Urban – Too busy by far

More than a handful of times I’ve gone into Urban, my almost daily coffee shop and in the last few weeks, not been able to get a seat.

Two Saturdays in a row I’ve popped in, not seen a seat and walked out, which is such a pain when I’ve walked all the way with my little laptop which I then I have to carry around me while I a) run errands b) do my M&S shop and then try to find a seat somewhere else.

I thought with two Urban coffee shops now open this would not happen but it’s actually got busier in both!

Of course it’s all my own doing.

When I was a mere young thing, I’d get into the latest band, tell everyone how great they are and I’m thrilled when everyone else recognises their talent. Next thing I know, everyone else has discovered them, bought their records and I see Orange Juice on Top of the Pops. Then their records start selling out and I have to get to the shop first thing in the morning to be in with a chance of bagging one.

It’s a bit like that.

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My Perfect Coffee Shop

I’ve been around the world, well around most of America and Canada, some of England and Scotland and all of northern Italy to be precise, always searching for the perfect coffee shop.

Coffee, Birmingham, Bean Scene, Urban Coffee Co, perfect coffee shop

Everyone knows that in Birmingham, my regular ‘home from home’ is Urban Coffee Company but if I can combine the ‘best bits’ from around the world, this is what my coffee shop will include;

Mugs

Small and large. Let’s save cups and saucers for tea and cappuccino. North America does this so right.

Decent coffee

Urban make it and it’s obvious really. An option to have it in take-out cups as it keeps my coffee warm and is less fiddly. I once got refused a takeout cup to have inside a coffee shop in Edinburgh as it’s ‘against policy’. I went back to that shop nil times.

Oh and eggnog offered as standard in coffee during December.

Desks

I love a comfortable chair and sofas too so a mix is great but sometimes a desk helps us workers focus. And a big table means we can fit a lot of solo workers’ chairs around it, working away without taking up the sofas.

Lots of seating

Sofas for the socialites, desks for the workers.

Bagels

Just with cream cheese is fantastic. Scrambled eggs or salmon is a huge bonus. Again, standard in North America.

Cake

(Kissme) Cupcakes absolutely! Also a small assortment of other cakes and pastries each day. Love the mix at Peter’s Yard in Edinburgh.

Music

I love live music in coffee shops. It’s simply the most civilised way to listen to music. Probably not AC/DC, they are better in an outdoors stadium setting but music of the singer/songwriter type is just gorgeous in coffee shops.

At other times, soft music in the background or radio 2 is perfect. If it was my coffee shop everyone would have to stop at 10.30 to do #popmaster  BeanScene in Scotland are passionate about their music.

Real Hot Food

Panini’s are great but I love soup, slices of pizza work and my absolute favourite is a bowl of hot chilli. And bagels! What’s a coffee shop without toasted bagels?

Bean Scene in Glasgow always have a warming chilli bowl ready for me.

Friendly staff

“Where everybody knows your name”.

No matter how good the coffee is I will go back only if there is a warm welcome and great service. It’s sooooo easy, ask Urban.

A view

Now I’m getting into the luxury territory but a room with a view is wonderful.

Warmth

It’s very hard to work in the cold.

Posters

If the coffee shop is the hub of a community, it’s good to know what’s happening in said community with posters, flyers, cards etc. Let’s spread the word and help each out. Bean Scene are great at this which is good for me, the out of towner.

Late Opening

8pm is fantastic (Urban), 10pm is divine (thanks Bean Scene!) 24 hours is a little crazy but handy (New York)

Goodies to take away

Not for me but if a coffee shop is all this then I love it if the out of towners can take a little piece of it back home with them. Just like this bag that I picked up from the heavenly place that is Peter’s Yard in Edinburgh.

Peters Yard coffee shop coffee cake Birmingham Edinburgh New York

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italy Well in Italy I’m guaranteed a perfect cup of coffee EVERY time, EVERYwhere. The only thing is I can’t linger; I can’t work or read but balanced with the many pavement cafes, the view is always superb. In any case, I’m very grateful that they have escaped the terrible chains that the rest of the world has embraced, except for the rather handy, cheap and tasty McCafes. I guess they must have made it government policy not to let them in. Thank heavens.

Adventures in Birmingham – September 5th 2010

It’s a short week but after being out of town with one thing another and it’s good to be back.

Thursday is the inaugural meeting of what I style as the Fine Dining Club. That’s me and whoever wants to visit one of Birmingham’s more exceptional restaurants every 6-8 weeks. I chose Opus first as they have been so fantastic in supporting the charity projects I work on. Purnell’s and Edmunds are coming up next for the same reason plus of course the extraordinary food and top class service.

And that’s exactly how Opus presents itself along with the great company of four like-minded ladies. The food keeps on coming as does the conversation. A couple of the girls chose from the market menu which included a gorgeous glass of champagne and feeling like I missed out having chosen the mushroom & leek risotto from a la carte, I order a glass too. If I haven’t mentioned, I’ve developed an allergic reaction to alcohol in the last few years and lots of experimenting in recent weeks has resulted in knowing I can drink champagne and Guinness without a reaction. (together which make Black Velvet, my birthday drink). My suspicion is confirmed about the champagne, there is no sneezing or annoying sniffling to follow. These are two of my favourite drinks but the other two are beer (lager) and red wine and I am really missing those.

Everyone loves Opus and the crème brulee maybe the best I’ve ever tasted. Five sets of plates licked clean, we happily spill out into the warm, September streets.

Friday night is music night so I skip the cinema and join some of the regulars at Urban Coffee Co. They have a pianist playing brilliant covers and a very warm feeling comes over me when the Cheers theme wafts upstairs. “Where everybody knows your name,” indeed.

I should have just bought a bed for the night as next morning I meet with a friend to discuss a new enterprise – news to follow – and then just have enough time to run to M&S to get some food into my empty fridge before returning for another legendary coffee, cake & conversation marathon with the Meet Up girls. They say I break the record when I race downstairs upon realising Urban have Red Velvet cake. So that’s black velvet & red velvet in the same week.

On Sunday, a year after I really should have, I learn about the Jewellery Quarter’s heritage. I walk these streets daily (on route to places you understand, not just randomly in bag lady mode). We all know about the jewellery and the whistle being made here for the original Titanic sailing (fat lot of good it did) but did you know for 100 years, Birmingham was the global centre of the pen making industry? There’s a lesson to follow on this; pay attention.

Adventures in Birmingham: 9 – 14 August

Urban Coffee Co is one years old

I’d already said yes to a dinner at City Inn when I get the invite for this a couple of weeks ago but feel as I was there at the birth, I should really be at the kids first birthday. I agreed to meet the others later so I can at least pop in but as (bad) luck would have it, one of my friends had a family bereavement so we decided to cancel the dinner and the rest of us three all go to Urban.

I get there bang on time at 7pm and my friend is already waiting, along with half a dozen other celebrators. By the time the doors open, there are a good 30 people on Church Street and we all dutifully check ourselves off the guest list before entering, strolling politely past both goodie bags and the ready poured drinks.
 

When Rickie met Urban

The reason the opening of Urban was so momentous a year ago is that I had not long before arrived in Birmingham, with my previous address in New York and wondering where on earth I could go to write, un-disturbed, that had decent coffee and wasn’t a large chain (mentioning no names).
I found out about Urban when I met Simon Jenner, the co-founder through the Birmingham Entrepreneurs MeetUp that he runs. I imagine I probably said ‘I’ll be the judge of that’ when he said he was opening a coffee shop with decent coffee, on Church St. I spend the next couple of weeks walking past the premises, checking progress. It’s my route home so it’s not as desperate as it sounds. Not really.

On pre-launch opening day, I arrive on my way back from the city, chatting on the phone to my (now ex-) boyfriend in New York, telling him that England was finally getting a decent coffee shop by all accounts.

I’m introduced to Hannah, Super Senior Urbanista and predictably the talk turns to coffee, namely my likes and dislikes. My number one dislike, I explain is cold coffee and that no one can make latte in this country so I only have it at home. I probably mutter that cappuccino is only made to be drunk first thing, before breakfast and don’t understand how people consume it at other times.
Hannah took all my coffee snobbery in her stride and recommended I have an Americano as it’s all hot and I can have it with hot milk for extra hotness. Despite my protestation of having to ask for a poncy coffee, when I normally like to say ‘just coffee with milk’. ‘Latte is that?’ ‘No, just fresh coffee with milk, please’.

So a large Americano, with hot milk, in a take-out cup, it has been ever since* – not that I need to tell any of the Urban staff that, even new girl Katy remembers my drink after just a couple of visits. The take out-cup is to keep it extra hot by the way, plus I’m no good with the cup and saucer thing, another thing that Americans do well, give me a mug any day.
*Oh except when I go anywhere in North America, I can have hot filter or latte and usually be pretty happy with either.

Urban further excelled when they agreed to cakes, specifically Kiss Me Cupcakes so I now have a supply of those whenever I fancy. Cupcake Friday is born! They even started offering chai, which is my second tipple if I’ve had my 2 cups a day coffee quota.
Other things I have thought of but don’t ever remember talking out loud about are music, especially on a Friday, weekend opening (a godsend as those are my big writing days) and a desk upstairs. All duly granted (A pile of napkins and a big table would be great upstairs. Just thinking that so the staff can mind- read that too).

I’ve recommended the place to hundreds of people, taken dozens more in with me and my guests have always been delighted to say the least and become regulars themselves. Not sure if they have obtained the coveted Urban coffee cup, received after you have drunk your way through 50 – count them, 50 coffees but I’m well on my way to the saucer to match.
The evening is a great success, the KissMe bite-size cupcake display unbelievably enticing, the music perfect, the pimms (still on offer 2 for £5) was divine and the vodka jelly and birthday cake…actually what happened to those?
Seeing as I’m in there every other day, I didn’t recognise one face from the throng that filled the little coffee shop to capacity. But of course, they’ll say the same thing in reverse. I go in, usually get my regular and bury my head in the laptop for a couple of hours, oblivious to anything going on around me but curiously not to what goes on outside my window. Now that’s the sign of an excellent coffee shop.

Ikon Cafe

 
Wednesday is a repeat visit for the weekly live music only this time it’s markedly quiet compared to my post World Cup visit in mid-July. Then, I was advised to book as there were 9 of us. It is a lovely mid-week treat to have someone strumming a guitar whilst we have a drink, eat tapas or just catch up. I bet they would have been glad of the 9 of us as it was almost empty this week.

Friday is a bonus book writing day with a 2000 word target although I’d have let myself off with 1500. As it happens, I went over the 2000 via a morning in Urban and an afternoon in Brindleyplace, with lunch at home and all followed by a film at Cineworld. Which I walked out of. I finally achieve my ambition of walking of a film because it’s so dire. Review is [here]

Chameleon


A new place in a street I don’t think I have ever walked down. Well actually the address is ‘Victoria Square’ but that’s a little optimistic, its half way down the street behind the post office.
Inside, it’s airy, the staff are attentive and the interior all very modern and at 6.30, almost full. As I wait for the rest of the gang to arrive, I scan the room and it’s like an advert; everyone smiling, chatting, drinking and eating. There are people of all ages and I like that in a place as generally a mixed crowd means there’s no pretentiousness. There’s a stage, which looks promising, a massive private seating area with a circular red sofa, outside seating, big lighting fixtures and most importantly for any interior, a disco ball. I feel right at home.

We’ll be back although for me, more likely for a Sunday lunch or midweek drinks rather than being crushed in a weekend crowd. Unless there’s live music, you know I’m a sucker for any live music.

Lord Clifden

There is no live music tonight so will a visit to new favourite still be good on a Saturday evening? Yes.

How is this place so popular? There are other drinking holes in the JQT, although this is across the road so technically it’s Hockley, but wait isn’t the JQT in Hockley? I’m sure it used to be. I even bump into two people I know and I know almost no-one in Birmingham.

My plan is to leave at 10pm to get back in time for the first Match of the Day of the season. The season seems to have started a week early but nonetheless I’m looking forward to it. 10pm came and went of course, I was mid-flow in telling the story of my first Christmas in New York but at 10.17 precisely, I finish my drink (why don’t they have Budweiser in bottles when they did last time? I had to go to the bar inside to have swift halves poured, I cannot remember the last decade I drank Bud out of a glass) make my excuses and sprint back to St Paul’s Square. Turns out I can make it from Lord Clifden’s, in heels, through cobbled streets back home in 12 minutes flat. No mean feat but Lineker and Co are waiting patiently.

What have you been up to this week?