A stale smell lingers as I walk across heavily soiled carpets and through silent ghost town corridors empty of guests. Nostalgic black and white photos testify to the glory days when this hotel in central Birmingham opened.
Those times are long gone. It’s a struggle to even find the room as adjacent door numbers are missing digits while mine is hidden under broken lights.
Just 15 minutes into the stay, the budget room itself is plunged into darkness when the power suddenly goes out, and it feels like the beginning of a horror movie. I’m glad the power outage doesn’t last all night – but when the bright lights come on again, I spot two dents in the ‘private bathroom’ door, probably struck by an angry guest.
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Inside, the humming extractor fan is thickly covered in dust and dirt, while the towel rack below is littered with rust-colored grime. I step into the shower to wash off the dirt from around me, but I’m greeted by a nimble little silverfish weaving its way around a worn drain.
That was the reality of Birmingham. We decided to try it ourselves after reviewers on TripAdvisor badmouthed their stay and left the venue with more than 480 (out of 660) “terrible” reviews.
But whatever the outcome, could it really be worse than our 24-hour stay in Pontins? Less than 3 miles from the hustle and bustle of our city centre, it makes an attractive budget stopover for those visiting Birmingham for work or leisure.
Located on one of the city’s main thoroughfares, The Norfolk offers Wi-Fi access, free parking and tea and coffee-making facilities. It boasts a “private bathroom” in every “modern room”.
And the hotel, with its sleek glass entrance, prides itself on having a “stylish reception area” and a “well-stocked, modern bar.” But as we enter, the reality is a soulless reception with the bar closed.
Even in total darkness and behind a “Closed” sign, the bar looks like time has stood still since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. An egg cup balanced on a tray remains on the table and there is a baby high chair at one of the empty tables.
When we check in, a lone clerk sits in the dimly lit reception area, and while he doesn’t seem too happy to be there, he’s helpful and friendly enough. He hands over the room card and advises us that the hotel is a “completely non-smoking” venue.
He doesn’t bother to wish me a pleasant stay and I can fully appreciate his realism as I walk past a broken elevator with exposed wires.
I’m forced to take the corridor and I can’t help but think leaving this elevator broken is a bad decision as I step onto the dirty carpet in the corridor. A sign warns guests that there are “no gatherings or social activities in any part of the hotel.” Another printed notice indicates a planned power outage between 10:00 and 12:00 due to maintenance at the venue.
The room is difficult to find due to two digits missing from the neighboring door 109, but I finally spot it in a corner under a broken lamp. The double bed is comfortable enough and for less than £50 a night it’s a large room and has three windows for much needed ventilation.
And while I’m pleased to find the linens clean according to disgusting guest reports, the rest of the room needs a thorough scrubbing – maybe a brand new carpet.
As I continue to explore the room and get ready for the night to come, the lights suddenly go out and I wonder what I could possibly have done to cause a power outage so early. For a moment I panic that I misread the warning sign about tomorrow’s maintenance and will spend the night in a pitch-dark room with no conversation.
But I check and see it’s not due until 10am. I turn on my phone’s flashlight and look for the room phone to call the front desk.
But as you can see in the video above it crashes and I can’t reach anyone. I have no idea at this point if the entire hotel is affected or just me. When I go to the reception there is no one to be found either. The CCTV behind the desk shows the same spooky corridors and I’m starting to wonder where all the other guests are.
I call the Booking.com phone number only to realize I hear the ringing on the other side of the empty desk. I wait about ten minutes before being greeted by the same receptionist – who didn’t seem surprised by the power outage.
He explains that the fuse blew, probably because of a “bad plug”. I didn’t have anything plugged in, but he suggests I flick the switch in the corner of the room to fix the problem. Maybe in response to my blank expression, they’ll agree to come into the room and fix this for me.
On the way up we see other guests for the first time. One comes out to grab some takeaway outside the hotel while the receptionist waves to two others who are leaving, adding, “Take care, see you then.”
They appear to be happy customers, obviously happy with what they’re getting at relatively reasonable prices – from £39 a night.
When we return to the bedroom, apart from a blown bulb next to the bed, the lights come back on thanks to the member of staff.
But then I really notice the dirt in the bathroom. And when I step into the shower tray to wash, a silverfish joins me, making its way around the plug.
But since I don’t feel like having guests in the shower, I first get out in the hope that it will go away. The Freeview TV and WiFi distract me for a while until it’s time to sleep.
I start to fall asleep around 11pm but it’s midnight and it seems like the hotel is waking up. I hear the voices of a man and a woman before a door slams in neighboring rooms. Soon after, I count more men and women coming to our corner of the hotel.
I hear a woman shout “You’re near” to a man before their voices fade away. More come later, although there are only two rooms next to mine, but I either get used to the noise or fall asleep.
Maybe it’s these “meetings” that the hotel is trying to prevent with its blue printouts in the hallways. I wake up refreshed after a pretty good night’s sleep. Unfortunately breakfast is not possible as the bar and restaurant are closed.
Glad the shower, thankfully bug free now, works and isn’t quite the “trickle” that another TripAdvisor reviewer previously slammed.
But as for the hotel, which is “the stuff of nightmares” as others have suggested, although I wouldn’t stop there again, it certainly didn’t live up to its reputation as “the most disgusting hotel in the world” either.
yes it is dirty Yes, it is unloved and decayed. But perhaps with a bit of cleaning, repairs, and a little maintenance, it could be restored as a desirable budget hotel in a prime city location.
* The Norfolk Hotel has been contacted for comment.
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