One of Birmingham’s oldest pubs has been given a heritage make-over after being bought by a traditional city brewer.
Davenports has bought the 115-year-old City Tavern and returned it to its original name.
When The Bulls Head opens its doors to the public at noon on Thursday, December 22, it will be the brewery's first pub in 30 years.
Drinkers will probably feel like they are stepping back to the future instead of entering a time capsule.
The brewery has tried to preserve what’s left of its original features, while freshening the place up with beer-mat wallpaper and period photographs reflecting the proud history of owners Davenports' Brewery.
The real aim is to use traditional beers to restore the original heritage – so that this is one pub where tasting will be even more important than looking.
Built in 1901 at the end of the great Victorian era and opened more than a decade before the start of the First World War, the pub was re-branded as The City Tavern at the start of the 1980s.
In recent years, it struggled to cope with the arrival of brash new bars in Broad Street and was in danger of closing altogether.
But, with Davenports opening its first pub for 30 years after sensing that now is the time to use old-recipe beers to make the most of the terracotta features outside, builders have been busy recreating the days of old in a respectful, modern way.
And guess what!
We’ve just enjoyed the first sneak peak inside this grand old Grade II listed boozer...
The sloping bar
You might not notice it at first until you go to the Broad Street end of the main bar, but the floor slopes down by the best part of a foot towards the Tennant Street end.
Stand near to the corridor for the gents where a wood-floor slope has replaced a step, and you’ll feel like you’ve had two pints before you can even say ‘Cheers’ for your first.
It’s the most disorienting feeling this side of going into The Crooked House at Himley where you can enjoy the illusion of rolling marbles uphill.
The Bulls Head now has wallpaper patterns created from beer mats – and photographs of long forgotten but now revived brands like Dare Ales.
Typical prices per pint will be: Davenports craft £4.50, Davenports cask £3.80, Top Brew deluxe £4.50 and Prava Pilsner £3.80.
The period features
Davenports’ brand and marketing director Simon Key is proud of the new pub.
“We’ve made a lot of effort to make it look that old,” he says, unsure if the sculpted wood below the bar is from the early City Tavern days or earlier.
Whatever the age, the timber looks impressively aged.
In a back room, a fireplace is also being restored to its former glory.
The lights, featuring modern filaments that glow like decades-old bronzed oranges, add to the warming atmosphere in which the wooden floors, leaded windows and traditional-style new tiling are a joy to behold.
From the bar, the main inside door looks as if it will lead to a pub version of the Tardis, not back on to Bishopsgate Street.
The Bulls Head is a thoroughly modern, old fashioned pub... but not as you know it.
Simon says: “We didn’t want to drop a ‘brand’ on to this place.
“We wanted to offer traditional quality with proper customer service, to create something traditional.”
What lies upstairs?
There is another bar with a long main room, beautifully lit by the mid-afternoon winter sunshine being diffused by clouds as well as the etched windows.
The plan here is to have this room fullly restored by March.
And to turn it into a live music venue for acoustic musicians.
There is also a compact first floor kitchen overlooking Tennant Street.
Why choose The Bulls Head to restore the Davenports’ brand?
“I did a lot of research to find out original information about Davenports,” says Simon.
“Until then, I’d not even heard of Dare Ales so it’s a great opportunity to bring back something that had got real heritage.
“We will be selling a really eclectic mix of drinks, from great, traditional beers to cask ales.
“Thanks to our Davenports’ microbrewery and the skills of Paul Butterick, ex Boddingtons Brewery, we will be able to restore this pub’s original heritage through the drinks – just 200 yards or so from Davenports’ original brewery on Bath Row.
“Davenports might be perceived as a big brand, but this will have its own personality.
What else is Davenports doing?
Simon says: “We are working on our first Dares Davenport Bar for the Old Police Station at the Big Peg in Hockley as well as another one in the former HSBC bank in Moseley.
“But first, I can’t wait to get The Bulls Head open first because we’ve been working so hard on planning and licensing applications.”
For extra freshness, The Big Peg venture will serve beer from large 500 litre tanks hung from the ceiling.
Will The Bulls Head serve food?
“Yes... we will be using local suppliers where possible, from Lashfords sausages (1889) to Lewis’s Bakery (1899),” says Simon.
“Our cakes will be from Cakesmiths (Bristol) which we will serve with coffees made using a Fracino machine from Birmingham.”
When will The Bulls Head be open?
From noon til midnight Sunday to Thursday and until 2am on Friday and Saturday, though it does have a licence whereby it could stay open until 4am.
Where is it?
The Bulls Head, 38 Bishopsgate St, Birmingham B15 1EJ. Tel 0121 633 0838
Visit the website here
What are Davenports’ beers?
They include a red ale called Red Baron as well as its own label Bitter and Pale Ale.
The Dares label includes an Indian pale ale called RIP, the dry hopped ale Red Eye and 6IX, a premium craft lager.
The Highgate name is used for Dark Mild and Old Ale.
What is Davenports’ history?
According to the National Archives, the first record of the Davenport family in the brewing trade is that of Robert Davenport in 1829, a brewer at 120 Brearley St, Hockley.
Highgate Brewery began brewing dark beers in 1899.
Originally established in 1927, the original Dares Southend Brewery was located on Belgrave Road, Balsall Heath and it was acquired by Davenports 35 years later in 1962.
In 1986 Davenports Brewery Ltd merged with Greenall Whitley plc, and the Bath Row site was progressively decommissioned.
The revived Davenports company has now secured £10 million in investment to widen its ownership of pubs and bars, refurbish its existing property and expand its Smethwick brewery.
Empire Star, which has owned the Davenports brand for a decade, is planning half a dozen new or refurbished venues in the next 12 months, with a five-year plan of 50.
Baron Davenports Charity, named after chairman Baron John Davenport (1868-1939), was founded on July 13, 1930 – and still funds good causes today. Visit the website here