Bristol has a unique, independent spirit that makes it stand out from the crowd. It has two universities, its own currency and even its own People’s Republic (remember the Stokes Croft riots?).
It’s no surprise then, that Bristol’s bar scene is as eclectic as its residents. There is certainly no shortage of independent, slightly quirky watering holes. In some corners you will stumble across hidden gems serving prohibition style cocktails, while in others you will find top DJs playing, impressive selections of craft beers or locally brewed ales for the discerning academics.
Local food and drink blogger Becci Sargent picks out 10 of the very best bars in the city.
The Berlin-esque one: Hausbar
This dark, seductive, Berlin-inspired bar can be found in an unexpected location: hidden away below an Indian restaurant at the top of Whiteladies Rd. Ring the doorbell and wait to be led in through the dark velvet curtain by the dapper bartend. Relax into the leather seats and low lighting and take your pick from an expertly crafted cocktail menu of classics.
If in doubt, ask: these guys were at the start of the cocktail obsession in Bristol, and really know what they’re doing.
52 Upper Belgrave Road, Clifton, BS8 2XP (0117 946 6081, www.hausbar.co.uk)
The seedy one: Red Light
The newest addition to Bristol’s cocktail scene, Red Light is, as the name suggests, somewhat seedier than the others. No doorbell this time; instead you press the button on the payphone outside to be let in. Channeling the feel of a 1950s brothel, the first thing you see is a neon sign spelling ‘Sex’.
Step inside and walk past the red leather padded wall and reception desk into the boudoir area where you can relax on chaise longues and order from an extensive cocktail list to a soundtrack of ’50s jazz.
1 Unity St, BS1 5HS (0117 929 1453, www.redlightbristol.xxx)
The late one: The Woods
Popular with students and fellow bartenders, The Woods is one of the few bars that stays open until 4am at the weekend. Just setback from the bustle of Park St, and split over two floors with a mezzanine level and great outside space, this is a fitting choice for those preferring not to venture to a nightclub.
Don’t expect to buy a pint though, as beers and ciders are served by the pitcher or half pint, while the extensive selection of whisky and rum means you may be there for a while.
1 Park Street Avenue, BS1 5LQ (0117 925 0890, www.thewoodsbar.co.uk)
The opulent one: The Milk Thistle
This is the sort of bar you can imagine Gatsby hiring for one of his extravagant parties. Sprawling over four huge floors of this historic building in the heart of Bristol, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking you had stumbled across a lavish ’20s house party.
It’s another ‘ring the doorbell and wait to be let in’ affair, but with much more space than the others you stand more of a chance. Choose your room, admire the famous taxidermy and sink into a leather lounge chair while choosing your poison.
Quay Head House, Colston Avenue, BS1 1EB (0117 929 4429, milkthistlebristol.com)
The academics’ one: The Highbury Vaults
Close to the University of Bristol, this 19th century traditional pub has been popular with academics for years. What it lacks in the food and toilet stakes it more than makes up for with its selection of ales and atmospheric beer garden.
Grab yourself a beer (there are other options ‘begrudgingly’) and sit outside in among the foliage. The heaters mean it’s still warm even in the dead of winter, and you can always challenge your comrade to a game of bar billiards inside instead.
164 St Michael’s Hill, Kingsdown, BS2 8DE (0117 973 3203, website)
The festival one: Big Chill Bar
What started life as a festival in Herefordshire has since morphed into a funky bar in Bristol. While the festival hasn’t happened since 2011, the bar offers revelers a concoction of laidback bar upstairs, dance floor downstairs and terrace.
Top DJs can regularly be found behind the decks downstairs, but those preferring a more relaxed evening can head straight upstairs to the study and relax into leather sofas. There’s an extensive drinks list, but don’t expect cocktails.
15 Small Street, BS1 1DE (0117 930 4217, www.wearebigchill.com)
The curios one: Gallimaufry
A vehemently independent and quirky bar on the main strip of the renowned Gloucester Rd, this one’s perfect for both a full on Saturday night and laidback Sunday. Let your eyes explore and they will fall upon all kinds of weird and wonderful sights, ranging from local art to origami and some pretty creepy-looking dolls.
Drinks wise there’s a well-sourced list that even includes the odd cocktail. Pop in for live music most nights with a mix of folk, jazz, blues and alternative sounds.
26-28 The Promenade, Gloucester Road, BS7 8AL (0117 942 7319, thegallimaufry.co.uk)
The cider one: The Apple
When in Rome eh? This cider bar on a boat offers around 40 different types of cider and perry, ranging from their own ‘Old Bristolian’ to numerous traditional craft ciders. If you really can’t be persuaded to partake in one then there are a selection of rums, lagers and beers to choose from.
Take a seat inside on the boat, on deck or on one of the many picnic benches on the quayside. This is one of the places to be during the summer months (aside from the Arnolfini and Old Duke).
Welsh Back, BS1 4SB (0117 925 3500, applecider.co.uk)
The secret one: Hyde & Co
Bristol’s worst kept secret, this prohibition-style speakeasy has newspaper pasted on its walls and plenty of cubby holes for secret rendezvous, while there’s even a hidden room. Another case of ring the doorbell and pray they have space (although tables can be booked before 8pm).
If successful find yourself a corner and marvel at all the weird and wonderful trinkets on display. Expect table service from top-notch cocktail waiters – just don’t ask for a Sex on the Beach.
2 The Basement, Upper Byron Pl. BS8 1JY (0117 9297007, hydeandcobristol.net)
The craft beer one: Crofters Rights
Understated cool with a penchant for beer, the Crofters Rights opened on Stokes Croft last year and has become a popular venue. Not surprising given the care and attention that goes into sourcing excellent craft beer from across the UK.
Feeling peckish? In a bid to keep the food as exciting as the drinks, Bristol’s award winning street food collective BEATS have a residency here, so expect a different menu to peruse each week. Perfect for a midweek beer and some fodder.
117-119 Stokes Croft, BS1 3RW (0117 231 0079, croftersrights.co.uk)