Going Against the Grain

Going Against the Grain

Birmingham's next independent bar and restaurant

On Sam Boulton's face there's a smile, on his cap there's a pineapple and on his shoulders — presumably, though you wouldn't know it — is the heavy weight of the launch of Birmingham's next independent bar and restaurant. A launch that given, you know, everything, some might call a gamble. "Is it a gamble?" we ask, knowing the answer. He laughs. "Hell yes, but we've done our homework. Every bar launch is a gamble, and the virus adds to that roll of the dice. But roll the dice we will. We know what we're doing."

Don't doubt him. Sam's the guy behind The Vanguard, a tiny 30-cover bar hidden away above beloved JQ pub 1000 Trades. He built the bar himself, filling it with booze from his own personal stock and furniture he begged for and borrowed. The entire furnishing job cost £150. Originally planned as a six month pop-up, The Vanguard grew roots and stayed. Two and half years later and Sam and his team have outgrown their first home and their next stop is the biggest unit in the Great Western Arcade. Announcing, The Pineapple Club.    

Taking over the old Victorian Cafe, it promises to be quite a transformation. From a homely, if slightly tired liver and onions sort of a place, Sam's going "all in" with a bold, loud, art deco inspired upstairs, an artist's impression of which is above.

Serving up to 80, the focus will be on carefully crafted cocktails — just like at The Vanguard — along with a brunch and small plate menu delivered by Santi Plazas, ex sous chef of sorely missed Edgbaston restaurant El Borracho De Oro. Colombian dishes (Santi's home country) will be joined by Spanish tapas — which of course was El Borracho's forte, plus Italian food — Santi has roots there too. Oh and British dishes. So why the crazy mix? "The flexibility to try new dishes was a big factor. By offering a mix, we're able to present the best dishes out there, regardless of where they're from. No-one ever said you could only serve one thing, it has just become an industry norm. Santi has a vast history in Italian and Spanish food but also experience from his upbringing in Columbia. We want all this to shine and have every confidence in his execution."

The bar will also serve 200 Degree’s Coffee and pastries for the morning trade, opening at 10am. There's even a dance floor area planned, with closing time expected around midnight. 

The ground floor will be a bottle shop with craft beers, real ale, spirits, liqueurs and, of course, mead ageing in a a big ol' barrel. The Vanguard was a mead specialist shifting 25,000 servings of the honey beer from the first shutters up to the last shutters down, and it's a tradition that's making the short hop across town. "We're continuing with mead, for sure," says Sam "But craft beer is going to be a big deal for us, which is wasn't at The Vanguard. It's a huge passion of mine." They'll also be selling gift boxes — think DIY negronis and Old Fashioneds — and second hand cocktail books. 

As you can tell by the pics, The Pineapple Club will appeal to the Instagram generation, with wall-painted neon bee wings (top) providing the ever-popular out-and-about photo. "Everyone involved in the bar is a millennial," says Sam, 28. "We make no apology for that, we'll play to our strengths. There are other venues that do this well, you know? Eminently photographable. But very few of them are independently owned, independently run and with that independent spirit. Very few have that desire to make every drink excellent. Our goal is to make sure you leave this place with a smile on your face."

And it's hard not to smile at the cocktails. Sam promises to do a lot of the serious drinks that put The Vanguard on the map and won it awards — trust us, try anything he makes with yuzu — but he seems to have let his hair down with the funner side of the menu. Pornstar martinis (top left) are joined by Wonka-esque exotic creations like the El Poco Baya, featuring New Zealand vodka, cassis, white pear brandy, grape soda and a rainbow chew sweet (top right). Other 'Grammable and, fingers crossed, quaffable numbers include the Candy Club Punch (Spanish Vermouth, cranberry, candy cordial and pineapple rock — bottom left) and the Kawaii Milk (vodka, white chocolate, matcha milk with a Mini Milk — bottom right).

As Sam's leaving he turns around tells us a statistic he'd just read in Drinks International magazine. "You know only 3.4% of independent bars have closed because of COVID? That's awful for those bars, of course it is, and the number will rise, but it does show resilience. The independents reacted fast, pivoted — they were able to move to online far quicker than the chains — and the people supported them. They put their hands in the pockets. Gives you hope, right?"

Sure does.  

The Pineapple Club opens in Autumn. Follow them on Facebook or (of course) Insta