Like most of the rest of the planet, I’m quite looking forward to the end of 2016. It’s not been one of my favourite years, for various reasons, one of which was the great SD card meltdown and computer strop which meant that a bunch of stuff kinda got forgotten about.
But I’m in clear up mode before holiday and I stumbled across some photos from when I went to Be At One bar, a London-based bar group which opened in Birmingham earlier in the year. I went on the preview night where the staff were overly friendly in a sort of try-hard way which brings out my hatred for small talk even more than normal – talk to me about your release from mental health hospital on the bus stranger, I’m fine with that, but bartenders pretending to care how my day has been…nah. Look, I get it, bartenders are there to make sure you have a good time but talk overly in depth to me about the maturation process of the spirit you’re pouring, complain about something like the weather or whatever, but don’t channel the spirit of Matthew McConaughey with all your “alright alright” over-enthusiasm. I’ve been in to Be At One since and they do seem to have calmed down a bit, thankfully.
Hyperactive bartenders aside, Be At One is underground…I mean literally. It’s underneath Piccadilly Arcade and the entrance is pretty small because it’s basically a set of stairs, so there’s a nod to the speakeasy but not much more, especially given there’s usually a doorman and red rope outside. Downstairs the bar has a nice vibe which feels like it encourages a party, without feeling like you got to the party too early if you’re there when it’s quiet. It’s deceptively inviting in some respects, like you think you’ll kill time having a drink before your train arrives and then find yourself dashing for the platform because you’ve been there too long.
Drinks wise the menu has over 150 cocktails, and some non-alcoholic cocktails and a wine list too. For those who might think that’s cocktail overload, the menu has some handy tips, namely a top ten’s page which has the most popular drinks on there if you’re not fussy and a flavour wheel which lets you pick your poison based on your preferences for sour, bitter, smooth and then your spirit of choice. It’s not foolproof, but it’s definitely a good start.
I was invited down on opening night and I mainly tried out the classics…which was a bit of a risky move on my part because it seems like several chains in Birmingham think sugar syrup is the answer to everything. Thankfully this didn’t seem to be the case for Be At One. Sure, my first Aviation could’ve done with a touch more sourness but was a very good effort. The Sazerac was made with a spritz of absinthe rather than a rinse, but at least this meant no wastage and didn’t seem to affect the drink, and the Daiquiri I tried was spot on. One of my favourite drinks, the Clover Club, is referenced in the sweet section of the flavour wheel which worried me a bit. To me, the Clover Club is a fantastic drink, pre-prohibition era, fruity and dry, where the sweetness comes from the raspberry syrup or grenadine but it’s not really sweet. Thankfully Be At One’s doesn’t fall susceptible to over-sweetness, although the foam head on the drink wasn’t as bountiful as I’d have liked.
Overall, my couple of experiences of Be At One have been largely positive. Birmingham’s cocktail renaissance is in full swing and sure, Be At One is another out-of-towner but unlike some of the others it doesn’t feel like style over substance or that it takes itself too seriously. But it also doesn’t stray too far and seems to stick to what it knows. The only time I asked a bartender to go off-menu he looked panicked, but with a comprehensive drinks list which is a nice mix of classic and contemporary – and creamy, sweet things if that’s your deal too, there should be something to keep most people content. Be At One is a pretty safe bet.
Be At One, Piccadilly Arcade, Birmingham B2 4BJ. http://www.beatone.co.uk/cocktail-bar/birmingham
Disclosure: I was invited down to the opening and drinks were complimentary, but this hasn’t affected my opinion. And yes, I really did have a conversation on a bus with someone who’d recently come out of a mental health hospital.