“What costs you £300,000 here’s gonna cost you almost a million down there!” said the man with the moustache at the bar in a thick Brummie accent to his two pals, nodding in agreement clutching their pint glasses.
They don’t play music at The Wellington so while the barman was pouring my pint I could clearly hear the man complaining incredulously about house prices in London compared to Birmingham. They don’t play music here because they don’t need to. The Wellington is the most gloriously unpretentious pub in Birmingham, free of any pumping music, elaborately-titled food options or jaunty decor. It is stoically unchanging in a rapidly evolving drinking scene.
It’s only vice is ale which draws in punters of all ages and backgrounds. It offers 8 regular beers and a revolving door of 9 different guest ales as well as lagers, ciders and a formidable whisky collection for those who aren’t as hopelessly devoted to hops as the regulars here. A remarkable 2610 different ales were sold in its first year! The famous electronic Beer Board takes pride of place at the end of the bar to explain which beers are on tap that particular day with a few details about each one (the brewery, alcohol volume, price) and includes a smart Colour Code ranging from ‘A’ to ‘E’ with ‘A’ signifying pale and ‘E’ signifying dark. It’s a simple and clever mechanism especially for those new to trying real ales.
Incredibly The Wellington was only opened in 2004 but it feels like it’s been around for a lot longer. It’s situated on Bennetts Hill which is swiftly becoming the destination of choice for those who are tired of Broad Street’s interminable ‘attractions’ and feel the need to bring their revelry closer to the city centre. Bennetts Hill can get quite rowdy on Friday and Saturday nights and at times feels even less urbane than places like Broad Street but thankfully The Wellington is ale-soaked oasis away from the crowds.
On entering the air is warm and stuffy and it smells like a working man’s club while the flowery red and beige wallpaper looks like it’s been lifted straight from a 1970’s British sitcom. If they could lift the smoking ban for one pub in the city I would nominate this one because it would feel completely in keeping with the atmosphere. The walls are adorned with wonderful old black and white photographs of local pubs of years gone by. I’ve seen a lot of pubs put up these kind of photos as an homage to a time in the distant past that is unrelated to now but in ‘The Welly’ the photos feel like you’re among old friends. Perhaps it’s because it offers much the same basic delights as those pubs did, beer and good company, that you sense a connection with the alehouses of yore.
There’s beautifully kept dartboard on the back wall with a blackboard behind it that only adds to the old world aura. I fell into a bit of a trance watching two blokes throwing their darts and tirelessly traipsing back and forth collecting them, waiting for the others turn. The anguish of an evidently poor performance was etched on one man’s face as he looked away forlornly while his mate threw. I racked my brains trying to think of anywhere I had been in recent years where I’d seen darts played casually and couldn’t think of anywhere.
Upstairs on the first floor the roof terrace is one of the hidden gems of the Birmingham pub scene and at a weekend in the summer is a splendid sanctuary away from the masses on the streets. It’s a bit more contemporary indoors with a big TV in the back room and music playing over the speakers. There’s also another bar although it’s smaller and doesn’t quite have the monstrous choice available from the downstairs bar but it is convenient and has two rotating guest craft beers as well as the famous staple Titanic Plum Porter.
I write these blog posts about places that are unique and offer something a bit different to the usual humdrum ways we get to spend our fleeting free time. An old school pub perhaps doesn’t fit that description but The Wellington is so unwavering in it’s dedication to beer that it fascinates me and is alluring for that very reason. It’s a promontory against the waves of new bars and pubs nowadays that seem to offer everything from ping pong tables to crazy golf. If you just want great beer and a good atmosphere, you know where to go.