Issue 268
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PUB.

Pubs with ping pong, pubs with bowling, pubs with cats, pubs with passwords. Dive pubs, bingo pubs, golf pubs, pubs that you're not allowed in unless your name's Rupert. The themed pub concept has reached a shark-jumping frenzy of late. What the hell happened to the pub pub? Well, it's been doing what it's always been doing: sitting almost untouched, in the Newtown area of Aston, since 1901. The Victorian-era Bartons Arms, the city's most beautiful boozer, now runs tours of its historic interior. So we got our Goodnight Sweetheart on and went back in time.     
Combine the alarming rate at which pubs are closing (18 a week) and Birmingham's uncanny ability to level its most attractive buildings and it's a minor miracle that one of the nation's most ornate watering holes remains. The existing building was built over 100 years ago at a cost of £12,000. It was the flagship of the Mitchells & Butlers brewery estate and, get this, they built it deep in Ansell's brewery heartland just for the sheer chutzpah of it. Back then, Aston was still ten years away from even being part of Birmingham!

Though attractive, the brick and stone neo-Jacobean exterior — inspired by the nearby Aston Hall — belies an interior that'll knock you on square your backside.
Originally it was built in two distinct halves: the working class area (two images above) and the upper class section (part of which is visible directly above). Neither half could be reached directly from the other. They have, of course, knocked the walls through to make it one fluid boozer, but the immaculate hallmarks of both sections remain. The Bartons has the most snob screens of any pub in the UK. The twistable frosted windows (above) allowed those in the upper class section to either choose not to even look at the working class on the other side of the bar or, worse, could position their windows to spy on their workforce having a boozy lunch. They also allowed for privacy in discussing matters without the bar staff earwigging.  
The mahogany woodworkings still smell rich (you do look a bit odd sniffing them, mind), and there are stained and engraved windows and mirrors, with a sweeping centrepiece wrought-iron staircase. Wall-to-wall Minton-Hollins tiles, from shiny-glazed decorative patterns to huge painted scenes, complete the look.  
Ever associated with the long-since razed Aston Hippodrome — torn down in 1980 — big acts would perform in the theatre and sleep at The Bartons just opposite. You can see how close they were above. Laurel & Hardy were patrons of the pub, the 1954 photo below being salvaged from a bin, the crease marks still evident from when it was folded and flung. You can make out the pub's signage. More recently Ozzy Osbourne has been in, having been a regular attendee as a youngster. Charlie Chaplin, it is thought, drank and lodged at The Bartons, too.
The cavernous cellar runs the length of the building, with the beer barrels dropping through the same cellar drop today as they did on day one. Allegedly there is a tunnel that used to run from the cellar of the original pub that was on the site and the nearby Aston Hall. Throughout, many of the pub's lamps, though working on electricity now, still have twistable taps from their gas days, and the upper class area has bell pushes dotted across the walling from when tables were waited on at the push of a button.   
Tours run once a month and cost £19.95 per person. The Thai kitchen that's been in place for 18 years will feed you once you've had a nose about. Or you could just pop in at any point for a quiet pint. You can still do that in some pubs.   

GET BANGED UP FOR FUN


As we may have mentioned once or twice before, we know all the words to Locked Up by Akon. So a Murder Mystery meets an Escape Room set in an old prison is right up our street. Until Proven Guilty is an immersive event which shuts down the lock up on Steelhouse Lane, formerly home to the Peaky effin’ Blinders and the notorious Yvette Fielding (for one night only: it was a TV thing). If you manage to land yourself a slot, you'll be doing bird with five other inmates, and it’s down to you to prove your innocence by gathering evidence, ducking and dodging guards and eventually outing the real killer. You bring the Rita Hayworth poster. We’ll fashion a shiv. Let’s do this. Taking place from May 1 to 4 at various times, sessions are free but you need to book by using the code: ichoose. These tickets will go faster than a fugitive fleeing a derailed train. More 

HIM FROM THAT THING


Marc Maron in Birmingham? WTF? You know the name. You know the moustache. Good news is, the misanthropic mega-comedian — who’s also our middle-aged goals — is en route to Brum. The WTF Podcast with Marc Maron is one of those ‘casts that we’ve been meaning to get around to, (and we definitely will) but the fact that it’s got 400 million downloads to its name says all you need to know. The GLOW star has been beefing with Jon Stewart for years and his new stand-up show suggests a return to the “aggressive monologuing” that made his name. Cover your ears, Nan. Fancy a taster? Marc Maron: Too Real is currently streaming on Netflix with The Rep show on April 8. Tickets £25.

FILM PICK: THE LEGO MOVIE II


Back in 2014, The LEGO Movie shocked the world by turning out not to be some piece of mind-melting brand synergy, but one of the most inventive comedies for years. This oddly tardy follow-up isn’t quite the same surprise, but the gags are just as frequent and just as nuts. Nostalgia buttons are bashed even harder, with Duplo blocks taking up the role of villain, and the cast is just as eclectic: Bruce Willis reprises John McClane, Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa cameo as their DC characters, and there’s even room for the little girl from The Florida Project. Most importantly, though, this is a family film that gets the importance of creativity, and gets it in a totally non-cloying or manipulative way. Times
Venue: Koba-Ko Ramen at The Juke, 16 York Road, B14 7RY; website 
Choice: Tokyo Shoyu (£10) Chooser: Owner and chef Sam Hill

It's almost worth having a hangover to have it so expertly expunged by Koba-Ko. The ramen specialists are popping up at
The Juke, in Kings Heath, throughout February and they poured ice cubes down the vest of our morning-after dip. Big bowls of handmade noodles submerged in a stocky, salty elixir that's been brewed for as long as 12 hours by the two Japan-obsessed chefs and owners, Sam and John. The Tokyo Shoyu is juicy chicken in soy tare and (no we don't know what these are, either) menma and ajitsuke tamago. So heavenly was this cauldron of nectar that at one stage we were tempted to submerge our face clean into the bowl and blow bubbles of brothy glee. The pork tonkotsu, though good, was totally outclassed by this urn of depthy, homely immaculateness. Highlights of the side dishes are the karrage fried chicken (we went back for seconds), the beef neck croquettes and, surprisingly, the marinated tofu with tograshi mayo and crispy leeks. After last week's debacle of a You Choose this is a blissful return to form for Birmingham. And in jukebox Shangri-La, The Juke, Koba-Ko have the perfect hosts for their not-to-be-missed one-month marriage of tenderness. Menu
Tomorrow (Feb 8), burger buffs Bun Shop will takeover Caneat. Presumably with Caneat's permission, right?
Donut doyens Jam Vs Custard are taking over Quarter Horse Coffee for one day only, this Saturday (Feb 9). Again, we're hoping none of this is forcibly done.
Our better-looking sister magazine continues its extraordinary 'Good Stuff' giveaways with £200 in Lee Longlands vouchers. You're subscribed right?
CineQ Queer Film Festival has just announced its line-up. March 22 to 24 the full festival pass is £27.74... for the time being.
 


"It's easy to maintain your integrity when no one is offering to buy it out."


Marc Maron



 
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WORDS: Katy Drohan, Tom CullenRobb Sheppard, Andrew Lowry
PICTURES: Bartons Arms - Robert Gale, Tim Keating

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