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The Black Horse at Northfield

Wetherspoon's Revamp a Birmingham Classic
Only just heard this news so apologies if this is old hat to some of you.... The Black Horse at Northfield, arguably the greatest example of Brewer's Tudor architecture in Great Britain, is to re-open in February as a branch of Wetherspoon's. At least there'll be a range of beer to drink in this epic building erected by Davenport's Brewery. I'll certainly be popping in to see what changes have taken place, but really, if you have never been you simply have to go and witness the sheer scale of this place - Davenport's really pushed out the boat when they commissioned this pub.
Kieron McMahon 3rd January 2011

I was told by a relative who lives near the Black Horse that there was a punch-up on the opening night. I don't know what it is about this southern part of Birmingham but there is a palpable air of malevolence in the boozers. Well, those that are left - a number of pubs around the Northfield and King's Norton areas have been converted into private member's clubs in order to keep the troublemakers out. After spending a considerable sum of money on renovations, Wetherspoon's must have been very disappointed to hear that a fight kicked off on the opening night at the Black Horse.
Kieron McMahon May 2011

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The Church Tavern at Hockley

The Lord Clifden at Hockley

The Red Lion at Hockley

Real Ale Drinkers Strike Gold in the Jewellery Quarter
I only got around to buying the Good Beer Guide over the Christmas period. On page 4 there is an article by Roger Protz in which he states that, despite the problems faced by the pub industry, “British drinkers enjoy greater choice than at any time in the Good Beer Guide’s history, dating back to the early 1970’s.” A wander around the Jewellery Quarter today seemed to verify this statement. Ten years ago this historic part of Birmingham only had one or two pubs worth seeking out. What a difference a decade makes. Today, I enjoyed excellent pubs that offered good food and beer and were doing a roaring trade. I had ventured into Birmingham to have a wander around the Gas Hall which is currently staging a “Birmingham Seen” exhibition that explores the ways in which artists and photographers have portrayed the people and landscape of Birmingham since 1900. The added bonus for me was that there were plenty of old photographs of pubs, some very rare images - the exhibition’s deadline has been extended to the end of January so do try to get along if you can. Admission is free. After our tour of the exhibition I walked to Hockley and ventured into the Church Tavern, a former Ansell's boozer on the corner of Great Hampton Street and Harford Street. As a Punch Taverns house in the 1990’s and run by Raymond and Pat Wilkes, this was once the only place where you could buy Batham’s beer in Birmingham. The couple concentrated on food and cosiness but the current interior, although still commendable, has much less clutter. There is a real fire for toasting - much needed on a day when it struggled to get above zero outside. I was surprised to see Timothy Taylor Golden Best, a 3.5% ale that I have not seen on sale since a visit to the Pennines a few years ago. The pub was also selling Wye Valley H.P.A. The present incumbents certainly offer a wide range of events at the Church Tavern, from karaoke to race nights. It was nice and quiet when I visited and a few people were tucking into roast Sunday dinners. I walked the short distance along Great Hampton Street to the Lord Clifden, a pub that claims to have the largest collection of public art on display in the city. I can remember calling in here a few years ago, not long after Sunderland-born London chef Graham Smith took over this place and I wondered whether it would be a success. This was at a time when few people would have touched the Lord Clifden with a barge pole. The pub’s transformation has been quite remarkable. He started off by selling the occasional cask of Tetley Bitter but, after being encouraged by the local CAMRA branch, he ventured into the real ale with some gusto. He secured the supply of Batham’s Bitter which had formerly been stocked at the aforementioned Church Tavern and slowly added more beers to the range. And then he really got the beer bug and started up his own brewery. But the Lord Clifden’s success story is more than just a tale about beer. “We’re very much a community pub,” Graham told the Birmingham Post’s Andrew Cowan. “The regulars have been drinking here for years. We’ve got a ladies darts team and football table. There’s a fishing club and domino team too.” The front bar is home to the traditional games where there is also a butcher’s block forming the centrepiece of the room. But the real star item is the table tennis table in the enclosed beer garden to the rear of the building. This really is a charming haven with traffic lights, a belisha beacon and old post box emerge from the plants. It really is an oasis in an area more associated with heavy industry. I enjoyed the Sunday afternoon vibe inside the pub and tried some of the homebrewed beer. It wasn’t a knockout but pleasant enough. The pub also sells three other cask beers and a large range of continental lagers. Sunday dinners are sold all day until 9pm which is quite a refreshing change in a world that seems to put the shutters up around two-ish. Graham seems to have put his stamp on the kitchen and the plates looked good. If you prefer a quiet pint then early doors is the best option as the pub seems to change its spots at night when the DJ’s let rip with the sound system. There was a nice mix of clientele and I really enjoyed this pub experience. I walked up Vyse Street into the heart of the Jewellery Quarter and found the Jewellers’ Arms in a vibrant mood. Once a true desert for beer fans, the last time I ventured in here it was dead. I was the only customer on a Saturday night. As if to prove that pubs go through good and bad phases, the Jewellers’ is seemingly enjoying something of a renaissance. The pub now sells Greene King IPA and Hobson’s Bitter, the latter being a real rarity in Birmingham. And the even better news is that it tasted really great. With a friendly Irishman behind the counter and everyone enjoying the footy on the telly, it was nice to see this place ticking over nicely. Many people were wearing green and white as the Celtic vs. Rangers match was being shown on the telly. My next port of call was the Red Lion in Warstone Lane. Leased by Graham Smith, this is now the sister pub of the Lord Clifden. There are many similarities in ethos and style but this building has retained more of its traditional character. I nabbed a seat in the bar at the front of the building. Again, the vibe was very pleasant and I found the staff friendly. Beer samples were offered but I just dived in. Four ales were on offer: Wye Valley Butty Bach, Purity Mad Goose, Nottingham Extra Pale Ale and York Yorkshire Terrier. All four beers were excellent so I stayed for several, and feeling peckish, ordered a Sunday dinner. Priced at £8.95p the nosh was excellent and is heartily recommended. Indeed, the Red Lion’s events programme is largely based around food with Pie Night and Cow Club. I’m not sure why the Urban Ales beer produced by Graham Smith are not sold at the Red Lion in addition to the Lord Clifden? I’d have still gone for the Yorkshire Terrier, a fabulous beer. So, once again Birmingham has managed to surprise me with more pub success stories and a tremendous choice of beer available.
Kieron McMahon 3rd January 2010

The Old Fox Inn on Hurst Street

Backyard Oasis in Hurst Street
We went to see Alistair McGowan at the Birmingham Hippodrome last night. We had time to nip into The Fox across the road. From the outside it is a lovely looking pub and, over the decades, it has enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the theatre opposite. Unfortunately, the interior has been ruined and few theatre-goers and indeed thespians seem to bother with the place these days. On the plus side the licensee is very enthusiastic in stocking a range of guest ales in addition to the regular Old Speckled Hen, Tetley Bitter and St Austell Tribute. We tried a beer called Nipin which is brewed by the Backyard Brewery at Brownhills. A fairly new brewery, I hadn't tried any of this micro's ales. However, on the evidence of this beer I'll be trying plenty more. This is brewed to a similar recipe of other highly rated beers utilising American hops, this was a very pleasant dry hoppy pale ale with citrus notes galore. Very, very nice. We were the only ones to venture out of the Hippodrome at the half-time interval and make it across the road for a quick drink. Who would want to queue up at the Hippodrome's bar for a glass of fizz when this sort of beer is available a few yards from the front door? This is the third time we have been in The Fox over the last year and I have to say that the beer has always been highly enjoyable.
Kieron McMahon 16th November 2009

Proposed Casino at The Barleycorn

Plan to revamp The Barleycorn is in doubt
According to a report in the Express and Star, "plans to turn a derelict Black Country pub into a wedding and community venue have been recommended for refusal by Sandwell planning officers." Having been empty for over three years, The Barleycorn has been the subject of a number of planning applications, including one proposal for an all-night casino [proposed building pictured to the left] which saw the local residents campaign against the bid. In the current application the building's owner. Zabraan Aslam, is seeking to convert the former M&B pub into a venue for hosting weddings. However, it would appear that the planning application is doomed to failure at the meeting of Sandwell Council's planning committee. Ward representative, Councillor Bob Piper, told the local newspaper that "the issue here is about car parking."
Kieron McMahon 17th September 2009

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