Taxi Noir: Great British Pubs – The Bartons Arms, Birmingham
As an aficionado of traditional British pubs it’s always a pleasure to visit the Bartons Arms in Birmingham. This stunning pub presents an outstanding example of classic pub architecture, and stands as perhaps the definitive example of a grand Victorian pub (Queen Victoria died in the same year the pub was built, 1901: so I think we can call it Victorian).
The Bartons Arms (often incorrectly called the Barton’s Arms) sits on nondescript Aston High Street, which forms the busy and windswept A34, where traffic thunders through the inner city. Apart from nearby Aston Villa Football Club, there isn’t much else in this part of Birmingham to interests visitors.
The Bartons Arms can provide a few hours of pleasure before or after the football, or at any time. It’s a rewarding visit whether you’ve come for the beer, the food; or just to gaze in wonder at this awesome pub. The pub is well respected by pub and beer fans and attracts visitors from near and far.
The interior defines Victorian grandeur; with rich mahogany woodwork, snob screens, extensive decorative tiling and an amazing wrought-iron staircase. Victorian pubs can be gloomy, but this one is a riot of huge stained glass windows. If there’s any sunshine at all in Aston – and it does happen – the front room is bathed in light. On my November visit the pub had a warm golden glow. My stomach similarly had a warm glow after a fine Thai red curry.
Laurel and Hardy are revered on both sides of the Atlantic. Above the bar there’s a photo of the pair outside the pub. The Bartons Arms sits very close to the long-demolished Aston Hippodrome, perhaps the Midlands’ premier variety theatre of its time. Laurel and Hardy rested at the Bartons between shows on their last UK tour in May 1954. Marie Lloyd, Enrico Caruso, Sid Field, and Charlie Chaplin also drank and lodged at the pub (I’m also impressed that Ozzy Osborne of Black Sabbath grew up nearby on Lodge Road and has drunk there).
When the inner-city area of Aston was re-developed in the 1960s, the pub was neglected and was threatened with demolition. Somehow it survived and was eventually given a sympathetic makeover and returned to its former greatness. Since 2002 it has been owned by Oakham Ales, who supply most of the traditional beer (real ale) and lovingly maintain the pub.
For some years, the pub has specialised in traditional Thai food. You can have a wonderful meal for around a tenner. The separate dining room is very pleasant and atmospheric. You could certainly spend a whole evening here enjoying such grand surroundings. It’s too far to walk from Birmingham city centre, but there are frequent buses, or it’s a fairly short cab ride. If you’re driving there’s a pub car park.
The Bartons Arms features in CAMRAs Good Beer Guide, and has received a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence. I urge any visitor to Birmingham to make the short journey here to sample its excellence.
144 High Street