Shaker Group has created Gas Street Social, a destination for food, cocktails and craft beer in Birmingham city centre, reports Mark Ludmon. Photography by Jack Spicer Adams
Gas Street Basin in Birmingham city is often described as the heart of Britain’s canal network. As the meeting place of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the Birmingham Canal Main Line, it would once have been bustling with boats loading and unloading cargo. In more recent years, the area has become busy with bars and restaurants thanks to urban regeneration.
The latest arrival is Gas Street Social in The Mailbox, the retail and leisure complex that is undergoing a major revamp. The bar takes inspiration from this industrial heritage in not just its name but the artefacts and design touches throughout the two-storey 4,300 sq ft venue. Formerly Bar Room Bar, it has been transformed by its new owner, Shaker Group, a leading bar consultancy and training company based in Birmingham but with a home at Shaker & Co bar near Euston in London. Creating 50 new jobs, the new venture was supported by the Regional Growth Fund plus assistance from leading bar and restaurant entrepreneur Eric Yu of The Breakfast Group.
To develop the interior, Shaker Group managing director Adam Freeth worked with Melony Spencer, design director of hospitality design practice Spencer Swinden, drawing on Birmingham’s industrial heritage and canalside location. Its history as “the city of a thousand trades” is reflected in all kinds of bric-a-brac throughout and a muted colour scheme of industrial greys, metals and unfinished black steel features, punctuated by splashes of cobalt blue and softer elements to give it a homely feel. Design details include striking beer hand-pulls made from different tools of the trades such as jewellery and gun-making.
The bar runs along the right-hand side of the ground floor space, boasting a distressed, reclaimed bar front with a zinc top. The back bar has been tiled with old scaffolding boards – another example of the many upcycled materials used throughout the venue.
The strategy was to create a “vibrant” space that encourages sharing and socialising, with a large communal table and booth seating of varying heights. There are also more intimate “snug” areas and an outside terrace overlooking the canal. It has a dramatic open kitchen, with a chef’s table, but, rather than being just a restaurant, it is a place for “all-day dining and imbibing”, Adam says. “It is all about getting around a table with your family and friends and sharing food and drink.” He says it has filled a gap in the market in the city centre where there has been a lack of independent operators offering good-quality cocktails and casual dining. “What we have created is a first for Birmingham.”
The food is modern European, with a leaning towards British cuisine, made with fresh seasonal ingredients sourced locally wherever possible. The menu was developed under head chef Florian Mainzger who has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants around the world and was chef de cuisine at the Hyatt Regency Sochi during the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The focus is tapas-style “social plates” for sharing, with five dishes priced at £27. Options include slow-cooked ox-cheek, a black pudding scotch egg, salmon skewers, seared scallops, mushroom arancini balls and beetroot tart. Main dishes include slow-cooked pork belly, Tidenham Farm duck breast, sea bass fillet and fish and chips as well as rib-eye steak and a range of burgers from beef and chicken to vegetarian.
Food is a new direction for Shaker Group which has previously focused on the business of cocktails, Adam admits. “For us, this was a step into the unknown but we were confident in attracting the right people to deliver this for us.” In the evening, it evolves into more of a late-night atmosphere, trading till 1am Thursdays to Saturdays, with DJs after 10pm at weekends.
Like the food, the cocktails are made with good-quality products and fresh ingredients such as sherbets, syrups and reductions prepared in advance to ensure fast service at busy times. “It demonstrates the Shaker Group ethos that you don’t want to be spending five minutes making one cocktail as all the hard work can be done when the bar manager gets in at 8am to prep,” Adam explains.
Alongside classic cocktails and aperitifs, a list of “craft cocktails” have been created by Adam with general manager Scott Walker, formerly at Shaker & Co. They include the 1888 Rum Fashioned, made with Brugal 1888 rum aged for 29 days in a barrel, and the Lunar Society Punch, combining Hendrick’s Gin, Chambord black raspberry liqueur, lemon, strawberries and cucumber, topped with sparkling rosé. One of the most popular cocktails is the bitter-sweet and luxurious Socialite (pictured) which combines Finlandia vodka with Aperol, pineapple, lime and passion fruit. Cocktails come in carafes, decanters or bottles for sharing.
Birmingham continues to be “Carling territory”, Adam says, but the craft beers are really taking off. The draught selection includes Franciscan Well’s Chieftain IPA and Rebel Red ale and Sharp’s Cornish Pilsner alongside packaged beers ranging from Flying Dog pale ale and Goose Island IPA to Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer in bottles plus Swedish lager Pistonhead in cans. The wines have also been selected to offer something different, such as an albariño from Uruguay.
It took Adam three years to find the right site in Birmingham but Gas Street Social has opened at just the right time, he says. “There’s a small cocktail culture in Birmingham that a few guys have been trying to push but there’s not been a big splash. The city has been slightly neglected in terms of food and drink but there is a real buzz around it now. This is a really exciting time for Birmingham.”
Gas Street Social, The Mailbox, 166-168 Wharfside Street, Birmingham B1 1RL
Tel: 0121 643 0362
Behind the scenes
Design: Spencer Swinden
Fit-out contractor: Approved Shopfitting and Interiors
Internal furniture: Foremost Furniture
External furniture: Contract Chair Company
Flooring: Broadleaf Commercial
Signage: Bowden & Dolphin Signs
Catering equipment: Caterlink
Originally published in the May 2015 print edition of Bar magazine.