Birmingham nostalgia: things you could do in ʼ90s Birmingham that you can’t do now

Remember shopping at The Pavilions, having a Wobble on the dance floor or trying to get into Miss Moneypenny’s or The Dome?

Dancefloor of The Dome

The 1990s was a big decade for Birmingham, when the city changed considerably.

Broad Street went from a neglected area to party central with all its bars, restaurants and clubs.

Sign up to our BirminghamWorld Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Bingley Hall had been Britain’s first purpose-built exhibition centre in 1850 but it burned down in 1984. In its place in 1991 came the magnificent Symphony Hall and International Convention Centre.

Remember when Bill Clinton came to the G8 summit there in May 1998? Just a week earlier, the NIA (now Utilita Arena) had hosted the Eurovision Song Contest. Heady days!

Take a trip back in time with these things you could do in the ʼ90s which you can’t do now.

Pulse - a nightclub in Birmingham in the 1990s, fomerly the Powerhouse and later called Zanzibar

Keeping up with Ritzy/Pulse/Zanzibar

You had to be on the ball to remember the changing names of one of Brum’s favourite nightclubs.

In 1990 the Hurst Street venue was still the Powerhouse, then it became Ritzy. By 1996 it was Pulse before Zanzibar and later Oceana. It ended its life as the Electric and is now threatened with demolition.

You’d also be Vogueing, or doing the Macarena if you weren’t quite as cool, at Liberty’s on Hagley Road or Bobby Brown’s on Gas Street – watch you didn’t fall in the canal when you left, or stop by the burger van parked outside.

Liberty’s, a popular club in the 1990s in Birmingham

In the early ʼ90s you’d head to the vast Dome on Bristol Street, which, despite its many balconies, didn’t always live up to its OTT billing as “the most spectacular discotheque in the world”. After a refit it relaunched as Dome II and is now gig venue the O2 Academy.

If you didn’t mind the sticky floor, Snobs on Paradise Circus Queensway was an institution. You can still go to Snobs, but some feel its new location just isn’t the same. Those wanting a more upmarket experience chose Pagoda Park or Baker’s on Broad Street.

On John Bright Street you could party at Boogies and Bizzy Lizzy’s. Other city centre clubs were Edward No 7 and The Church, or maybe you were lucky enough to be at gay club Tin Tins on Smallbrook Queensway when an unknown bunch of boys called Take That appeared.

The Pavillions Shopping Centre, Birmingham - now the World’s Biggest Primark

The ʼ90s shops we miss

The Pavilions opened in 1988 and was the classy place to shop in the ʼ90s, before the Mailbox and Bullring. Riding up and down in the glass-fronted lift seemed the height of sophistication.

We bought homeware from The Pier, posters from Athena and last minute gifts from Past Times – where else could you find Art Deco earrings? Now The Pavilions has made way for the world’s biggest Primark.

Round the corner you could try on hats in C&A or buy clothes – Clockhouse was their ‘trendy’ label, or Yessica for the more mature lady.

You headed to Mark One and The Reject Shop for bargains and Freeman Hardy Willis for shoes, or Ravel if you were feeling fashionable.

You got your CDs from Virgin Megastore, your second-hand Levi 501s from Folio 50 in Digbeth and all your sportswear and equipment from Harry Parkes on Corporation Street.

Entrance to the Que Club, a club in Birmingham in the 1990s

Raving till dawn at club nights

In the ‘90s you could dance all night at packed club nights, like Atomic Jam, Spacehopper and House of God at the Que Club, the former Methodist Central Hall at the top of Corporation Street that became a temple to techno.

You could easily lose your mates in the maze of corridors and side rooms or in the massive hall. You knew it was time to go home when the sun started shining through the stained glass windows.

Or if you were really committed, you could go to Marco Polo Bar on Ladywell Walk, which opened at 7am. The Que Club Grade II-listed building has long been derelict, although there were plans at one stage to turn it into a hotel.

You might have preferred to dabble in speed garage at The Steering Wheel in Chinatown, or spent Sunday afternoons at Sundissential at Pulse.

Wobble and Crunch were pioneering dance nights at Branstons nightclub in Hockley – the first so-called because the floor was said to wobble beneath the clubbers. Godskitchen found a clubbing home at Sanctuary in Digbeth, now the O2 Institute.

Front door staff including Christopher Twig aka Twiggy at Sundessential at The Que Club, by Paul Barton from Sundessential at Pulse

Where we dressed to impress

Miss Moneypenny’s started its weekly Saturday night events at Bonds in Hockley in 1993 and was the place where the beautiful people went to be seen.

You had to get glammed up because the door policy was pretty strict. No acid-washed denim here! It was achievement just to get in, to enjoy the flamboyant décor and costumed dancers.

Once inside, you’d dance to anthems like Alison Limerick’s Where Love Lives and Rozalla’s Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good). The club was demolished in 2006 to make way for luxury apartments - but the name lives on in club nights around the world.

Que Club, Birmingham (by Richard Clifford on Flikr.)

The great gig venues

We’ve lost many of our smaller music venues, where you could enjoy intimate gigs with great artists. In 1997 you could have seen David Bowie at the Que Club for £15, while Pulp, Daft Punk, Primal Scream and Shed Seven also played here.

The Jug of Ale in Moseley served up The Verve, Kasabian, The Editors and Ocean Colour Scene and, in 1994, a memorable gig from Oasis, who changed in the toilet.

Previously a nightclub, Edwards No 8 had become a rock venue for bands including Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine. It was traditional to drink first at The Costermonger at the back of Oasis market.

Ronnie Scott’s was the only venue in the world outside London bearing the name of the jazz legend when it opened in 1991. It played host to musicians like Nigel Kennedy before going bust in 2001 and becoming a lap dancing club.

You could listen to live jazz, blues and folk every night at the Fiddle and Bone pub on Sheepcote Street, until the residents of new canalside apartment blocks complained about the noise. It’s now The Distillery.

Jug of Ale in Moseley Birmingham where Oasis once played - now the Tip Sultan restaurant

Where we ate and drank

If you were a student in Birmingham in the ʼ90s, you’ll have drunk your Mad Dog 20/20 at The Gun Barrels and The Brook in Selly Oak – now a sports centre and flats – or The Pot of Beer in Aston. It’s still there, as The Gosta Green, but you’ll always call it The Pot.

The Ship Ashore was by Moor Street Station and looked like it was built on stilts. It was demolished in 2002 to make way for Selfridges. Many have fond memories of The Duck on Hagley Road before it became a Beefeater, or Sam Wellers and Mr Bill’s Bier Keller.

Now home to five Michelin stars, Birmingham didn’t do so well for fine dining in the ʼ90s. There was much excitement in 1999 when Raymond Blanc opened his restaurant Le Petit Blanc in Brindleyplace, but it went bust four years later. And Leftbank on Broad Street, not to be confused with Bank, closed in 2001.

But you could spot famous faces like Bryan Robson, Steffi Graf and Dwight Yorke at the now demolished La Galleria Restaurant in Paradise Forum. And at the other end of the scale, we could still have a greasy fry-up at Mr Egg back in the ʼ90s.

The Ship Ashore, a former pub in 1990s Birmingham

Hanging out

We arranged to meet our friends by Millie’s Cookies at New Street Station, or on the McDonald’s ramp, which is still there but doesn’t have quite the same significance now there are, it seems, 53 more entrances to the station.

We’d study in the Central Library, or just sat on the steps in the summer. Paddling in the Floozie in the Jacuzzi, when she was actually surrounded by water, was great on a hot day.

We miss seeing quite so many Goths in Pigeon Park, and heading to Cannon Hill or Cofton Park to watch the likes of Peter Andre, 911 and East 17 at BRMB’s Party in the Park extravaganzas.

And if we were really lucky, we’d get a ticket to watch Gladiators being made at the NIA – only to get a little bored of waving our foam hands when filming dragged on for hours. There’s only so much cheering you can do, even for Wolf and Jet.

A message from the editor:

Thank you for reading. BirminghamWorld is Birmingham’s latest news website, championing everything that is great about our city - reporting on news, lifestyle and sport. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook,Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going.