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A Brum Romance. Is Birmingham Romantic?

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The director Danny Boyle once said that Birmingham would make the ideal setting for a romantic comedy. Obviously he wouldn’t direct it himself but some Brummie enfant terrible might come up with a way to make our rough diamond of a city into a sparkling gem like Notting Hill or er… Aberystwyth.

As he said this in 2005 and now, 8 years later, there is still no sign of Brum And The City, I have to wonder if Birmingham is up to the job as a destination for a romantic date night or a dirty weekend. And with Valentine’s Day imminent, I conducted a little investigation of my own …

I celebrated my third wedding anniversary  a few weeks ago, and being short on money, we elected to scamper back to our old neighbourhood for the night. The first disconcerting sign that Brum may be a fireworks-free zone came when selecting a hotel. I’m a member of Mr & Mrs Smith, the boutique hotel booking service but there were no Birmingham-based offerings on their website. Unperturbed I soldiered on.

Surely the two most obvious choices were the Hotel Du Vin off St Phillip’s Square and Malmaison in the Mailbox. Hotel Du Vin was booked solid and the most recent Trip Advisor reviews for Malmaison weren’t inspiring confidence with their candid photos of ripped sheets, frayed lampshades and unidentified stains. Trip Advisor isn’t currently too hot on Hotel Du Vin either and it looks like both hotels could do with a bit of a spruce-up and some staff training.

Sadly, we ended up at the Premiere Inn (!)* where the beds weren’t that comfy and the heating didn’t appear to be working. It was also very purple. Firework-free zone ladies and gents.

Carnage: Romance Broad street style.

Carnage: Romance Broad street style.

This is just the tip of the iceberg because Brum can be pretty darn unromantic. How can you take a romantic stroll when people are constantly spitting in the street and leaving you to dodge the resulting puddles? The Ibizian definition of ‘romance’ (ie a bunk-up) is still alive and kicking in the city centre. Broad Street has never been, is not and will never be romantic. Going out there in search of romance will leave you feeling unloved, melancholy and like you’ve spent the evening in an abbatoir – and that’s if you got lucky.

If Broad Street sounds like romance to you, you’re not going to like what I have to say very much so stop reading. I mean it – go away. If you can’t be bothered to have at least have a stab at witty conversation in the run up to your sexual encounters then I won’t waste your precious rutting time.

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But I know better. I know for sure that romance is alive and well here, unorthodox as it is, and that Mr Boyle might be on to something. Brum was the first place I lived with my husband so it holds very fond memories for me. So here I present to you The Romantic Guide to Brum:  

The Most Romantic Spot in Birmingham

Seriously, I can geographically pin-point it for you. It’s right here:

A little bit Love Actually, this. Yup it’s in New Street Station (I know, right?). Under a triangular hanging (probably a brutalist attempt to conceal some wires) will stand at any given time during opening hours, a girl or boy. Sometimes they are holding a bunch of flowers. They will always sport a slightly anxious or excited facial expression. And, often 20 minutes later than planned, it will open out into a wide grin just before they rush forward and deliver a passionate kiss to whoever it was they were waiting for. I’m talking full-on snogs here. Guaranteed, every time. I don’t know if this spot is on a lay-line or New Street was built on Cupid’s burial ground or what but I have witnessed this phenomenon at least ten times now. And it’s always heartening after I’ve trudged here, carefully avoiding spitballs.  

Most Romantic Bar

Strangely, despite my love of cocktails, I suggest the cocktail-free environs of Bacchus at the Burlington hotel. It’s like Liberace and an interior designer drank too much fabulousness and threw up all over a vault. In a good way. The dramatic curiosity of the place is a great talking point. They sometimes have live music, there are plenty of intimate nooks and crannies, it’s romantically lit and …well it’s a bar with a fake knight mausoleum. Go try it.

Most Romantic Restaurant

For my money I’d say Cote Brasserie in the Mailbox. Not because the food is amazing or because of the price but just because it is dimly lit and feels intimate. However, my husband feels that Brown’s Brasserie in the Bullring, with it’s New York ambiance and abundance of cocktail options is more fun. Especially when the remote controlled blinds come down at dusk.

Most Romantic Hotel

Well it’s yet to be built, sorry but there we are. But when the Grand Hotel on Colmore Row is opened, it will be worthy of Valentine’s days for years to come. The re-opening is expected in the spring of next year and looks great. In fact I’ve just been watching the interior tonight on BBC’s Dancing On The Edge as the ballroom was used as a location. Now if they could just add some horse-drawn carriages to trot you around Colmore Row, we might be starting to get somewhere.

Best Date

Watching a film at the Electric Cinema. Ok, ok, I know I always go on about this place but that’s because it’s great. You can duck in out of the rain, drink absinthe, eat cake then settle onto a squashy sofa at the back and cuddle up while you watch an old black and white movie. What’s not to love?

Best Place to Escape V-Day

Open mic nights are a good bet, because you’ll be in good company, no one will be paying attention to your perceived lonely-hearts status (especially if the act is really bad, trust me), couples will no doubt be heckled and it’s nice and dark. There’s an entertaining one each week at The Yardbird in Paradise Forum but on Feb 14th, Island Bar on the Suffolk Queensway is hosting one. There will probably be bad poetry – suck it up.

So there we have it, whether you’re a voyeur, a nauseating couple, first daters, a long-standing couple who don’t want to speak to each other but feel obliged to mark the day or a misanthropic singleton, Brum could surprise you this year.

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Happy Valentine’s Day Y’all

*Seriously, do not ever take a girl here and expect all your fantasies to come true.

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