Unexpectedly lovely Birmingham

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, UK - England - Birmingham | Posted on 21-06-2010

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I’m currently on the flight home towards vancouver having left Birmingham this morning. Unlike the previous cities (Glasgow and Manchester) I was actually quite bummed about leaving Birmingham behind – I’d gladly have stayed another week.

The city reminded me a lot of Vancouver, with loads of greenspaces, a fantastic use of the city’s canal system as a livable space, and a vibe to it that was a lot more relaxed and positive than the previous (downtrodden) cities. It’s kind of like, if London is Toronto (big, noisy, and everyone knowing they’re hot shit) Birmingham was more like Vancouver (chilled out, beautiful, and smirking because they know what they’ve got going on).

Our hotel was in a great area – a short walk to the venue so I could walk over and grab meals, right beside the newly developed downtown market area, and right on the edge of the gay village (translation: good eats and late night lounges).

Tuesday was a day off for Chris so we slept in and had a good wander around the city, grabbing lunch beside the water, checking out the canals and wandering through some shopping (harvey nichols? gorgeous things dahlink.) Found a food fair in the middle of the city that had booths of different food set up and a giant beer garden where thousands of people had come out to enjoy the sun and the music and the varied eats – totally spot on as to how a city should run an outdoor social/eat event like they did. Late eats in the sun led to a nap and then we popped out around 10 that night for a bite of szechewan at this place run by a late 20s guy that had the craziest chinese/english/american hybrid accent i’ve ever heard. When we told him we wanted to order the combo, he kind of laughed and said, “really? We can do so much better than western standards”… he recommended a bunch of dishes I’d never even heard of but each one was better than the last, and we left full of spicy goodness. Ended up in a nice little lounge that’d just opened directly across from the hotel that was open till 4 during the week and 6am thru weekends… it was a slow night, so the bartender just sat down and hung out with us and told us all about Bham and things about town that are fun on different nights — a seriously welcoming and nice pitstop on the way home.

Weds and Thurs were heavy work days for me (finished up a major migration project and launched another live = woohah!) where I’d keep the blinds closed until 4ish so as not to provide blue sky distraction, and then go out for dinner at the venue around 5 and then wander around through sunset.

Weds night Chris was working late, so I wandered off on my own to explore the nightlife in the city and ran into some random canadians that provided some homesickness remediation over a beer (or few). Just popped in from pub to bar back to the lounge and the hotel around midnight.

Thursday night Chris worked late again, but wanted to go out, so we grabbed M (great guy with a voracious presence) and dragged him out with us. It was already 1, and the pubs were winding down, but there was a big gay club just picking up and when we found out the drinks were only a pound each, we went in. Much hands in the air ridiculous diva dancing (“omg! they’re playing madonna in a gay club! can you believe it?!?!?”) and back patio mingling (said to M, who is straight but likes gay bars because the straight women are friendlier: “they all wanna do your accent, dude”). 4am kebab mayhem and then a serious sleep in on a grey day led to a nice lazy friday off for Chris.

We rolled out of the room around 5pm, and went to the venue so chris could make a quick presentation, and then wandered off with M to check out a venue they were renting for a party on Sunday night @ the mega-super-massif-club Gatecrasher Birmingham. Incredible and unexpected professionalism got that taken care of quickly, and we wandered off to watch the rest of the England vs Algeria world cup match in an ‘authentic environment’. After the game we hopped from the rowdy pub for some teppenyaki with very lively chefs and a whole schwack of partying Norwegians (recognized by the drinking song they’d belt out every couple minutes being the same as the one we heard at the Oktoberfest in Oslo last year). Back to the hotel room to keep it an easy night…

Saturday Chris went to work and I hung out and got everything packed up and ready to fly out the next morning, then went over to meet up with a friend of Chris’ that he used to manage and that I’ve tagged along on a few tour dates with. He’d brought the whole family down from Cardiff, and we had a nice catchup over dinner and a site tour, and then killed some time sitting down by the canals watching floating restaurants glide by with grace, and stonerladen water-borne magic busses blaring Led Zepplin drive off in search of their port of party.

Chris got back to the hotel around 11, and we geared up to head out and check out the Gatecrasher club they were going to be using for their party the next night – we’d both said we’d like to check it out full, and the promoter told us they were doing 2 big cd release parties on Saturday night and it should be massive and we should come down to check it out. So we got glammed up a bit, and met up with a few others in the lobby and headed over… The promoter met us by the door, pulled us past the queue, and set us up with VIP area access and our own booth – a very nice and unexpected perk that made the night a whole lot classier than expected (note: The bar had Agwa… the non North_American version… some of you will know what that means – heheh) Amazing venue for certain – some of the best lighting design I’ve ever seen (and entire wall that’s LED panels and fully controllable), 5 different theme rooms, 9 bars, and it’s all tastefully done. We just don’t have the superclub capabilities in Vancouver, so it’s nice to pop in when someone’s doing it right.

Late night led into watching the sun rise outside our hotel window, and it was an early climb into the shower and downstairs to catch my bus for my journey home…

Could definitely have spent more time in Birmingham – it was a really nice place: we’ve never been made to feel more welcome in a city by the people we met, it was clean and moving forward with a good vision and civic plan, and even though we were out most every night there was still much more to explore…

Another time, perhaps…