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Brum to Brum – a visit to Birmingham (Michigan)

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And so it transpired that in March and April this year I visited Michigan, the Great-Lakes state and birthplace of the husband.

Michigan isn’t so very different from around here. Al and I have always joked that we’re a Midwest-West Mids couple, both from near ailing car towns, now crippled from the collapse of the industry that spawned them and desperately hoping that a new industry can arrive and lead to a resurgence of the places we call home.

Anyway, enough of the cultural context. I’m writing this post because Metro-Detroit’s (not actual Detroit which is a whoooooole other story) ritziest neighbourhood is also called Birmingham! It’s the Beverly Hills of South-East MI doncha know? When you’ve made it there you move to um…Brum.


Michigan’s Brum is rigggght here. Incidentally outside Detroit.

Founded in the 1860s (officially), the town was christened Birmingham by landowner Rosewell T. Merrill who hoped the place would become a similar industrial centre (hahahahaha).

I first came across Birmingham mark 2 when Al was living in nearby Royal Oak (yup, they love their English town names over there). We went to a popular pancake house there for Sunday brunch. It turned out to be more like dinner by the time a table was available. Rule number one about Birmingham, it’s over-crowded because of its reputation.

Cute cinema, shame about the popcorn...and the lack of seating.

Cute cinema, shame about the popcorn…and the lack of seating.

Similarly, our trip to its cute old cinema was disappointing. We bought tickets for Sherlock Holmes (a film I never really wanted to see anyway – what were they thinking making a titan of cerebral ability into an action man – is the power of the brain not enough? And don’t get me started on – actually this is beside the point, breathe…and relax). We got the dregs of the popcorn, I mean they were minute, fairy popcorn. Then in the auditorium there were no seats left so we had to sit on the floor. Why sell us the tickets in the first place? This is the only time this has ever happened. I shall complain to Trip Advisor directly (although considering it’s been three years, this probably wouldn’t be that helpful).

To be fair, after this, I was pretty much done with Birmingham. But that isn’t to say that it doesn’t have its charms. It does boast a bonafide boutique hotel, The Townsend. While we have Old Joe looming over us like the Eye of Sauron, Birmingham has a rather large and eye-catching water tower. And just as we need more independent shops in our Brum, their Brum has them in spades, in a town square that twinkles with fairy lights year-round.


Birmingham’s water tower marks the town out as quintessentially American.

They always say Michigan is a good place to be from. And quite a few celebrities grew up here before inevitably upping sticks to Malibu. Director Sam Raimi, Saturday Night Live’s David Spade, soap actress Christine Lahti and comedian Tim Allen were all Birmingham residents during their youths.

And while Tim Allen may have set his long-running sitcom Home Improvement in Royal Oak, his character’s love of Hot Rods is definitely a nod to Birmingham’s major claim to fame, the Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise.


To Infinity And Beyond: The Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise sees lots of gear heads flock to Birmingham each year. Photo courtesy of Stephen K. Donnelly

The Dream Cruise is the world’s largest single day classic car event with around 1.5 million visitors descending on Woodward Ave each year. Detroit is a car-crazy town (of course) and this event makes you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time and landed in American Graffiti.  Makes you wish we could take our Classic Motor Show and put it on the streets. Actually there’s an idea, why can’t we have an equivalent car cruise on Broad Street each year for charity?
Anywho, I just thought I’d let you know we’re not alone in the world. Birmingham MI is not so bad even if I do prefer the nearby hoods of Royal Oak and Ferndale (less stuffy and more trendy, they also serve better popcorn). Those pancakes were worth waiting for btw. 
Next stop, Birmingham Alabama.   

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