Following the mead epiphany that came out of the blue at the Independent Birmingham Festival after an initially innocuous perusal of the menu at The Vanguard’s pop-up cocktail bar, I was left with no choice but to visit the actual bar itself on Frederick Street in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. I normally sigh at the prospect of going to a cocktail bar, usually populated by excitable 9-5ers who don’t mind waiting up to 30 minutes for gaudy, overpriced drinks that are often submerged in ice cubes. I had no such apprehensions this time.
Located a couple of floors above the excellent 1000 Trades, The Vanguard is modestly decorated with mellow hip-hop playing on the stereo and engaging staff who look genuinely pleased to see you. After dusk the exposed lightbulbs, candlelit tables and soothing beats give it an intimate after-hours feel that is completely at odds with the interminably loud and boisterous cocktail bars of Broad St and beyond.
Although the choice of alluringly-named cocktails was seductive, I was immediately drawn to the mead tasting board which consisted of traditional honey mead, a rhubarb mead, a ginger mead and two sparkling meads. Despite going up to around 14% abv, mead doesn’t taste particularly alcoholic which is possibly dangerous due to how easy it is it drink. The small tasting glasses emptied at an alarming rate and despite my feeble grasp of the world of this sweet, syrupy drink I staunchly declared the rhubarb variety as the finest on offer.
I had an interesting conversation with the owner of the bar who explained how a few months previously, following an interview for a local newspaper, the writer of the article had declared The Vanguard a ‘Game of Thrones bar’ in the headline simply because mead had made fleeting appearances as a drink in the aforementioned TV show as well as a couple of other places in popular culture. Beware any bar owners who plan to stock mead for fear of getting a gimmicky label attached to their joint simply for serving an old-fashioned drink.
The Vanguard isn’t gimmicky however and whilst it could perhaps benefit from a more prominent location in the Jewellery Quarter in the future, it’s made a lasting first impression and is well worth a visit for anyone who wants to unwind away from the hum of the city in a cool, unhurried atmosphere.