Sunday, 13 January 2013

Birmingham Metro pub crawl

Birmingham has a tram system – the Metro - that extends up the path of the old Great Western Railway trackbed, through the satellite towns, and ending at Wolverhampton. This offers a pleasant way of getting between a few quality pubs along the route, too many to fit in on one day, but in being selective you can visit some gems for a relaxed pint or two.

We started by travelling the length of the route from Snow Hill in Birmingham to St George's tram stop on Bilston Street in Wolves, and then negotiating the underpasses on a circuitous route to the Great Western on Sun Street. This seems to me to be one of the most unspoilt pubs in the Midlands, and worth several visits just on it's own - it's part of the railway heritage of the area, occupying an atmospheric spot beside the old low-level GNWR station and goods yard, and is filled with signage and train memoribilia that fits in with its old-world character. 

Cozy in winter
Being owned by Holdens, you can guarantee pints of Black Country bitters will be flowing, and Bathams is also regularly found as a guest. You can pick up cobs (filled rolls) and pork pies for a pound or two, but there's also a 'conservatory' room at the back for more substantial meals and functions. On our visit, the guests were one from Holdens seasonal range, "Noddy Holden" (Lucy Holden explained the theme of this year's Holdens specials, and their artwork, in my earlier post here) and a guest from Derby, and they also had Holdens Mild, Special, Bitter and Golden Glow. It was easy to get cozy while supping the malty goodness and enjoying the open fire and the welcoming chatter of the regulars and locals streaming through the door, but before long we knew we had to move on or the crawl would be in danger of abandonment!

Next we walked through the tiled pathway to the train station and up to the centre of town, to visit the Posada. This is a GBG regular, and has some lovely old features - a tiled facade, more tiling around the doors and walls, and some stained glass partitions inside inbetween the alcoves and nooks. Although we had a couple of draught ales from the four on offer (Wye Valley HPA, Davenports IPA, Banks's and Marstons) it was interesting to see a 'craft beer' menu on the tables, listing 4 bottles from Brewdog at around £3.30 - clearly the owners have taken note that the beer scene is expanding and are keen to try offering something different to Wolverhampton drinkers.

Then it was back on the tram, and down the line to Bilston. The Old White Rose is a long-standing real ale pub just a minute or two from the tram stop here, and very handy if you're on your way to a gig at the Robin venue a few streets away. There had been a few changes since I was last in here - notably they have reduced the amount of real ale pumps on the bar, and taken out the Belgian keg font, perhaps to improve turnover; they've also extended the opening hours to 11.30pm, to take in post-gig drinkers. The carvery & dining area has also changed a bit, which I think creates a more pleasant (less hot & steamy!) seating arrangement. Ales sampled here from the 8 or so on offer were from Kelham Island, Ludlow, Sarah Hughes and Cottage. No particularly exciting choices and condition was just OK rather than outstanding, but that seems to be the way with some long-standing ale pubs - something crisp and hoppy would have been welcomed at this stage. I also noticed they have a function room in the cellar - I'm not sure if this is a new development - this has an impressive Lowenbrau banner over the stairs down, and is styled as a Bavarian bierkeller. It would be great if they staged a festival of decent German beer here at some point, with wurst and pretzels to go with it!

Our next hop on the Metro was to Kenrick Park station, where you alight in a rather anonymous residential street, for the few minutes' walk to The Vine. I hadn't been to this pub before, but had heard they served good value Indian food all day long, and some local ale to go with it. I wasn't prepared though for the busyness of the place at the start of a Saturday teatime - although the rooms towards the front retained some of the original pub-like character, all tables were either full of people about to dine, or reserved for those coming for dinner shortly, and through the narrow corridor bar were two larger rooms reserved entirely for dining, full of people and with an air of chaos! However a friendly barmaid soon squeezed us in to a spare table and we were able to take a look at the curry menu printed up along one wall while sipping our Blue Monkey BG Tips - very nice. The back 'BBQ' room features a long cast iron grill, cooking up marinaded kebabs and skewers which looked mouthwatering, but on this occasion we decided to try out the curries, including the spicy goat and lamb with spinach. These were great - just as good as any found in the best balti restaurants of Brum - and extremely good value, with our whole meal of two mains and two sides coming in at under £14. They serve food all day on Saturdays, so I think I'll have to make a return visit sometime to try the skewers from the grill as they looked spicy and again great value at about £3.50. We would have liked another drop of the BG Tips as it was in great condition, but unfortunately it had run out at this stage. Never mind - next on was Bathams! Excellent - a trip into the Black Country would not be complete without coming across this iconic beer, so we had some for dessert. At £3.76 this was perhaps the most expensive pint of Bathams I'd ever purchased, but the cost was mitigated somewhat by the good value food.

It was getting rather dark now so it was good to be heading back towards the centre of Birmingham - but a Metro crawl wouldn't be complete without visiting the award-winning Black Eagle, just down the hill from the Benson Road metro stop in Soho. This is another lovely unspoilt pub, where genial host Tony provides a welcome haven hidden in the city's backstreets. Although slightly off the beaten track, this pub is always busy on a Saturday evening with many regular faces, and we bumped into some friends here, reminiscing about drinking in Belgium together, while checking out the cask line up. The Black Eagle was the first place I ever tasted a Brewdog beer, and Tony used to have one Brewdog on the pumps at all time before they stopped doing cask beer – so instead he had some from Salopian, Ludlow and others. As well as being a welcoming venue for a winter night, this is a great pub to visit in spring or summer too, to enjoy it's pretty beer garden, and they also have a great beer festival towards the end of July.

It was then back to the tram to return to Birmingham. If time had allowed, we could have stopped off at the Jewellery Quarter station to visit the Drop Forge or the Lord Clifden, but with Birmingham's buses being a tad unreliable late in the evening, we opted to return home, satisfied with our day's exploring. As detailed on this site, there are several other places we could have stopped too along the way, but I think it's best on a crawl to pick and choose, allowing a bit of time to relax and enjoy each pub rather than a 'splash and dash' approach! The proximity to the tram stops to the chosen pubs had the bonus of no more than 10 minutes' walk to most of them on a wintery day, but it would be great to repeat this when the season is more clement, and check out some of the other Metro-accessible bars too. I think I'll definitely be returning to the Vine for some spicy skewers when I do!


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