“If there had not been any cafés, there would have been no Jean-Paul Sartre”; so said French writer Boris Vian. 

OK, it’s a clear overstatement, but there’s no denying that the cafe culture of 19th and 20th century Europe inspired writers, artists, philosophers, musicians and miscellaneous intellectuals. Kafka’s Metamorphosis, the philosophical musings of Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and Dadism’s manifesto are just a few example of masterpieces conceived in the cafes of Europe.

It seems clear that any serious creative quarter should have some form of cafe culture- spaces to meet, think, work, debate and refuel the brain, but so far it’s been the missing ingredient in Digbeth.

Soon we hope to make an announcement at Fazeley Studios about the launch of one of the most important parts of the development. We’ll announce the opening of a place which will serve a delicious breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, wine, beer and bar food, but which will hopefully be far more than an eatery in its contribution to the city.

So we’re busy pondering what makes a nurturing and inspirational setting today when so many of the best artists and intellectuals are working in the digital sphere? And how do we mesh that with a relaxing environment for people who just want to meet, chill out and chat?

 Then of course there is the huge demand for a space that widens the reach of new media and promotes ‘digital inclusion’. Dave Harte of Digital Birmingham recently posted his thoughts on a possible centre for excellence in digital participation (see here) to address the issues raised in the Digital Britain report. Interestingly, while Dave didn’t mention anything about a cafe or bar, the importance of this kind of place comes up time and again in the comment section.

 Jon Hickman suggested a wifi pub or bar with media savvy staff who could help people out, while Jon Bounds put forwards “a ‘real social media cafe’ where it’s a cafe/hang out, but the people in there really knew their stuff”. Then Philip John imagined “a digital startup incubator, where innovate startups are nurtured through their beginnings by knowledgeable staff. This could incorporate a cafe setting, as well as facilities for (un-)conferences. I’m thinking Fazeley Studios is already kinda set up for this.”

The concept for our cafe bar is coming along swiftly but we need the people it’ll serve to help shape it:

What kind of place is missing for you to meet, work and play? Apart from the obvious WiFi and printers, what practical things would you need? And what would be that extra ingredient for your ideal space?

 We won’t be able to please everyone and be all things to all people, but we really welcome your suggestions and they will most certainly be listened to.


  1. Sam Says:

    I would say this, but far too often music gets ignored in all sorts of places, and it usually ends up with the ‘Best’ of Simply Red or BRMB piped through fairly poor speakers. The impression it gives and atmosphere it creates can have such a big effect on everyone.

    Depending on how busy the cafe gets, it would be a nice idea to have a small dose of live music – even soloists, duos or trios – if budgets can stretch that far, say every Friday lunchtime/afternoon/early evening for a couple of hours.

    At whatever volume, the recorded music (hopefully) played should be thought about. If you want to go deep into it, we can look at different genres, styles and even the keys/tonality played at different times of the day, and how the body clock reacts and when! – eg Bach in a minor key, just after lunch!

    It might be a nice idea to ask users to suggest a lunchtime playlist, albeit nothing too heavy, which is listed online, or generated and/or submitted automatically through Spotify, Last FM etc.

    Other ideas – different style of music for each day of the week; a leaning towards music recorded by artists with links to Birmingham or visiting the city; nice b+w jazz photography!

    Speakers, their quality, and positioning is also fairly important.

    Enough from the music department!

  2. Dave Harte Says:

    Don’t try too hard is my advice. Serve good food and coffee at reasonable prices – do what a cafe should do. Don’t worry about what a ‘cool’ cafe should do. Your clientele will create the cafe culture.

    Nice point about music above – simple way to include users.

    Best of luck with it. For non-tenants you’ll need a big sign out front to let people know it’s there and another sign inside to let people know that it’s okay to walk straight through your lovely, but ever-so-slightly-intimidating-to-first-timers lobby.

  3. will perrin Says:

    something that changes and is interactive other than the menu to give customers and people who aren’t there a sense of control and communication

    a screen with a twitterfall for the hashtags #digbeth and #fazeley would be simple

    BTW ‘announcing the opening’ sounds like the sort of press release i used to write in government when something was still months away but we felt we needed to say something to keep critics happy – may be an accident of drafting – but do you mean to say it will open ‘soon’ or ‘in three months’?



    • fazeley Says:

      Sorry Will, afraid I had to be a bit vague on the opening date because our contractors have to formally agree as to when that’s possible.

      It is extremely likely that we are looking at full opening within two months from now, with a preview for tenants at out big halloween party. I should be able to confirm that in the next week. Meanwhile, wanted to ask people in good time for us to take suggestions on board.

  4. fazeley Says:

    Also replies via twitter from TOBY BARNES (I think he might want free tea!!)

    Early start.
    Benchs not tables.
    Organic good food AND fry ups. Chips. Fruit.
    Music. Not abba.
    Free tea.
    alchol all day.
    Good cake. WI cake.
    Free tea.
    Ability to be open evenings for events. Did I say tea?

    see shepherdess in London. Or bar Bruno. Or bar in the depot in Leicester (incubator). Not a Brassiere in sight.

  5. Toby Barnes Says:

    Although the thing has to be a business, hopefully there can be simple ideas, that will make a difference.
    Like free Tea (it is very cheap, but will ensure people hangout, and have meetings there as well drop by)
    and as Sam says music is so ever so important.

    If we can stick a machine and a projector in there we can do all sorts of things, from visualisations, to twitter visualisations (
    from Left for Dead games, to video conferencing.

    Make the walls interactive with projectors.

    and good Cake. WI = Women’s Institute

    I second Dave’s comments about signs for people.
    Good signage is ever so important.

    and please don’t call it a Brassier (sic)

  6. James Robertson Says:

    On a practical note? – lots and lots of noticeboards where you can post physical notices for a small fee: nothing seems to stimulate the coalescing of groups quicker than real world noticeboards for some reason.

    I’d back that up with an online prescencse where these notices could be re-posted.

    Also, how about whiteboards on the walls, ready for off-the-cuff brainstorming sessions?

    And I’d also work at getting some kind of regular meetings held there – things like BNI or Multipack.

    And great coffee and food is a must too!

  7. James Robertson Says:

    … – and if you wanted to go really off-the-wall, how about being able to order coffees by Twitter? – it’d generate us some cool publicity to launch the place…

  8. James Robertson Says:

    Is there going to be a website / social media page for the new cafe? If there’s no plans at the moment I’d like to volunteer to help do it – as a community style thing, crowdsourced amongst all the creatives in Fazeley Studios…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: