Kings Heath has perhaps basked in the shadows of Moseley’s long standing reputation as a cool and bohemian part of Birmingham.
But this suburb, like Moseley, also has a stunning independent scene, with unique cafes, shops and restaurants.
And it’s one road in particular that is giving Kings Heath major kudos. It doesn’t have a pretty villagey feel that’s for sure but does have oodles of down to earth charm.
The unpicturesque York Road off Kings Heath High Street, is known for housing some cool independents and two new arrivals have added to its charm.
Sadly earlier this year, it lost one of its coolest. Cherry Reds, a tiny cafe which once held the title of the smallest bar in the EU when it first opened in 2011, was put up for sale. Owner Jennifer Nadin said that the popular cafe bar “needs a new lease of life”.
And so York Road has welcomed a cool new addition The Juke, a bar with a musical twist which opened in the cafe’s former premises in July.
The Juke offers Brummies a unique drinking experience. It has a 30-year-old jukebox imported from Chicago – playing 7 inch records from the 50s, 60s & 70s alongside more contemporary artists.
The Juke’s owners Thomas Mee and Chelsie Eason told us Kings Heath’s rich musical history- in particular the Ritz Ballroom on York Road – was the inspiration for the bar. In its 60s heyday, the legendary venue played host to The Beatles and Rolling Stones.
The building, which later became a Cash Converters, was damaged by fire and later demolished but its musical legacy lives on in the 7 inch golden oldie records now being spun in the Juke’s jukebox.
The Juke is across the road from a newly opened European style ‘enoteca deli’ If that sounds a bit up itself, it really isn’t. Grace + James is a cute cafe style bar housed in the old MoMo bead shop on 23 York Road.
The place has a well stocked range of natural, biodynamic and vegan wines from small independent producers who farm organically. And they also have a deli of meats and cheeses to buy or to enjoy as small plates with a glass of wine.
Owners Sophie and Henry Poultney who previously ran Digbeth Dining Club favourite Cafe Horchata – serving up Mexican street food. Sophie told us: “Our wines at Grace + Jones are unpretentious, fun to drink and sometimes a bit crazy!”
York Road’s gems
Grace + James, 23 York Road
There is a growing trend for more natural and biodynamic wines from independent wine producers and now thanks to Grace + James, York Road is at the forefront.
The drinks offering consists of either biodynamic, natural or organic wines. These are truly interesting, little known wines on the every changing menu.
One that caught our eye on the menu on our visit was ‘Orange wine’. Sophie told us: “Orange wine is very common in Georgia, Solvenia and Croatia. It’s basically white wine made like a red wine by fermenting the juice on the skins.
“This gives it a more full-bodied taste and a great depth of colour – so it’s called orange wine. That’s what we mean by wines that are a little crazy!”
The small plates of artisan cheese and charcuterie from British and European producers served here complements the wine. And it is quality stuff – Grace’s former day job was as a food and wine buyer.
On our visit we nibbled on the most simple yet delicious tomato bread (£3.50) as well Vin Cahors “snacking salami”. Other small plates include Fourme d’Ambert one of France’s oldest cheeses – a semi hard blue cheese with honey and walnuts. You can also try vegan ‘cheese’; plate – a truffle cashew, smoked cashew served with sourdough and quince paste.
Grace + James is truly a family run affair. On our visit there was only one waitress – Sophie’s mum. There will be regular events held at the eatery including lots of wine and cheese tastings.
The Juke, 16 York Road
Over the road is The Juke, a smart little bar with a striking red interior. The focal point is the jukebox – a Rock-Ola Regis 120 jukebox that has spent over 30 years in bars across the Chicago tri-state area of the USA. This gives this place its unique selling point – everyone in the bar can play DJ for the night.
The Juke’s young owners, Thomas Mee and Chelsie Eason told us: “We always thought it would be brilliant to open a bar with a proper old fashioned jukebox. I don’t think there is anywhere else in the West Midlands that has that.
“Chelsie and I have worked in a lot of bars and dreamed of running our own.
“When we heard Cherry Reds was available we knew it was perfect. We found a company in the US that loans classic jukeboxes to rent us this beauty.
“To buy a Rock-Ola Regis 120 jukebox would have cost us over £10,000. Our jukebox came with lots of classic records such as The Wanderer by Dion – ones you’d expect to hear in a traditional jukebox.”
“We also bought a lot of records from Polar Bear Records up the road. We wanted to open in Kings Heath because of the incredible musical history here . But it’s been wonderful to see how having the jukebox has encouraged a community atmosphere.
“We’ve seen people who don’t know each other, strike up a conversation over the jukebox about what songs they want play and then later say good bye to each other as friends.
“You can line up as many records as you like on the jukebox – for free and we change the music selection changes every Friday. We’ll aways aim to an eclectic mix – a bit of Whitney Houston, The Beatles and the Beastie Boys.”
Just like the music choice, the beers are eclectic too. While Grace + James, does ‘crazy wines’ The Juke is cornering the market on ‘crazy beers’.
Tom told us: “We have an unconventional choice of beers. One of our most unusual beers is Tzatziki beer – brewed using natural yogurt and all the ingredients that go into making Greek tzatziki, It’s about trying something a bit different and a little crazy but tasty.”
The Juke also has an open kitchen at the front of the bar with rotating foodie residencies. Brum street food vendors Pietanic are currently serving up such delights as sweet potato and katsu curry pie, and Birmingham Balti pie is on until the end of August. Next is the turn of House of Hen – which will serve crunchy Korean chicken.
Black Market Barber Company
Yes any cool street has the obligatory hipster barbers. This place is so trendy it also does pop-ups at independent coffee shops in the city centre.
They offer a range of high-quality barber services, including hair cuts, beard trimming and cut-throat razor shaving in a chilled and of course stylish atmosphere.
We SELL FRIDGES appliance shop
This shop complete with yellow branding is called SELL FRIDGES. (they sell fridges)
The York Road shop’s full name, to be fair, is “We Sellfridges and other appliances”
Brummie businessman Akeel Hussain who owns the shop explained: ” It’s just cheeky. It’s in jest. People have stopped to read it and they’ve been taking photos.
“They’ve commented on the similarity but nearly everyone I’ve spoken to so far has liked it.
“Friends, family, local people … everyone who gets it has liked it. It brings a smile to their face. There are so many cool places on York Road and it helps us to fit in.”
This Mediterranean tapas restaurant serves up Italian, Spanish and Greek inspired small plates.
It’s run by husband and wife team Antonello and Efua Turco.
Kitchen Garden Cafe
The long established Kings Heath independent is known for its vegan and vegetarian dishes served up in a quirky atmosphere.
It has a great little garden to sit in and regular live music.
There is the brilliantly unpretentious off beat Fletchers bar – a shabby chic venue that’s more shabby than chic.
Expect tapas, mismatched furniture and friendly staff.
Hare and Hounds
Perhaps one of Birmingham’s most famous independent live music venues, this grade II listed 111-year-old pub is a great place to see up and coming bands. Sitting on the corner of Kings Heath High Street and York Road, it has hosted gigs from the likes of Ellie Goulding and Ed Sheeran and it was of course the location of UB40’s first gig way back in 1979.
Find out more here.
Polar Bear Records
One of just a few real record shops in Birmingham, Polar Bear Records has been here since the 1990s, specialising in new vinyl releases and re-issues of jazz, avant rock and classic rock.
It was once part of a small chain of independent shops with other stores in Leeds, Manchester and Oxford but this is the only surviving one left.