The Woodman is a wonderful pub, with a wonderful story. Run down, neglected, then restored in 2013.
Quinn, the helpful barman showed us a photo book showing the works from start to finish, including the set back when criminals moved in and stripped the place of all saleable metals. They didn’t have to smash the place up, including breaking bits off the bar for fire wood though did they?
No one knows who these people were, but the food packaging they’d strewn all over during their illegal occupation was all from the Polski Sklep. Maybe they’d broken into one of them too?
The mahogany bar and mahogany, marble and etched glass bar-back have all been fully restored now. The impressive ‘Eagle’ mirror at the back of the bar is believed to have come from the nearby Eagle and Tun, of UB40 fame (which UB40 I hear you ask? Probably the original ones).
If you walked in you would think you were in a pukka late Victorian boozer. The original having been built for Birmingham brewer Ansells in 1897. Sadly there was only one pane of etched glass left when the renovations commenced and all the current glass panels and windows have been recreated by copying the sole survivor.
As well as the things you can see, there’s also an eco friendly heat recovery system and a green roof. Quinn pointed out where the original walls had been, separating the current bar room into a ‘workers’ tap room on the left and a more upmarket bar on the right – same external door, separate internal doors. He told me the original wall ran diagonally from the cater cornered front door to the bar.
The upper echelons of local society could go into the lounge through a separate door (also giving access to the better side of the bar) and receive table service at the press of a buzzer. Sadly, you have to go and stand at the hatch and ring a little bell these days. I went and had a look round, the impressive Minton tiled snug seemed very popular.
I did read it was a smoking room somewhere, but I’ll stick with the venue experts; you could smoke where you wanted to in those days and why would smokers alone get a buzzer to ring for service, and their own door, straight in without mixing with the hoi polloi? The outside is pretty impressive too with it’s ornate brickwork and wide arched windows.
The Woodman sits on the edgelands of the city centre, between a university and what Lady sinks the booze nicely terms ‘car wash and tyre centre land’, and if you’ve been you’ll know there’s an awful lot of this in Birmingham. It’s going to be very handy for the new HS2 station when it’s built, and also for the wreckage of the splendid Classical styled Curzon Street Station.
It’s also handy for desperate commuters, like the one who sprinted past me on my way to the Gents, after asking at the bar of course. They were alright for outside ones, but I wouldn’t be rushing in myself for a number 2. Mind you, the accompanying sound effects from behind the closet door confirmed his visit was indeed above and beyond the call of duty.
Originally The Woodman was at the corner of two long gone terraces, disappeared behind Birmingham’s forward looking city planners who at long last, with the Jewellery Quarter, seem to have grasped the meaning of ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’.
I paid £6.30 for a pint of the excellent Castle Rock Harvest Pale (NBSS 4) and one half of Salopian Lemon Dream (NBSS 3.5), proving it’s worthiness of GBG status. There were four other cask ales and four real cider/perries drawn by hand pump from the cellar. I think it’s good to see a choice of ciders, properly kept; in the cellar at a constant cool temperature and not sat behind the bar in boxes at ambient temperature. Cider and Perry appeals to many younger drinkers who aren’t going to be drawn in by choices like a Hobgoblin Halloween novelty beer. The majority of the customers during a tea time session being students and academics, unlike the previous pub.
There’s something about the littoral zone between full daylight and black night. The dwindling light started to accentuate the heavy dark wood. The lambent light of the, almost gas light spectrum, bulbs started to twinkle on the shiny bits. People stumbled in, unwrapping themselves from scarves and heavy coats, swinging rucksacks from their shoulders onto the bench seating.
Why does everybody have flippin’ rucksacks? Why do they swing them right in front of my face, mere fractions of inches above the top of my beer, as if I’m not sat there. Why don’t they know they’re wider than Cyril Smith when trying to squeeze through narrow gaps with one on their backs? They should be forced to have Long Load markings and fit wing mirrors to themselves.
Anyway, apart from all the inconsiderate twits with rucksacks it was marvellous. So much so we had to have another one, it was just a shame to move on, and I don’t care how many good pubs there are in Birmingham (or anywhere else) or other GBG pubs to tick, this place was just brilliant with excellent (not including the Hobgoblin), well kept beer.
And this folks, is a brand new entry into my top twenty; beer quality, sheer pubitechture and commitment to preserving and enhancing the very best of our pub heritage .