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Birmingham’s Urban Art Bar or The Lord Clifden

If there are pubs in heaven — or hell, we are an equal opportunities afterlife provider — chances are they look a lot like Birmingham’s The Lord Clifden.

If there are pubs in heaven — or hell, we are an equal opportunities afterlife provider — chances are they look a lot like Birmingham’s The Lord Clifden.

 

Situated in the city’s up-and-coming Jewellery Quarter, the pub not only offers an enviable range of beer (17 ales and lagers on draught and around 60 bottles in its well stocked fridges), but it also happens to offer — deep breath now — all the latest sporting action on its 12 HD screens, one of the best collections of street art in the country, DJs spinning the hottest Balearic tunes outside of Ibiza, a delightful beer garden (home to a cracking BBQ, a ping pong table and table football), award-winning food and one of the best pub quizzes going. No wonder it was named Best Entertainment Pub at last year’s Great British Pub Awards.

 

The brainchild of former chef and budding DJ Graham Smith, the Lord Clifden’s winning mix of food, art, beer, music and sport is the natural culmination of bringing together Smith’s many passions. It makes for a refreshingly bold and innovative approach to running a bar.

 

Having undertaken one major refurbishment in 2008 (the year Smith opened sister pub The Red Lion), another is planned for next year for the CAMRA-rated pub

 

We paid a visit to England’s second city and spoke to manager Liam Duncombe about The Lord Clifden’s magical formula…

 

Acquired: 2003. A major refurbishment was undertaken in 2008.

Manager: Liam Duncombe

Number of screens: 12 — six inside, six outside

 

We get young adults up to people in their 60s and 70s

 

It’s a mixed crowd: “We get young adults up to people in their 60s and 70s. We have one family that come in for Sunday lunch most weeks that are spread over three generations. This area in general — the Jewellery Quarter — is much younger-based: young professionals in their late 20s and early 30s.

 

The area has improved: “This used to be a real spit and sawdust, backend boozer. It was rough around here. There’s been a huge change in the last 5 years — it’s really taken off.”

 

“From day one I think we were pretty much the only pub around here that would show all the games”

 

Showing sport is a focal point: “From day one I think we were pretty much the only pub around here that would show all the games. A few more have come in since then, but we’ve got a good following now. People know that we show the football and I think most people come here.”

 

 

 

 

We have no allegiance to any of the Birmingham teams: “We’re in quite a unique position in that we’re not really near any of the grounds. If it’s West Bromwich Albion at home we’ll get a few Baggies fans in; if it’s Birmingham City, likewise, and Aston Villa too.”

 

The local teams get more support when they’re on TV. “Definitely. As well as the big teams — Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool especially. But we always get a big crowd in for local teams.”

 

We have three specific areas within the pub: “The front bar is the most sport-orientated area, we have three big screens in there, plus a dartboard and dominos. It doesn’t matter what sport it is we’ll have it on. We’ve had bowling championships on, pool, snooker, everything. We have the sound on so people can really enjoy it. We keep the rest of the pub separate. People can have a meal back here in the lounge and then we’ve got the outside for the DJs.”

 

The really big sporting events we show outside: “The local derbies, finals, the big boxing bouts, cricket… And yes, even in mid-winter. We’ve got heaters out there.”

 

 

It’s not just football. “Wimbledon, the Cricket World Cup, the Rugby World Cup… we have a Super Bowl party too. That’s taken off in the last two years. We offered American snacks. It’s a great night (and morning!). We have the big boxing bouts on outside and they always draw a crowd. In general we try and accommodate everyone.”

 

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We don’t do drinks promotions: “We like to think our offer is good enough and people are happy to pay for that. We have the BBQ out the back. Every Euros and World Cup we get our own shirts printed. We had bright orange this time — all with our name and number on the back.”

 

We have people specifically driving 20, 30, 40 miles to come here because they love the food

 

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Food is massively important: “We have people specifically driving 20, 30, 40 miles to come here because they love the food. We’re not the cheapest, we know that, but everything is top notch. It’s traditional pub food but we like to put our twist on it. It’s all fresh ingredients and we use local suppliers where we can. It’s huge for us. It’s something that has grown over the years, as has our reputation. We’ve won lots of awards for our food. The fish and chips is renowned, our burgers too. Faggots and peas is a popular dish seeing as we’re in the Midlands. We offer smaller, lighter bites too.”

 

It’s not just about the music, or the sport, or the food, or the beer, or the art. It’s a combination of all of those things: “It took a few years to get the balance exactly right. When we have the boxing on for instance we’ll keep the music going outside and if people want to hear the commentary they can come inside. The last thing we want to do is have unhappy people outside who have come for the music. So we’re very clear about what we show and offer. That way people find the place that they want to be.”

 

“The Champions League is massive for our customers”

 

We have entertainment on every night except Tuesdays and Wednesdays: “That’s because of the Champions League. It’s massive for our customers. The front bar is packed — as is the garden come the knockout rounds. We were packed for the Madrid final recently.”

 

We have an incredibly popular Quiz on Thursday nights: “As a result we show the Europa League games outside. The Liverpool-Sevilla final was packed.”

 

I have a very full and busy diary: “I put in everything I can think of that might have an influence upon trade.”

 

Local teams doing well means we do well. “When Birmingham City got to the final of the League Cup (and won, beating Arsenal 2-1 in 2011) every game was packed here. The same with Villa when they got to the FA Cup Final last year. That interest — on a local and national level — definitely has an impact upon trade.”

 

The art is purely down to Graham’s passion: “He loves urban art. Banksy, D*Face… all these people that he loves. He has his own personal collection. These aren’t the originals — some of those go for stupid money. I think it’s a way of showcasing what Graham enjoys — strangely it’s passed onto myself and other people who work here.

 

They can come for a meal and enjoy the art on the walls for free, especially if you haven’t seen the art before

 

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Customers will tell you, it’s like a free art exhibition when they come in here. “They can come for a meal and enjoy the art on the walls for free, especially if you haven’t seen the art before. There’s over 40 pieces scattered across the pub — and some originals outside that local artists have done.”

 

We use a local digital marketing company for our social media channels:470 Media. They’re also based in the Jewellery Quarter — and regulars in here. They come in most mornings to take pictures and find out what’s happening. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram… it’s a big part of telling people what we do. The posters that we had designed for the Euros (Euro Legends) worked really well on Instagram — people definitely decide to come here for it.“

 

“A quick comment on Facebook is how a lot of people get their information these days”

 

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Cost-wise it’s extremely cheap: ”Even if you don’t use a company like we do — which isn’t a stupid amount of money — someone on the team can do it just by using a phone. It’s easy, quick, cheap — a great way to speak people as well. People don’t email us or phone anymore. A quick comment on Facebook is how a lot of people get their information these days.”

 

We offer free Wi-Fi: “Have a cup of coffee, sit down and do some work. There’s a law college on the corner so students from there will come in, have a bite to eat, have a coffee or something and do their work.”

 

The more boxes you can tick the better: “But you have to tick those boxes correctly. You can’t just offer substandard coffee. If you’re going to do it, do it properly. We don’t offer cocktails, not because we can’t do them — I’m sure we could — but logistically, because of how small the bar is we couldn’t do it to a high enough standard that I’d be happy with.”

 

There’s a spirit of independence in Birmingham at present: “There are lots of indie pubs and bars springing up. It’s good. Then there’s the Independent Birmingham card whereby customers can get discounts and offers in a range of indie outlets. And I Choose Birmingham too which highlights how exciting the city is at the moment. Birmingham is growing and it’s good to be a part of that.”

 

Being flexible is really important. “I think people underestimate that. Too many pubs are stringent – they have a set of lines that they don’t want to go out of. We like to think that we can bend to different people’s needs, depending on who’s in the pub at the time. We’ve grown year-on-year for eight years and we’re always looking for new ways to do things. So trying new things is really important. You won’t always get them right, but if you don’t try them you’re just going to go backwards.”

 

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