On the Map is our take on a city guide of sorts, its a way for us to share stories from our international community kingpins, who, in turn use this as an opportunity to shine a light on the local people and businesses that make their lives brighter. We are currently on a tour around Birmingham U.K, the location of our first ever partnership store.
For part three of the series (part one here, part 2 here), we’re pulling pints with the owners of one of Birmingham’s most celebrated boozers. So much more than a pub, The Plough Harborne has become a mecca for people who love a knockout home-baked pizza, damn good coffee and a seriously stiff Negroni.
Introduced to Universal Works by long-time pal Phil Hazel, founder of the brilliant Liquor Store (which houses the UW partnership store). Pub owners Adam and Sarah Johnson were only too happy to sit down and shoot the (Bacardi) breeze with us.
Sarah Wears, Travail Shirt In Navy Lightweight Moleskin, Ecru Tee, Sailor Pant In Sand Clean Organic Cotton.
Adam wears, Easy Overshirt In Mustard Melton, Daybrook Shirt In Navy Organic Mill Oxford
“When we first opened The Plough 20 years ago it was just a run-down village pub. One side reminded me of the bar on Star Wars - it was full of unusual characters. The other side had sticky carpets and nicotine stained walls. That didn’t deter me and Sarah though, because we knew it had real potential.”
Adam & Sarah took a risk when they took over this traditional Birmingham boozer in 2003, but after two solid decades of serious graft, they’ve transformed The Plough Harborne into a bone fide food and drink destination. After being introduced to the couple by fellow Birmingham dweller Phil over at The Liquor Store, we sat down to talk about how there’s more to great pubs than just a pint of lager and a pickled egg.
There’s a power play between the interior and exterior of The Plough. From the street, it’s a smartly whitewashed ye olde tavern. Step inside and you’re most definitely in 2022. Pre-pub, Sarah had a stint working in interior design and working with Spencer Swinden Design, the smart, modern aesthetic definitely radiates through the choices of furniture, wall treatments and overall atmosphere. Speaking about the mix of old and new within the space, she smiled and said, “If I gave myself a job title, it would be Director of Detail! I think the most important thing for me is that the pub feels cozy, welcoming, and comfortable. That’s the reason we don’t over-design it. We still have a lot of the old secondhand tables we had when we first opened, but somehow they still work. We’re also lucky to have a nice garden space and as a keen gardener myself I’m at my most happy out there making sure the outside space is a haven for our customers. I don’t really think of The Plough as a pub necessarily - it’s just a great space I get to be creative in, every day!”
Sarah wears, Blanket Cardigan In Navy Wool Fleece, Patched Shirt In Navy Classic Stripes, Pleated Track Pant In Navy Check Wool Mix, Models Own.
Adam Wears, Dicky Cardigan In Navy Marl Bristol Recycled Wool Mix, Daybrook Shirt In Blue Brushed Herringbone, Braga Pant In Navy Cavalry Twill, Models Own.
As a regular player in the Good Pub Guide, keeping the menu exciting and the quality consistent is something Adam feels passionately about. Speaking about the journey from sticky carpets to sun blushed tomatoes, he explained, “We refurbished it and it traded really well - given the small footprint. Three years after opening we extended the pub into the back garden. At this time it was very much a young person's place to go for a local drink. We were both 30 so it was a perfect place for us to meet mates without having to go into the city centre. Before getting into hospitality, I’d owned a couple of record shops, so music was always going to be a big part of our initial concept for The Plough. When we opened we had DJs playing background music most nights.
Sunday roasts are The Plough are something of local legend. Vegetarian Sarah takes a novel approach and admitted, “The meat is not the main event for me - it’s always the vegetables. A great roast for me will have roast potatoes that are really fluffy and crispy, Yorkshire puddings that are really crunchy on the outside but soft in the middle, the best cauliflower cheese and a selection of green veg and root vegetables roasted in garlic and herbs and other yummy stuff, all covered in a rich gravy. And then (obviously!) it would be served with a great wine, at a big table in a cosy part of a great pub (or home) and shared with friends and family.”
Adam nodded in agreement “Our staff really make all the difference - the place has a heartbeat which makes guests want to return to us week in, week out.”
Very much a team effort, Adam and Sarah were clear from the moment they took on The Plough that they wanted the comforting, reassuring feeling of a local pub to remain. Sarah pointed out that “We want The Plough to be the place where everybody feels good. That’s what drives us. When you walk through the door, we want you to feel like you’re in a home away from home, in a place that has a soul. Our staff are our best asset. We are really proud of our team. We all work really hard to build proper relationships with our customers, to get to know them. We count lots of them as really good friends now! The building itself is great too. It’s an old pub, but we’ve added to it over the years so it has real character and hopefully, everywhere you sit there is something to draw your eye and keep your interest. I love making things look nice, so there are always lots of plants, candles, vases, pictures, mirrors (you name it!) to give it a nice atmosphere. I think it’s personal touches like these, along with our great homemade food and great drinks selection that makes us stand out.”
Pub grub has certainly come on leaps and bounds over the past decade. When asked why he thinks the gastro pub experience has remained popular, Adam concluded, “Good food has become an enjoyable part of life these days, and with the rise of TV chefs and brilliant local restaurants, it was only a matter of time that the general public would demand more than a sausage roll or a ham bap at the end of the bar.” Too right! Pass the menu, please.