's small crop of microbreweries.  At first, even the beer wasn't enough to bring me back regularly, but TT are pulling their fingers out now and I'm becoming quite paternal towards them.

What connects the above five places and the five Mail choices that I agree with?  Well, after a bit of chin scratching I think that it's some ethereal combination of good beer choice and an aspirational outlook.  I want to leave a pub with a good tingle on my tastebuds and a spring in my step.

Birmingham doesn't yet have a proper craft beer bar, but it does have some nice beer venues; and when I think back to late 2004, just prior to the opening of the Wellington, things were really grim.  Only the Anchor was shining a light.  Our City has come a long way.

And my favourite place of all?  Probably the Anchor.  Just.   

Whats your favourite, my beer brethren?

(With apols to the Red Lion, Prince of Wales, Old Joint Stock, the Junction (Harborne)).


  1. For sure it's the Bartons - it's the pub I'm in the most regularly in Brum, despite living at the diagonally opposite end of the city. First and foremost, I love being in the pub itself - I love the decor, the staff, the regulars, and the general ambiance. I always feel relaxed and restored after a visit there. I can have a bit of quiet time to read or write if I want, or can choose to be social as there's generally always people I know in there. But it's the consistently good beer that draws me back too - Oakham Citra when it's on perfect form is a thing of joy, but I'm always keen to try other Oakham seasonals, or just stick with the JHB & Bishop's too. And then there's the food - it's fantastic. Best Thai food I've eaten in England, and I like the fact that it's not a restaurant - I can go for a pint, then decide I'll stay for tea if I like. I get withdrawal symptoms if I don't get to go there for more than a fortnight!

    The other six I'd say I'm most keen to visit / in most regularly would be (in no partic order):
    - Shakespeare (Lower Temple St) - near the bus stop and when it has something good on (Moor, Thornbridge) generally it's in fab condition
    - The Anchor - goes without saying, again like the Bartons it's a place I feel welcomed, relaxed and at home, with ever-changing beers plus some very good Belgian bottles have been appearing too
    - White Horse, Harborne - small, "proper" pub, with added bonus of Socks, the cat, for entertainment!
    - Old Moseley Arms (Old Mo) - another "backstreet boozer" with friendly proprietors, good beer, and now a great, well-priced homemade curry menu too
    - Prince of Wales, Moseley - a good all-round party venue with promising selection of regular beers
    - The Victoria - sometimes beer quality has been up and down, but certainly for at least the past 6 months it's been really good, with a few more interesting beers appearing too (had excellent pints of Thornbridge Sequoia recently). Like the music policy & feel of the pub, it's in a really handy location, and again they do great food (from Soul Food Kitchen) if it turns out I'm staying longer than I thought!

  2. Mmm your omission of the Victoria is nothing short of sacrilege my dear young friend and the Red Lion must get in there too just for the mere fact it sells Bathams. Having tasted a Moor Revival in a bottle at the weekend we must take a trip to the Shekey on Summer Row soon but alas not tomoz as I cant make it I’m afraid – sorry!

    Concur with everything t_n says about the good old Barto – it really is a special place.

  3. I'm not sure about the Shakepeare and the Brown Lion. I was served cloudy beer the last two times I was in both pubs although the Brown Lion did swap it when asked without hesitation. I only found out about Post Office Vaults after reading this blog (so thank you) and I agree it really has potential. A bit too small for the number of people who were in it on Friday night but the beer was faultless. I had a pint of Salopian Oracle and tried a Belgium beer which is new for me. I would like to point out how good the manager was in there, he really went out his way to help me choose a bottle I'd like- true customer service isn't completely dead.

    Keep up the great blog.

  4. Thanks Richard, I really appreciate those comments. Glad you enjoyed the POV - I think they have a role to play in Brum's beer evolution.

  5. OLD MO - great pint of abbotts, pool table, beer garden,great jukebox, complete lack of moseley poseurs (all to be found at the prince), cosy, welcoming, warm, could stay in here all bloody day.

  6. Wow, didn't realise The Shakespeare did Moor Beers... I'll definitely be going there soon. Have read much about Moor's ales but not tried any yet... Thanks for the heads up.

  7. This list needs a bit of updating. There's now the recently refurbished Craven Arms, Upper Gough Street to add. Good range of guest beers, generally well kept, and with 3 Black Country Ales on offer as regular beers. Limited cold food (baps and pork pie) usually available. A good old-stylee pub atmosphere and decor.

    The PO vaults is now firmly established as one of the best real ale venues in the city centre. Further out of town the Black Eagle needs a special mention.

    Some real ale devotees turn their noses up at the mention of Wetherspoon's, but both the Briar Rose and The Dragon deserve a visit, since their beer range is usually good and well-kept.

    On the minus side; strike the White Horse, Harborne off any real ale list for me. I've never had a good pint in there! Problem seems to be too many beers and not enough turnover. Regulars - wisely - don't seem to drink the real ales and stick to keg, and that says it all really. If you want a decent drink in the Harborne area I can recommend the New Inn or even the The Proverbial as having far better-kept beer.