Poets and neon lights: A love letter to The Birdcage

Beloved pub shut. City reopening. Students lying in wait.

When I first came to Norwich, I didn’t know what to expect. My only cultural reference was the TV character Alan Partridge: ‘Ah-ha’ legend praising ‘the Wales of the East’.

I was in my first year when I began to discover the city. I shuffled off the bus and found myself on cobbled streets. Pottergate was brimming with churches and beer gardens, hipster cafes and hidden bars. This was the Norwich I would come to know and love.

It’s a place of thick fringes, dyed hair and Doc Martens; home to second-hand books and pedestrians with paint streaks. Sometimes it feels like everyone I meet is a poet or a painter. This city is a storybook and with every step you’re bound to stumble into something or someone curious.

The Birdcage was one such adventure.

Sitting at 23 Pottergate, The Birdcage pub represents everything students love about the city. It’s intimate and unusual; a friendly haven for artists and strangers alike. It isn’t a night at The Birdcage unless you go to Grosvenor Fish Bar as well. A few pints, a few chips and you’re set for winding your way through the witching streets of Norwich.

My first night at the pub involved an open mic night. The line-up was as follows: one first-time comic, one folk couple in love, one grunge guitarist who recognised his secondary school teacher in the audience and broke his guitar on stage. The experience was surreal. The phrase I laughed and cried is overused in this world but in this particular case, it was accurate.

The Birdcage is decked out with distinctive decor and proud of its original artwork. The pub can be identified by its green neon sign reading: “Smile or die trying”. Now, sadly, after fifteen years of service, this pub has done just that.

Shutting down due to the pressure of COVID-19 restrictions, The Birdcage’s closure is a poignant reminder of how local life has been changed by the lockdown. The days of sitting in pubs feel distant to most students. The city that we love is temporarily shut down.

Though The Birdcage is closed, the promise of Norwich safely opening up still lives. I look forward to the day when I can jump on the bus and find myself on those same cobbled streets again. On that day we’ll sit in hidden pubs, our faces lit by neon lights, the air will be filled with local music and the poets will be dancing by the river. It will not be the same with The Birdcage shut but the spirit that it represented still beats through the city; it is up to us to keep that spirit alive.