Essex is a county of contradictions. To those who only know it from the media stereotypes, it is all about TOWIE, with its accompanying clichéd images of The Sugar Hut, Essex boys in hot hatches and Essex girls in white stilettos. Venture towards the north of the county, and the atmosphere could not be more different. Constable country, to the north of Colchester, has changed little since the painter lived there 200 years ago, from the almost west country accents of the locals to the picture postcard villages, all country pubs and thatched cottages.

Holding it all together in the centre of the county is Chelmsford. It has a rich history dating back to Roman times, and in the 20th century was a hotbed of industry and innovation, as the base of companies like Marconi, Hoffmanns, Britvic and others. As they closed their doors in the late 20th century, Chelmsford went into decline, but since becoming one of the UK’s newest cities, it has reinvented itself as a hub for culture and leisure. Let’s cast aside the stereotypes and see what a night out in Chelmsford is really like by looking at three very different venues.

Playing a Peaky Blinder 

The Saracen’s Head Hotel is an imposing building that dominates Tindal Square at the north end of the High Street. The hotel has a history dating back well over 500 years, but like Chelmsford itself, it’s had a difficult time since the late 20th century. In 2004, the hotel’s restaurant featured in Series Two of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, but even the world’s most famous celebrity chef could not halt the decline. 

The hotel shut down entirely last summer, but it is set to reopen in spring with a whole new retro theme. It is hoped the hotel will appeal to fans of the decade, and we can already imagine the card tables and chips (a much loved pastime then as it still is now – evidenced by the popularity of sites in the UK offering casino card games like rummy and blackjack ), the cigars, the whiskey and the frills on the skirts. If you enjoy 1920s style and perhaps a bit of casino gaming, the Garrison, as it will be rebranded, should be the first place you visit. Staff will be dressed in period uniforms, capturing the vibe that has been made so popular by Peaky Blinders. The venue plans to host a variety of live entertainment experiences, including comedy and burlesque. 

Beyond a restaurant

From the Saracen’s take a walk along Chelmsford’s pedestrianised High Street. After five minutes of gentle strolling, you will encounter another building with a varied history. The former Regent Cinema is impossible to miss, with its art deco façade. The cinema closed and turned into a bingo hall in the 1970s, but today, it is home to Bar and Beyond. 

Arrive in the early evening and get a table for a sit-down meal and some great cocktails. As the hours go by, you’ll see the place gradually morph into one of the city’s most vibrant nightclubs, with live DJs and an awe-inspiring sound system. 

At one with Chelmsford

Looking for something a little calmer? Less than 100 yards from Bar and Beyond on Moulsham Street is Be At One, a sophisticated cocktail bar where you can relax in style and comfort till the small hours. 

The booth layout is perfect for couples or small groups. But on a warm night, there’s no better place to be than the rooftop bar, where you can look out across the city and to the wider Essex landscape.