What do you think of when you hear the word Birmingham? Smog? Red bricks? The inexplicably downbeat robot that makes announcements at Birmingham New Street? A hundred-thousand miserable nuns queued up outside a massive Primark? Personally, I'm reminded of visiting my cousins there and all the Saturdays I spent in town as a teen, having grown up nearby.
Understandably, the UK's second city means different things to different people. However, there's one thing we can universally agree on: it's a bit shit. Thing is, this mediocrity is part of Birmingham's identity. Brummies own it, they revel in it – albeit in an extremely placid way. As long as you don't chastise it first, they'll happily admit the city is a monument to meh.
The idea of this column is to review the worst-rated nightspots in cities across the UK, but until now I haven't visited anywhere like Birmingham – a town or city that finds a perverse sense of pride in the fact it's largely quite crap. So to find out if Birmingham does crap best, I've driven home up the M40 for a Thursday night club crawl of the city's worst-rated spots.
Pitcher & Piano – #20 of 133 Nightlife in Birmingham, via
First, let's see what the actual humans who use their own spare time to write anonymous internet reviews make of the place [all sic]:
"NOT LEMONADE. Ordered a lemonade. They said it was lemonade but it wasn't. I wasn't happy but they said it was lemonade even though it wasn't. Avoid!!!!"
"Food came after 50 mins it was cold & we were given two forks & 1 knife saying that they had run out of knives !!!!"
"I was flabergasted that such a busy and lively place couldnt provide our choice of drinks, just bizarre, but the bar girl was nice about it, so 2 beers and off we went!"
Bet you didn't know Birmingham has more canals than Venice. Unless, of course, you've met literally anyone from Birmingham, who will have told you that Birmingham has more canals than Venice. This pub quiz fact is to Brummies what MapMyRun posts are to your sinewy Facebook friend, Dean: a point of pride that absolutely nobody else cares about.
Either way, how better to kick off the night than sucking back a beer on the canal next to our first destination?
Inside, I order myself a couple of drinks: a lemonade and a tonic water. I want to get to the bottom of the profoundly unimportant "NOT LEMONADE" fiasco our reviewer took the time to describe on TripAdvisor.
I compare the two, and that, my friend, is definitely a lemonade. I grab myself something stronger and take in my surroundings.
Shoulder to shoulder with hordes of self-made, Thatcher-adoring types – men who remind me a lot of Harry Enfield's Considerably Richer Than You character – I begin to understand why the Tories held their conference a mere 20 metres from here last year. This is the land of opportunity; a place where dreams can come true. I head out into the night to chase mine.
Almost immediately, an egg lands next to me. Not a great start, until a nearby club promoter makes it clear the egg was aimed at her. "Not for the first time tonight as well, duck," she adds. A comforting wave of sadness washes over me. I'm home!
O Bar, Birmingham - #1,674 of 2,282 Restaurants in Birmingham, via
"Toilets were revolting and cocktails looks like sewage. Tried here for some drinks the cocktails were disgusting I couldn't even drink them, the toilets stank and the smell carried up through the place. Unfriendly and unhelpful staff."
"The most polite way to describe this venue is "down market"."
"2/10 and that's based on the barman who was great."
Oobah at the O Bar: a phonetic similarity that another, more drunk writer might use to justify just slacking off and partying. But despite the temptation to drink pints, silently mouth along to "Sex Is On Fire" and gaze at TrendingLive – a sort of Popworld for the Musical.ly generation that I have just now learned exists – I've got real journalism to do. Like, say:
Identify the remains of this partially-digested lamb masala blocking up a sink. Or:
Bear witness to the fact that, like our reviewer friend pointed out, this cocktail does indeed shine a shade of Simpsons' "radioactive sewage green". But you can't taste a whole book by just licking its cover, can you? So I order my own to judge this whole "undrinkable" thing.
Yes! This looks vile! But is actually totally drinkable! In fact, it's got me in the mood for a dance.
Which ends within seconds, with a crash.
I make a move for the door; we're heading to The Arcadian.
With its boarded-up Ladbrokes and black forest gateau of shit clubs stacked on top of one another, The Arcadian is a Wild West best captured by this viral video of a gigantic brawl that took place here about two months ago.
Levana, Birmingham – #1,648 of 1,935 Restaurants in Birmingham, via
"Worst bar I have been to in Birmingham"
"I'd say this was the worse experience in a bar/restaurant I've had to date and I shall be letting all my family and friend know to avoid this place!!!! More so the IDIOT owner!!!!"
"[Following a visit to Levana] Would not return to Birmingham, least friendly city I've ever been to"
Bursting in, it quickly becomes clear: this is where the party's at.
Anything you read or hear about the unfriendliness of the people in Levana – or Brummies in general – is absolute bullshit, by the way. And I'm willing to put it to the test.
Parting with just a couple of pounds, I've managed to secure a balloon. Now, just the small matter of slurping it down. Surely if this owner is an "IDIOT" like the review claims, he would have security chucking me out for doing it on the dance floor?
Absolutely nothing. Yet, dance like a dork?
And you'll be stared down like you've just stormed into a Millwall pub with a "Forever Blowing Bubbles" face tattoo. Ladies and gentleman, this owner is no idiot. He's simply an entrepreneur with his priorities in the right place.
Yet, with 2AM beckoning, it's time to move on, to the spot I'm most excited about. A rite of passage in every Midlander's life.
SNOBS, BIRMINGHAM - #71 of 133 Nightlife in Birmingham, via
"Barperson just refused to give/sell me tap water?! They where still open, there where songs still playing, my friend really could have done with it."
"Absolutely disgraceful and will never visit again."
"So disappointed with Snobs."
I can't believe it. It's Thursday night and Snobs is shut. I'd thought Snobs was the Newton's Cradle of clubs: never stopping, always open, consistently serving up £1 shots and Blink-182 hits. But checking on my phone, it seems it's not just this place; Subside, Subway City and a load of other clubs are also closed for the night.
How is the UK's second city so dead on a Thursday night? Eventually, I find a place that begrudgingly lets me in.
Players, Birmingham – Voted Fourth Worst Club in Birmingham (by The Tab in 2015)
"Way too crowded, all of the time."
"I've seen better strip shows in social clubs."
"First night out in brum was shocking got dragged into players and took about an hour to get a drink and was generally shit. We went home atleast it was more fun sat at home"
"The shittest club I ever been in."
Waiting in the lobby, I'm ready to fight back the crowds and get to the bar, where I've read it will take one hour to get served, minimum!
Pumping! I could gambol around this place without even touching the sides! But as fun as that would be, I get the impression that it's downstairs in "The Club" where things are really going off.
"Entries are done!" the bouncer yells, shooing me up the stairs like a grandmother with a broom, and out of the door. Now 3:30AM, there's only one place left: somewhere my friend describes as "that place with the weird pole and not much else".
Bar Jester, Birmingham – 2.9 out of 5 according to Google reviews
"I m sorry i can t vote with 0 or - smth stars. Just a shit club"
"Very bad place. Racist doormen, who think they are all that, but actually they are fat"
"This place in my opinion needs to invest in door staff that have common sense not a silly oaf who is killing the jester. No wonder Birmingham gay scene isnt what it use to be."
On the way in, the bouncers don't look too fat. Sure, they could probably do with cutting down on the cobs and potato scallops, but couldn't we all?
Look, I know what you see: a carcass of a club. A sight sadder than a Sainsbury's Basics sachet of soup. But I see something different.
An opportunity! Within minutes, the place gets up onto its feet. Birmingham is ready for one last go – one last flurry of fun as the sun rises outside.
And as the party really starts kicking off, I'm full to the bloody brim. Stand loud and stand proud, Birmingham, you've beaten them all. You truly are the best, at providing the shittest night out in Britain.
Other times we've toured the worst-rated nightspots in: