Birmingham Leisure

City Centre Nightlife in the 1980s – An Introduction

Once upon a time in my my youth I could regularly be found gallivanting around the Birmingham pub and club scene in both various states of alcohol-induced abandon and as a member of staff of numerous clubs and bars throughout the 1980s.  It is with the hazy memories of this period in mind that I thought it may be of interest to document my recollections and hopefully add to it the memories of other readers of this website.

I will, as time goes on, add various articles on particular venues and nightlife notables I encountered over the years and also those that had long-since gone by the time I hit the City centre in 1983 but for now, I would just like to whet the appetite with an overview of the scene as I found it as a somewhat over enthusiastic, and somewhat under-aged, teen all those years ago.

My first experience of the Birmingham club scene (apart from seeing The Sweet at the Night Out sometime around 1980) revolved around waiting for the number 45 bus in the now-pedestrianised John Bright Street and seeing hordes of cavorting youth stumbling between Kaleidoscope, Sam Weller’s, The Grapes, Edward’s Number 7 and Boogies Brasserie.  Whilst the costs and benefits of alcohol consumption were yet to be known to me, seeing groups of people laughing and evidently having a good time – along with the merging of very loud music emanating from each venue into a cacophony of rhythm and mostly bass line (it’s to do with sine-waves but no need for that here) – made me instantly both curious and envious . . . I wanted to be among them.

To cut a long story short my first club experience came almost by accident after going to see a friend’s band play the The Railway in Curzon Street (also my first gig).  After the band’s equipment was packed away they decided to go clubbing and asked if I wanted to tag along, being considerably younger than the band I felt it both an exciting opportunity and felt secure in the knowledge that they’d look after me so why not?  We ended up somewhere I’d never heard of called ‘Zig Zags’ which, as I found sometime afterwards, was in essence a back room of the Hurst Street’s Powerhouse catering for the ‘Indie’ scene.

Going through the doors and down the stairs and into the club I was greeted with a completely life-changing and eye-opening experience.  At the time, the ‘Indie’ and ‘Goth’ scene were large – although unbeknown to me at that point – and the incredibly dark room was full of people in makeup, with spiked and dyed black hair and a multitude of fashions that were largely alien to me, mixed with the more traditional long-haired ‘heavy metal’ fans and punks.

My friends ushered me to the bar and offered me a drink – what would I have, I’d never had one before?  A pint of mild was ordered (for some reason) and we headed to the dance floor whereupon Bomber by Motorhead came on and the whole dance floor erupted into a rather furious bout of ‘wrecking’:  at one point, spat out of the melee came a short stocky chap who fell into me.  As he turned to apologise (they were a nice crowd) it turned out to be my history teacher who grumbled “alright Andrew, f*cking great song this” and threw himself back into the throng . . . what a fantastic experience I thought!

A week or so later my band friends invited me out again and introduced me to the delights of the Costermonger at the back of the Oasis Market and Mr Bill’s which at that time was on Needless Alley off New Street and was, once more, an incredibly eye-opening experience.

From then-on I really got the taste for exploring such places and, whilst most of my older-looking school mates were also getting to grips with the City’s nightlife, whereas they were largely caught-up in the New Romantic (aka ‘Trendies’) scene and frequenting such fine establishments as Le Pub, I was heavily into the rock and Indie scene (more the former but I did enjoy a bit of punk now and then) and so became a regular at Bill’s and the Costermonger as well as the Grapes (Hill Street) on a weekend – the latter two both DJ’d by gravel-voiced 70’s rock dinosaur Tony Craig – along with the odd trip to the Barrel Organ in Digbeth, the West End Bar, 49’ers on Smallbrook Queensway and the Outrigger at the top-end of Digbeth.

Club-wise, for a ‘rocker’ there wasn’t much to shout about until the re-launch of Edward’s No.8 as ‘Edward’s Rock Complex‘ in 1987.  Originally a ‘trendy’ club owned by club impresario Eddie Fewtrell (of whom more will be written elsewhere) this club became the focal point for my youthful nightlife experience and the hub of my social life for a number of years.  As I was now a bit older and seeking a bit of variety I also frequented the Powerhouse, the Dome (was the actual ‘Dome’ over the dance floor a bit naff , or is that just me?), the Matador, the Windsor, Peacocks, Tressines on Newhall Street and a few other odd pubs now and again.

I also ended up working at Edward’s No.8 – among others – and so spent a lot of time around Mr Fewtrell’s establishments (Goldwyn’s, Paramount, Boogies and Edward’s Nos. 7 and 8 ) and had a whale of a time and met many top bands and celebrities, along with many interesting people during my time there and it is a period I look back on with great fondness.

Anyway, above is a potted history of my halcyon pub and club period and I will be writing some articles on various venues as the site grows and would love to hear from anyone who wishes to contribute their memories and observations to the site.  There have been squillions of clubs and bars in the City over the years and I did my best to visit many of them during my youth – some were great, some not so (remember the Golden Eagle?) – but many had already gone by the wayside, were not within my particular ‘scene’ or I just hadn’t come across them so i am relying on everyone to provide as much information and comment as possible!

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27 comments for “City Centre Nightlife in the 1980s – An Introduction”

  1. a wonderful distilled trip down memory lane – shame we forgot to take photos at the time! top marks Andy

    Posted by adrian carey | November 6, 2009, 9:52 pm
  2. the ‘Tin Can club’! backstreet club with excellent live Indie bands.

    Posted by silver | February 1, 2010, 1:36 am
  3. Did the Outrigger then become the Ship Ashore? If not then the Ship was another great indie hangout for me but more into the early 90’s. Anyone have any memories of the RumRunner, i remember my older cousins filling my head with great stories of that place. Unfortunately it closed before i was able to visit. Im looking for old photos of the city centre from the 80’s / 90’s as well if anyone has any links. Great site by the way.

    Posted by how101 | March 8, 2010, 9:21 pm
  4. Many thanks for the post – glad you enjoy the website and yes, the Ship Ashore/Outrigger were one in the same.

    Posted by Andy Doherty | March 16, 2010, 12:12 am
  5. Hurst Street, Khan and Bell, The Rum Runner whose mirrored columns were polished by one Mr J Taylor who went on to become quite famous with… very good times. Good tale Andy, although in those day’s the very mention of Motorhead would have sent me running for the door.

    Posted by Careless Memory | March 20, 2010, 8:31 pm
  6. Does anyone know what street Le Pub was? I know it was off New Street but can’t remember for the life of me which one. Don’t think it was Bennets Hil but maybe I am wrong.. i used to love it there in 85’ish.

    Posted by Tony Lott | May 6, 2010, 1:36 pm
  7. It was between Needless Alley and Cannon Street, both of which run-off New Street. There was an entrance on Needless Alley directly opposite the entrance to the old Mr Bill’s Bier Kellar.

    Posted by Andy Doherty | May 10, 2010, 5:51 pm
  8. I would just like to say what a great experience i have had reading all the stories / memories on here , i was a frequent club goer in the mid eighties and early ninties although a bit suprised the ritzy hasnt been mentioned ( yet ) or sarah moons ? boogies was my main hang out untill i got older and was able to get in else where , birmingham city zulus used to use boogies on a regular basis if i recall ? as the years past i found myself in the dance factory (digbeth)it was at the back of a huge club to which for the life of me cant remember the name?
    Any way great reading keep it up

    Posted by Carl Bateman | August 7, 2010, 5:29 pm
  9. The Dance Factory? As it happens I worked there too – it was the back of the Institute night club in Digbeth.

    Posted by Andy Doherty | August 11, 2010, 12:07 am
  10. Hi all, like everyone else I’ve great memories of Birmingham city night life, for me 1980/81 was the most memorable time. The Rum Runner, Faces, Holy City Zoo, Peppermint Place and a host of others, my now much older addled brain cant remember! I did take quite a few photos at the time, of which I’ve posted some on PhotoBucket , by the way I was into the New Romantic thing in big way. Someone mentioned Karn and Bell in another post, I think I had one of those life changing experiences in that shop! It was so wonderfully wired, I recall the first time I went in, the atmosphere, the clothes, it really hit a spot within me. Strangely I recall the ceiling, gold painted blow up dolls staring down upon us, or was that some wired dream I had?

    Posted by Martin | August 20, 2010, 12:40 pm
  11. Hello everyone and thanks for the read Andy.

    Landed on this site as I was trawling for some info about now defunct pubs of Birmingham. This was born out of a conversation I had with my friends about name changes; it originally started when we argued about what Hawkins Wine Bar became before it was The Sound Bar (Fibber Magees we believe}.

    Anyway, Andy`s article has brought back a flood of memories. As an old punk (still one now really!) I used to frequent The Crown and The Shakespeare, and yes Andy, The Golden Eagle once or twice. As the 80s kicked in I tended to use The Powerhouse and Snobs. Now did the Powerhouse become Ritzy? Also, what was Romeo And Juliets before?

    The Outrigger was a great pub, used to go there with a Mod friend of mine, I was one of the few punks allowed in there!

    Andy you may, since you liked rock, remember The Horsetrader, or what it became after it was The Horsetrader cuz I remember using it with some of my biker pals around 1990.

    49s I definitely went to a few times, played pool there I think, but can`t remember where it was?

    Shame about The Costers, great craic in there, pinballs and puke!!

    Posted by Spike | September 15, 2010, 4:43 am
  12. well andy youve done it again thanx for the mem’s mate do you know im getting chills up my spine thinking of all those pubs and clubs mentioned lol but im supprised millionaries was not mentioned or i missed it or paggoda park and what was the pub called just down from the 49’ers and across the road on the doors there was a realy tall doorman called john hands like shovells he was from wolverhampton well like i said a lot of mem’s and the rock was rocking in town in them days my wife did the rum runner a lot and even the barrelorgan but i cant place that i remember hearing on the radio in the mid 80’s about a reggie club and me and some lads went to have a look i think it was called sashas night club looked like a bungelow from the outside with a steel door with a slide but we never got in anyway ha ha well i hope to read more on here thanx again

    Posted by darren sherwood | September 24, 2010, 3:42 am
  13. Can any one tell me what Subside (fletchers walk) was formerly known as in the 90s.

    Posted by tracey taggart | October 8, 2010, 1:29 pm
  14. I think it was the XL’s Rock Cafe and many years ago Notes Wine Bar, named so due to it being below Birmingham Conservatoire.

    Posted by Andy Doherty | October 8, 2010, 5:28 pm
  15. Hi. I was hoping you could settle an argument I have with my partner who is a Birmingham girl. In the mid seventies I saw Chuck Berry on Broad St at a club which I remember to have been called Barbarellas. My partner insists that this club was around 5 ways whereas I remember the club being around the Brindley Place area. Can you help settle this very friendly argument. Thank you.
    David Raybould

    Posted by David Raybould | October 22, 2010, 12:19 pm
  16. It lay on Cumberland Street which still exists in part today and is at the Brindley Place end of Broad Street – although no trace now exists of the site of the club due to the extensive redevelopment of tha area including the truncating of Cumberland Street.

    Posted by Andy Doherty | October 22, 2010, 7:18 pm
  17. Hi can u remember a pub in the 1980s that was located off newstreet templestreet i think that u had to go down a lot of stairs its driving my husband and i mad csn anyone remember thxs

    Posted by sue | December 13, 2010, 7:55 pm
  18. “Hi can u remember a pub in the 1980s that was located off newstreet templestreet i think that u had to go down a lot of stairs its driving my husband and i mad csn anyone remember thxs”

    The Yard of Ale is on New Street and is down in the basement.

    Wasn`t there are bar at the top end of Temple Street, closed now and its last name was Sputnik Bar!

    Posted by Spike | February 12, 2011, 4:03 am
  19. Was the nightclub called Faces on Broad Street, on the left hand side if you were coming from the central library please?

    Posted by Joanna Adegbite | February 19, 2011, 9:23 pm
  20. The pub down the stairs I think you were on about is underneath (what was) the New Imperial Hotel, which was located on Temple street. This was the BierKeller, but the entrance was on Needless alley. I worked at the New Imperial and often helped out in the Bars. The residents Bar was Pollys Bar, Peacocks Bar was around the back and at the time I was there was hosting so many live bands and was very popular. (Im still in touch with people from that bar!!) Oh, the memories that this post has brought back! I also worked at Churchills Snooker Club which was fantastic. Many a time I would cruise the clubs as I had free entrance. Millionaires, The Powerhouse, Edwards, but my favourite was Pagoda Park for some reason. I used to go for burger and Chips at the burger bar at the top of John Bright Street. There was also the Navigation Chip Bar and the Chick King and Mr Bretts in the middle. I loved this time of my life and often look back with VERY fond memories.

    Posted by fiona Willetts | February 22, 2011, 12:28 am
  21. Hi Joanne, yes it was ‘Faces’ (I recall it as ‘Faces International’) and following that it was known as XL’s. I belive it was called Peppermint Place in its pre-Faces days but that was have been a bit before my time so am not 100% on that.

    Posted by Andy Doherty | February 23, 2011, 8:30 pm
  22. nice trip down memory land so many thanks. does anyone remember the holy city zoo with its dance floor surrounded by bars. and also a pub called the ironhorse which i believe was on station street in birmingham

    Posted by karin robertson | February 24, 2011, 11:20 pm
  23. Can anyone remember a club – think it was on Green Lane off the Cov Rd?

    Posted by allan | March 28, 2011, 8:53 am
  24. The pub that you went downstairs to in the 80’s was Planter’s Bar. Which I could be found in several nights of the week.

    Green Lane club was the Emerald (still there).

    Posted by Gary | May 11, 2011, 1:16 pm
  25. ‘Can any one tell me what Subside (fletchers walk) was formerly known as in the 90s.’

    Before it was turned into a lapdancing club called ‘Expose’, it was called eXposure 🙂

    Posted by Clare Homer | May 15, 2011, 7:14 pm
  26. oh what memories, kelidoscope was my favourite place, also does anyone remember the west end bar, cagneys, the midland hotel, top cats and of course you had to end the night in the navigaton chip bar and the little man that worked in there and the best spring rolls ever, wish i could go back in time

    Posted by jackie shemmell | May 31, 2011, 10:53 pm
  27. The Navigation Chippy – funny what things you remember but I recall the ‘little man’ had a daughter called Angela and yes, the spring rolls were great (well at least at 2am after a few pints they were!).

    Posted by Andy Doherty | June 1, 2011, 12:00 am

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