Tourists visiting Birmingham won’t be shown much of Digbeth. Running away eastwards from the modernised (for the second time) Bull Ring and the market area one enters a different world. Industry, both heavy and light, was the making of Birmingham. Here much of the landscape remains in between a network of dark streets and lanes. There is a mixture of new and old as businesses die and others spring up, optimistically, in their place. Some thrive, others soon go under.
Bradford Street, with its yellow neon street lights, cuts a swathe from the city centre up through this mixture of workshops, offices, garages, warehouses. Grand brick buildings dating from the early days of the Industrial Revolution mix in with others more recently established.
And at night all is quiet and it might seem that no one is abroad in these mean streets. But wait! Still on street intersections, housed in often decorative brick buildings 100 years old, there are signs of life. It’s an opportunity to pop into some old haunts again and taste some proper beer.
The Spotted Dog
Just off the main Birmingham – Coventry Road, up Alcester Street, you’ll come across this gem. Most definitely an Irish bar it is quiet this Sunday evening. But at other times it will be packed as local Irish musicians descend for a seisiún in the old manner, where you just rock up with your fiddle, or penny whistle, or bodrán and sit down and join in. Tonight there’s no seisiún but the class of the joint is shown by the CD currently playing – Bad Company from 1973 with Paul Rodgers, Mick Ralphs et al. In the entrance foyer is a football team photograph. It is of the 1979 St Philip’s Grammar School team showing off their UK Grammar Schools’ Trophy won for the first and only time that year. Bottom right can be found my brother Colin. Spotted Dog website
Adam & Eve
Something of an institution, this place used to be the last stop before reaching St Andrew’s, home of Birmingham City FC. Two big, connected bars, tonight there are just two other customers rattling around. Fair play, it costs them money to open on Sunday evenings but a proper pub is always open in case a punter drops by. Without a packed clientele and live music however it’s not great. The floor is sticky, there’s a selection of just one Real Ale and – despite the brilliant Rumours album being played I head off down Bradford Street again towards the city. Find them here *Edit Oct 2015, it seems the pub has now closed permanently following trouble over its licence – it has been sold. Another old Brum pub bites the dust*
The White Swan
Within a listed building, the Swan also has a strong Irish theme but also a great selection of Real Ales. A pint of Bank’s Sunbeam together with a packet of proper break-your-teeth scratchings. It has a sense of community this little place but, like any small business that is to survive these days, it promotes itself tirelessly – here’s the website The other hand pumps wink at me and beckon but time is short – onwards.
This place is simply about the beer; it’s a sort of a flagship for the local branch of CAMRA. I choose a dark beer called Black Citra, a strong taste and I’m not sure I enjoyed it. The pub itself is a bit weird with no obvious connection between the two bars which make it a bit claustrophobic. Here there is a telly (first one I’ve seen all night) but a big hand for Coldplay who are going down a storm at the Paralympics closing ceremony.
A very enjoyable whistle-stop hour. If I had to choose though it would be back to the Spotted Dog.