Digbeth: The true heart of Birmingham


Located a mere fifteen-minute walk from Grand Central, it's difficult to understand why Digbeth's often neglected by the students of this great city. With live music venues, vintage shops, and pubs-a-plenty, this part of town should be the student hub and alternative honeypot. Yet, for the majority of students, Digbeth means a maximum of two things: Rainbow and Digbeth Dining Club.

While these two names, a warehouse-type venue and a Friday-evening food event, reflect Digbeth's diversity of choice and entertainment, they are by no means the be-all-and-end-all of the district. Take, for instance, the Custard Factory - a vibrant and colourful complex where independent shops and artisan coffee-houses sit side-by-side. The site, as the name suggests, was once the base of Bird's Custard, but is now a place that you could easily spend an hour or two perusing the shops. It's a welcome escape from the somewhat typical-of-modern-day-cities shopping centre that is the Bull Ring.

Don't get me wrong, the Bull Ring is great to spend a few hours in, and it's got everything you'd need for a standard shopping trip - all the big-name stores, some great eateries, and a bronze bull to sit on while having your photo taken. But nothing really sets it apart from other cities' offerings, like Liverpool One or Manchester's Arndale Centre. The Custard Factory is a genuine alternative to the homogenisation of shopping centres across the UK, as Digbeth is an alternative to the centre of the city itself.

Digbeth also boasts the oldest pub in Birmingham: The Old Crown. Sit back, relax, and enjoy a drink, safe in the knowledge that the building dates back as far as the 1400s. I don't know about you, but this information offers me real comfort when I'm having a pint. In fact, I can't drink in a pub unless it pre-dates Shakespeare - it's just a little rule I have. The décor has, fortunately, been updated since the Plantagenet era, and there is no trace of Henry VI's reign shining through the interior. There is, however, a reasonably-priced wine list and food served nearly all day.

The O2 Institute is also in Digbeth. A mid-sized venue where you can go and see a whole host of acts, from Radio 1's resident grime DJ and professional man-who-shouts-loudly, Charlie Sloth, to Jaws: a band who came through Birmingham's very own B-Town scene which is said to have grown in and around Digbeth itself. If Digbeth produced B-Town, one of the most fruitful and exciting scenes in indie music of the last decade, it must be doing something right.

With plans to renovate many of the older, disused buildings of the area into flats, offices, and other such trappings of generic-city life, Digbeth's existence as one of the true alt-hubs of the city may be waning rather than waxing. Make the most of this semi-hidden gem while you still can.

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