I think I may have shed a tear when The Medicine Bar closed. Back in the days when I was skinny and I had a full head of hair, I used to hop on the bus to Digbeth and in to the red brick walls of The Custard Factory. We crammed in with our backs against the walls to watch breakdancers battle in small spaces, queued for discounted drinks on Tuesdays student nights, and on one occasion saw a skateboarder split his head in half against the emptied pool edging. Those were the good old days. And then it closed. The Custard Factory continued with its resurgence of creative types and independent businesses, albeit without a place to unwind after work.
And now, thanks to a couple of bright young guns, there is a place to grab a pint. And watch a band. And eat. The space that was once the sparse Medicine Bar is now a mass of colour and comfort over three floors and a separate music venue. Alfie Birds specialise in what they call “Gourmet Eats and Beats”. I’ll be the judge of that. Downstairs a man is playing Northern Soul, some are listening, others are too busy with the cocktail list to notice. We order cocktails from our wooden benches on the mezzanine which are well made and boozy, before deciding to embrace a couple of pizzas, a burger and a side.
For the most part the food is a success. A burger comes pink and juicy enough to worry it could end up on my shirt. The meat is of good quality and deftly seasoned, more than enough to stand up to a chorizo jam full of smokiness and heat. The silent nod speaks for itself; I like it, a lot. It shits all over the burger we had at Five Guys a few months back. Batons of courgette are deep fried in a tempura batter that is light and avoids greasiness. It was a liberal smattering of sea salt away from being very good.
Pizza’s are ultra-thin and crisp with good thought behind the toppings. There was one with roast squash, goats cheese and spinach which played it safe in a way that vegetarians will appreciate. Stick a load of ingredients which work together on a pizza; it makes for good reasoning and is fine with me. Another saw pulled pork given the Dirty South treatment. The unctuous meat benefited from the shark pickles, heat from roquito peppers and a deep bbq sauce full of funk. I wish I’d ordered the larger size. Its name – Peter Pipers Picked Pickled and Pulled Pork Pizza – should not be attempted when pissed, which we were steadily approaching after a second round of cocktails.
The dessert options are an ode to its surroundings; three choices, each containing custard. We go leftfield and opt on a potent custard martini, which made perfect sense at a time when the bar was beginning to fill and the music volume was rising. Alfie Birds is an ambitious quest to bring the good times back to a building that has long been a centre point of Digbeth. The gigs and club nights will be bring a passing trade, though that alone would be an injustice. The grub on offer at Alfie’s is enough to merit a visit on its own.