Article originally published on HerUni.com in 2012.
Cocktails and Cake: Norwich’s Cafe Culture
Whether you’re coming to UEA this September from suburban sprawl, overseas, or even some tiny little back-of-beyond that no one’s ever heard of (like me), for the first or hundredth time, you’re going to love Norwich. It’s got everything: the jam-packed programme of events and jumble of personalities of the big city, and the tree-lined streets of the English rural idyll. Whether you’re into dancing the night away or snuggling up with a DVD at home, trawling the high street or bartering in the market, running triathlons or eating cake, this little city has something for you. But personally, I go for the cake. Every time. Nomnomnom. And cake is, surprisingly, a fantastic way to get to know Norwich.
First impressions of Norwich? How about: little cobbled streets, lots of vintage shops, and plenty of places to get a decent coffee, be it Marmalade’s in the beautiful Victorian Royal Arcade, the cheap and cheerful cafe in ye olde Guildhall, or the somewhat mysterious Biddy’s Tea Room with its stuffed animals in the window and hit-and-miss opening hours. But wait till evening, look closer and explore those quaint cobbled lanes, and you’ll find what makes Norwich such a special place, at least for those of us with a cake habit: its café culture.
By night, that cute little café with shelves of old coffee-stained books and Scrabble becomes one of the coolest places in Norwich. Catch a gig, swap unlikely tales of extreme awesomeness with the hipsters, or enjoy a mixed bag of fabulous Cabaret, and all while sipping a cocktail and enjoying a slice of cake.
Norwich is unique in that it’s OK on a big night out to sit there trying to look cool with bits of flapjack all down your front. At the Bird Cage, possibly the cutest bar in town and certainly one of the most popular, you can order a bowl of jelly babies to go with your vodka and coke, without getting funny looks. The bunting, the tattooed clientele, and Maraud the resident cat, give the bar an atmosphere halfway between your granny’s front room and the sort of place you never quite feel cool enough to go to, but it works. Cocktails just got cosy. Wash it down with a hilarious round of Just a Minute or the headCRASH cabaret night and a chocolate brownie, and you know you’re in for a quirky night to remember.
St Benedict’s Street, lined with music shops and little jewellery stores, is home to The Bicycle Shop, a sparkly grotto of a venue, all exotic pot plants and fairy lights, serving up home-cooked food and grungy gigs. On the corner of one of Norwich’s most ancient streets, Elm Hill, Olive’s might look like the preserve of pensioners, but hosts ground-breaking spoken word nights frequented by the city’s up-and-coming talent. Take 5 on Tombland is a little out of the way, but plays host to one of the most important writers’ collectives in the East, Café Writers, and has a full programme of events. While the cocktail won’t come cheap in any of these places (my winter’s eve tipple of choice, a Bailey’s hot chocolate, once set me back over a fiver – eek!) you are guaranteed not only fantastic atmosphere, out-there conversation and eye-boggling entertainment, but a hefty slice of Norwich’s unique welcome. And cake. Lots of it.
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