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Monday, 22 February 2021

#058 Suki10c, Digbeth, Birmingham : 1998 to 2021

 Of all the pubs that I've covered so far, this has probably undergone the most radical of external changes throughout the past 23 years and was still garnering controversial comments on Facebook only a few days ago!

I am of course referring to the extravagantly decorated Suki10c, which began as the Spotted Dog when I first came across it in 1998. This is what I wrote in 2011: -

"This is the other Spotted Dog in Digbeth that is on the corner of Meriden Street and Bordesley Street. When I took this photo in 1998 I'd not set foot inside the pub.

September 1998
In 2002, on the evening of Thursday 19th September, we were in Birmingham on one of our canal trips and took a stroll into Digbeth. Among the pubs we came across was the Spotted Dog and ventured inside.

September 2002
Not my best photo, but this was taken with my old Fuji SLR camera that dates back to the mid 70's so I was always 'guessing' the settings for night time photography. This time I was also 'challenged' as to why I was taking the picture. This is a fairly common occurrence, mostly with slightly out-of-the-way pubs that don't expect photographers. Once I explain that we're on a canal holiday and I take a picture of every pub we go in, they are always fine about it.

The only things I remember about it is that it was fairly quiet, typical back street pub. It was run by a black manager/landlord and the clientele were exclusively black, which you don't see very often.

A few years later I revisited the Spotted Dog on a Saturday night and it had transformed into a lively music venue seemingly specialising in up and coming bands.

So, when I came to take this photo in 2011 I was somewhat surprised to see that it was closed.
August 2011
It had also changed its name to TJ's.

On Sunday I took part in the enjoyable Digbeth Photo Walk, organised by Pete Ashton & Matt Murtagh, that took us past the Spotted Dog which is still unchanged from when I took this picture. 

This is the twenty-seventh in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series."
My next entry was in August 2018 when I did a 'compare and contrast' piece on Suki10c versus the other Spotted Dog in Digbeth that has hardly changed in the same period - this is what I wrote then: -
"Secondly we get to the other Spotted Dog on the corner of Meriden Street and Bordesley Street, which has had a slightly more colourful twenty years by comparison! I first reported on it in 2011 (#058)
June 2012
January 2018

July 2018
It is now a late night music venue, so more a club that a pub, but still in business, which is the main thing. Obviously it has undergone some significant external changes which have certainly helped it to stand out from the crowd.

From the pubs I've reviewed so far I'd have to say that The [other] Spotted Dog takes the record for fewest changes over twenty years and that, short of being knocked down, Suki10c has to be the most radical external overhaul of any establishment I've seen. But, that's Digbeth for you - permanence and change side-by-side in perfect harmony."
Now we move onto 2021 and the new decoration that appeared and caused such a discussion on Facebook.
January 2021
The artwork was created in 2019 by Digbeth legend @gent48
with Bass Festival curators Aliyah Hasinah and Rtkal to celebrate Future Black icons and influencers of music and culture. 
The 22 artists featured in the mural are: -
Alexandria Chantiluke – Fashion Designer
Amahra Spence – Artist and Producer
Cherrelle Skeete – Actress
Daniel Alexander – Director & filmmaker
Dapz On The Map – Musical artist
Darren Harriet – Comedian & presenter
Despa – Music manager
Jacob Banks – Singer / Songwriter
Jorja Smith – Singer / Songwriter
Knox Brown – Producer
Lady Sanity – Rapper
Leon Edwards – MMA
Liz Pemberton – Nursery Manager
Mellow – Catering Entrepreneur
Muna Ruumi – Music Manager
Mystry – Producer and DJ
Romderful – Music Producer
Safone – Grime Artist
T-roadz – MC
TrueMendous – Rapper
Xhosa Cole – Saxophonist
Suriya Aisha – Activist
Hopefully, Suki10c will have a bright future after the pandemic and I look forward to capturing future changes to the exotic external decoration of this soon-to-be iconic venue.

Thursday, 18 February 2021

#016 The Old Crown, Deritend, Birmingham : 1998 to 2021

 This is a real oddity - back in 1998 when I first took pictures of these pubs, The Old Crown was the only one that was not open! This is what I wrote back in 2011 on my first revisit: -

"This is the sixth in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series.

Back in 1998 The Old Crown was closed and boarded up, but I took a picture anyway as I knew it couldn't be knocked down.
This is Birmingham's oldest pub and dates from 1368. I'm not sure when it reopened but it is now a pub that also does a lot of food, although I'd hesitate to call it a restaurant type pub as you can still go and just drink for a session! I've been a couple of times since it reopened and whilst it's great to see it thriving, inside you don't get the feeling that it dates back to the 14th Century. Since putting these photos up I've noticed that the chimneys have been rebuilt, seemingly in the original style.
Part of the renewed success of The Old Crown is almost certainly because of the Custard Factory which reopened in the late 1990's as an arts and media venue. (The coloured buildings behind The Old Crown are part of the Custard Factory.)  This was the factory where Bird's Custard was made for many years until 1964 when production moved to Kraft's factory in Banbury."
Since then, The Old Crown continued to thrive and added a quite substantial beer garden (as have many city pubs over recent years). On our Proper Pubs Day Out in Birmingham we looked into The Old Crown, but didn't drink there, mainly because the choice of real ale wasn't great. This picture is from earlier in the year.
Little had changed as befits a Grade I listed building. And so, we move on to 2021 where there is little change in the scene and, hopefully, all will be back to 'normal' in a few weeks (more likely months!).
So, there you have it...another tale of optimism and renewal! 

Sunday, 14 February 2021

Light at the End of the Tunnel?

 My recent posts may have given the impression that all is doom and gloom with regard to the pub/drinking scene in Digbeth. Whilst it is true that, of the 33 pubs I originally photographed in 1998, only 16 are still going there are quite a few new venues that have opened in recent times!

I discovered this piece of street art on the wall of The Ruin.

The Ruin, Floodgate Street, Digbeth, Birmingham 
Assuming that the pandemic doesn't wipe them all out, here's a quick run through the 'new' drinking venues in Digbeth (in Pink).
Digbeth Works
Describes itself as, "A fusion of a coffee shop, bar and pub; with a comfy, cosy and quirky philosophy." Doesn't look like a place for real ale, but apart from that it looks good - website here.
The Berlin Bar
Definitely not my cup of tea, but it apparently is the "first techno bar in the UK". Like many venues in Digbeth it relies on music to draw in the crowds. Find out more here.
Now, this is a new one for me - Bar, Coffee, Barber - whatever will these young people come up with next? Situated in the courtyard within the Custard Factory - website here.
Birdie's Bar
Seemingly part of a small chain (there's another one in Liverpool), Birdie's is described as, "an outdoor cocktail bar in the heart of Digbeth's Custard Factory that offers visitors a taste of paradise that will make you think that you're sipping drinks in a tropical hideaway rather than in the centre of Brum!" Looks like it could be fun...but not really my sort of place - website here.
Wine Freedom
Yes, you've guessed it - it's a wine bar! But a modern venue situated in an industrial unit and offering, "Natural wine in a language you understand. Less chemicals, cleaner drinking. Authentic wine with a sense of place. Wine the way it’s supposed to be." - website here.
Dig Brew
This is Digbeth's own microbrewery which some of us visited on the Proper Pubs Day Out in July 2018 (I watched the first half of England vs Croatia World Cup semi-final, before my ninth pint caught up with me and I had to get a cab home!) It is exactly as you'd expect a microbrewery in an industrial unit to be - website here.
Describes itself as a Craft Beer Bar and is situated under railway arches close to Moor Street Station. It opened in 2018, but somehow didn't find its way onto our itinerary for that day (despite the good reviews on Trip Advisor!) Website here.
Although primarily set up as a music venue, it is a family run venture that opens with the line, "Welcome to NOT another Irish Bar!" Unfortunately, it opened shortly before the first lockdown - website here.
Probably the closest to being a 'proper pub' out of this list and has been around for longer as well. No real ale, apparently, but I'm sure that the Carling will be good! Website here.
It will be interesting to see how many survive the pandemic, but once it is over there will be other new ventures to take their place/add to the number of venues.
It would seem that the future is moving away from traditional pubs and towards venues that have additional attractions over and above just drinks (food, music, games, sport). Much as we 'old codgers' lament the closing of traditional pubs it is still good to see new places opening to 'take up the reins' and keep drinking alive!

Friday, 12 February 2021

#066 The Mercat, Digbeth, Birmingham : 1998 to 2021 (RIP)

 Following on from the architecturally attractive Market Tavern we move on to the somewhat less beautiful, brutalist Mercat Bar & Grill (formerly The Mercat Cross). As part of the Birmingham Wholesale Markets complex it had a healthy trade, back in the day, but when I first came along with my camera I think its best days had passed. Here's what I wrote in 2011: -

"I'm pretty sure I've never been in The Mercat or The Mercat Cross as it was known when I was a student in the late 70's. It has always been (in my experience) a rather unattractive building, but maybe there was an older pub there before the Wholesale Markets were rebuilt in the early 70's.

I'm not sure when it dropped the 'Cross' from its name, but by 1998 it was just The Mercat.
When I came back in 2011 I wasn't sure if it was even open, but I still took the photo.
Obviously it is no longer an Ansell's pub, but beyond it's 'oirishification' I can't add much more about it! (Better class of car driving by, though!)

However, as was reported on the Digbeth is Good blog, it is now open for business again as The New Mercat Bar & Grill. I wish them well in the currently difficult climate for pubs.

This is the thirty-first in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series."
Ten years later and, from the outside, very little has changed, but the pub is definitely closed and has been since at least 2018.
As the redevelopment of the Wholesale Markets site progresses this will be demolished and (more) flats/apartments will take it's place in what is now known as the Smithfield Development.

Whilst not one of the more striking examples of Brummie pubs, it is always sad to see their eventual demise!

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

#010 Market Tavern, Deritend, Birmingham : 1998 to 2021 (RIP)

 This will be a very short entry. In 1998 the Market Tavern was a going concern, but by the time I returned in 2011 it had closed. Here's what I wrote at that time: -

"Back in 1998 I went around the Digbeth/Deritend/Highgate area of Birmingham taking photos of all the pubs I could find. It was my intention to return in 10 years to see how the Birmingham Eastside development had affected these pubs. I didn't find the time in 2008 and so, finally, I revisited the area this year with my camera and these are the results. 
This is the first in my 'Eastside' series.

This is a 'classic' style of Birmingham pub built by James & Lister Lea and there are several more to be seen in this series. I've never actually been in this pub.

Here we are in 2011 and it's still there! Almost completely unchanged even though many of the nearby buildings have disappeared. It is a Grade II listed building, but I'm not sure if it is still open as a pub; the CAMRA website seems to indicate that it is closed. Another picture can be seen here.

Having discovered the Wikipedia page for James & Lister Lea, it would appear that the British Oak in Stirchley (#007 on my list) is also one of theirs and is a Grade II listed building!"
(Interestingly, none of the hyperlinks that were in that text are working now, 10 years later)
It is a magnificent building and a superb example of James & Lister Lea's pub output, but it isn't being used as a pub!
So, what of the Market Tavern in 2021?
It is still there and, externally at least, very well maintained. The hanging sign says "The Minerva Suite", but I can find little evidence to determine its current usage. It may have been a recording studio and home of an indie Brummie record label, but firm information is thin on the ground.

I'm very happy that the building is so well maintained and that it's Grade II status keeps it protected, but it is so sad that it isn't used as a pub any longer. Unfortunately, it is in the wrong place. Although there is still quite a bit of industry in the area, lunchtime drinking is so out of fashion that there would be little daytime trade, hidden away in the back streets.
The area is becoming more residential as many new blocks are constructed, but there would have to be a massive change in societal attitudes for the Market Tavern to become the 'village local'...sadly!
My only 'solution' would be to dismanle it carefully and rebuild it in a neighbourhood that would appreciate such a treasure of a pub. Not going to happen...but one can dream!

Friday, 5 February 2021

#027 The Old Wharf, Digbeth, Birmingham 1998 to 2021 (RIP)

 Here we go with another eulogy to a closed pub in the Digbeth/Eastside area of Birmingham - another tale of demise, resurrection and final closure! (Spoiler Alert!)

Here's what I wrote in 2011: -

"The Old Wharf in Digbeth is a small back street pub and, to be honest, I wasn't sure it would have survived.

When I took this photo in 1998 I'd never been inside, but subsequently I've visited once on a Saturday evening mini pub crawl a few years later. All I really remember was that it was too loud!

This pub has survived because, like many others in this area, it does live music and incorporates the GO Club.

From the outside little has really changed. The ground level paintwork has made the place more attractive, but it doesn't look as though the 'Old Wharf' on the corner wall has been touched since 1998! All in all, another success story, but another example of a pub surviving because it is a music venue...not because its a good pub!"

A couple of months later I learned that The Old Wharf had closed!

"Sad to report that, since I took my photos in August, The Old Wharf closed on 5th December as reported here. It seems that my optimism from October was unfounded. 

Here is another link, to a eulogy for The Old Wharf giving a first hand perspective on the good times had there."
I happened to be in the area again in 2014 and found that The Old Wharf was now O'Rourkes!
"Back in 2011 when I last reported, The Old Wharf had closed with no immediate prospect of re-opening. However, as I was walking to a meeting in Digbeth this week I came across this sight.
aka The Old Wharf, Digbeth 2014

It was early afternoon on Wednesday 3rd December 2014 and the new O'Rourkes wasn't open, but I assume that it is now an evening pub.

Further research revealed that O'Rourkes opened as a bar and B&B in July 2014 almost 3 years after the Old Wharf had closed. It is good news to see a pub re-opening, hopefully it will become a success."
I returned in 2018 to find my optimism sadly unwarranted!
aka The Old Wharf, Digbeth 2018
Apparently it had been sold for redevelopment in mid 2017. 
So, here we are 3 years later in 2021 - how much development of the site are you expecting to see? (Or maybe another resurrection?)
aka The Old Wharf, Digbeth, Birmingham 2021
Sadly, just more decay with added street art and grafitti. I have no idea what will become of the site, but it is unlikely to be a new pub anytime soon.

 But I can't leave you without this quote from the Live Brum site which eulogises what has been lost far better than I ever could!

"Tucked behind the Sanctuary like a hairy wart no one knows about, The Old Wharf is far enough off the beaten track to escape the plastic-fantastic trendy bar and refurbished-pub invasion of Broad Street. Being in Digbeth earns it an instant seal of approval from Itchy. We like small, traditional and slightly skuzzy pubs which thrive on live bands and a local crowd. We also like to pay less than a kidney for a pint and we really like trendy pop art paintings on the wall so we've got something to look at as we slide deep into another night of slurred words and broken promises."

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

#046 Queens Arms, Highgate, Birmingham : 1998 to 2021 (RIP)

Continuing with my review of pubs in the Eastside of Birmingham and, at the risk of becoming like another blog (the excellent Closed Pubs), I'll continue to record the demise of more pubs!

This time it is the turn of the Queen's Arms and this is what I wrote in 2011: -

"In 1998 the Queen's Arms on Barford Street was a pub I'd never been in, but had passed many times to and from work.

A few years after this picture was taken I did actually venture in to the Queen's Arms one evening. Inside it was a simple, basic pub with a handful of drinkers in the bar. The room on the right was the only bar that was open and I was concerned at the time about the prospects for its survival as this was a Saturday night.

However, it was the site of a curious meeting. Sitting at the bar was a bloke who said to me, "Don't you do the quiz at the Colebrook?" I didn't recognise him (one of the 'curses' of being a quiz master - they all know your name, but there are too many of them to possibly remember their's!) but he'd been a regular quizgoer until he moved to this side of the city. It is less than 10 miles between the two pubs, but in a city the size of Birmingham what are the chances of such a meeting?

Moving on to 2011 and it looks like the demise of the Queen's Arms is almost complete.

Still attractively painted on the outside, it is currently closed and has been this way for quite some time." 

At that time it was difficult to know whether the Queen's Arms would be resurrected. A drive past in 2018 didn't really resolve the situation.

More boarded up than before and the lanterns had been removed, but also some repainting had been done!

Finally, we come to 2021 and I think it is safe to say the the Queen's Arms is no more, despite the fact that it is still there and largely unchanged!

The 'For Sale' sign is a bit of a giveaway, but it is being offered on the basis of -  "We are of the opinion that the property is suitable to be utilised on the basis of a variety of uses, including a shisha lounge, restaurant, public house or multi occupancy residential." and all for the small sum of £440,000 for the freehold - details here.

Somehow, I don't think this will be a pub again any time soon!