Happily for anyone fond of a cheeky pint or three, Bristol is chock-full of historic pubs that have become landmarks in their own right. From King Street’s ever-expanding Beermuda Triangle to classier drinking destinations around smarter Cotham and Clifton, you can rest assured you’ll never be short of places to pause for a quick tipple in this city. Neighbourhood staples are clung to with fervour – after all, we all know there’s nothing like a shared round to make a community come together. Craft beer-making in Bristol has blossomed in recent years, too, with pubs and their loyal customers are supporting nearby brewers like Lost and Grounded, Moor and Left Handed Giant by drinking their creations by the kegful.
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Best pubs in Bristol
Long before Stokes Croft became the city’s most bohemian locale, The Bell was widely regarded as something of a Bristol institution. Tucked away on Hillgrove Street, just off the main drag of bars, independent stores and kooky cafés, it has long served a multitude of purposes; it’s a laidback meeting place for local artists, DJs and musicians, low-key community pub, and popular weekend pre-club boozer all rolled into one.
Now here’s a pub that knows its real ale. CAMRA award-winning landlords Phil and Jakki took over this hidden gem in 2010, and it boasts no less than 10 hand-pulls behind the bar at any one time, including ones you won’t find anywhere else in Bristol. Festooned in funky flags and old pump clips, this is a proper pub lover’s pub, this one.
When climbing up the frustratingly steep St Michael’s Hill, you’re unlikely to miss The White Bear at the summit: a life-size replica of the creature that gives the pub its name dominates the front wall at first-floor level. It’s a useful metaphor, because The White Bear can be as lively as its towering mascot – an unsurprising fact given it’s owned by legendary club promoter-turned-venue owner Julian Smith. It’s at night, though, that the pub comes alive. The pool table is put away, the tequila flows and it becomes a party destination of choice.
The Bag Of Nails has long been regarded as one of Bristol’s best real ale establishments. It is, without doubt, also one of the city’s most eccentric. Much of this eccentricity stems from landlord Luke Daniels, a self-proclaimed “opinionite [sic], non-conformist and cat-fancier” whose dedication to real ale is notorious. It’s tiny, it’s friendly, and it’s full of cats and beer – what’s not to love?
This pub gets rammed on a weekend, and for good reason: its beer selection, kooky interior décor and lively local clientele make it very a fun night out – and there’s a massive garden to boot. Another plus? When you get bored of your mates’ drunken chat, you can challenge them to a game of skittles at the in-house mini-alley. Next round’s on the loser…
For the assorted students, young professionals, party people and liberal locals that make up The Cadbury’s clientele, this pub has legendary status. For many, the weekend isn’t complete without a hungover, bleary-eyed trip to the pub for its proper, all-the-trimmings Sunday roasts. It’s recently enjoyed a refit that had locals fearing for the preservation of its infamously chill vibes – but there was no need to worry. The vibe prevails.
Given the general exclusivity of the area, it’s surprising how few high-class drinking establishments there are in Clifton Village. It’s not an area short on good-quality pubs – there are loads just in this list, for starters – but The Albion feels quite different. It’s aimed at a higher class of customer, something that becomes plainly obvious when you browse the list of trips and activities put on for patrons and regulars. Certainly, there are few other pubs in Bristol that organise fly-fishing and clay pigeon shooting trips.
The reopening of the once-popular Greenbank pub in Easton in early 2014 was good news for an area largely light on good-quality community watering holes. The pub had been shut for a couple of years and there were rumours the building was to be converted into flats. Thankfully, experienced publican James Savage decided to save it from the bulldozers.
Before it was taken over and re-branded by experienced landlord Stephen Wallace – most famous for turning the Golden Guinea into one of Bristol’s best-loved establishments – the pub now known as The Steam Crane was one of Bedminster’s most notorious watering holes. Since re-opening in early 2014, Wallace has turned around the venue’s fortunes, through a dedication to high-quality drinks and a tasty food menu.
Redfield has become a desirable location in recent times – for young, trendy first-time house buyers, at least – and the neighbourhood’s pub scene could feel under pressure to move with the times. However, this off-kilter old boozer hasn’t changed a bit. With its model dragon display, properly sized pool tables and banterous bartenders, it’s great to visit a pub that still doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Located on the trendy AF Old Market Street, this huge, balconied pub attracts all sorts of creative types thanks to the small, independent playhouse out the back. The Wardrobe Theatre puts on an array of brilliant smaller productions, and even better, during the interval you can pop to the pub in the same building. Even if you’re not a theatre luvvie, we couldn’t recommend it more – the food’s killer, too.
For much of its existence, The Plough Inn was something of a curiosity – a busy community-centric boozer famed for its links with the Easton Cowboys football and cricket teams. However, since it was taken over by new management in 2012, The Plough has earned a reputation as Bristol’s best-kept secret – a party-friendly oasis in Easton’s largely uninspiring pub circuit.
In truth, decent pubs are a little thin on the ground in Bristol city centre. In this regard, The Christmas Steps is something of an island in a sea of mediocrity. Nestled at the bottom of Christmas Steps – a historic thoroughfare lined by a succession of curious independent boutiques – the pub is fast becoming a must-visit watering hole.
Even if you disregard its adjacent sister venue, The Annexe – a smaller, real-ale focused outlet a few steps across the smoking yard – The Sportsman is still one of the biggest pubs in Bristol. When you first approach the building from Gloucester Road, you get a sense of its size. Even then, it has a Tardis-like quality, feeling much roomier on the inside than it looks on the outside. It’s easy to lose count of the various interlinked rooms and seating areas, and it took us several visits before we realised there was also a converted loft space.
When the sun shines, there are few better places to enjoy a beer than The Farm. So called because of its proximity to St Werburghs City Farm, the pub’s roomy, dog-friendly garden and covered terrace are a great place to unwind. The building itself boasts an impressive paint job – think brilliantly rendered images of green fields and blue skies. Food-wise, expect dishes packed with top-notch locally sourced produce.
Few Bristol pubs can boast as long and distinguished a history as The Coronation Tap. There’s been a boozer on its Sion Place site since the 18th century, meaning ‘The Cori’ pre-dates the nearby Clifton Suspension Bridge. As you’d expect from something so steeped in Bristol folklore, there’s a homely, old-fashioned feel to the place, and you’re arguably not a true Bristolian until you’ve sampled the venue’s own super-strength cider, Exhibition (it’s so potent, it’s only ever served in half pints). While you’ll find a solid selection of real ales, lagers and wines, too, it’s the pub’s constantly changing cider range that stands out.
The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer inhabits a building (shared by the King William Alehouse next door) dating back to 1670. It’s a cut above its neighbours, thanks to a 2013 refurb under the watchful eye of landlord Alex Major. While the paint job and new furniture have undoubtedly made the Volunteer a more comfortable, relaxed and pleasant place to drink, it’s Major’s obsession with stocking a dizzying range of craft beers, real ales and ciders that has got people talking. Put simply, you won’t find a wider or more interesting choice anywhere else in the city.
The opening of The Victoria Park pub in 2010 – in the distinctive red-brick building that used to be home to working class local The Raymend – is emblematic of the area’s ongoing gentrification. From the start, the ‘Vic’ has aimed itself at the neighbourhood’s growing band of yopros, with light, airy décor and furnishings to match. If you’ve been to, say, The Greenbank or The Spotted Cow, you should know what to expect. It’s a comfortable, relaxed and easygoing place to drink, with a pleasant outdoor space and a solid selection of cask ales, wines and continental lagers.
Bristol’s harbourside area has long been a popular drinking spot, particularly in the summer months, but it’s hardly renowned for the quality of its pubs and bars. Most are glitzy, soulless chain affairs, catering to the kind of Friday and Saturday night drinkers who are more interested in cheap booze and pop music than ambience or quality beer. The Ostrich, then, is something of a haven. Located a little further around the floating harbour in Redcliffe, it’s an old inn – built in 1745 – and revels in its centuries-old links to Bristol’s maritime heritage.
There’s something pleasingly rough-and-ready about The Hatchet Inn, which is undoubtedly Bristol’s most well-regarded alternative pub. This starts with the building itself. Reputedly haunted, it was built in 1600 but has undergone an array of changes since. Even so, many of the original features remain, including – crucially – the Tudor frontage, and the works since have, if anything, increased its wonky, off-kilter charm.
There’s nowhere else in Bristol quite like The Full Moon. For starters, it’s the only city boozer that also doubles as a backpacker hostel. This in itself gives it a unique feel, with locals, students and party people mixing with an ever-changing roll call of British and international guests. Take a trip to The Full Moon, and you could find yourself propping up the bar or relaxing in the sizeable courtyard with local rude boys, Spanish exchange students, American travellers or hyperactive students (sometimes all at the same time).
Somehow, the Hen & Chicken manages to be all things to all people. Head down during the week, and you’ll find a mixture of ‘Southville set’, 30 and 40-something diners tucking into the expansive food menu (standard pub fare, but with higher-quality burgers and pizzas), and real ale enthusiasts enticed by the bar’s changing roster of three or four guest beers – uniformly well kept – from local breweries. Head down on a weekend, and you’ll find it’s an altogether livelier proposition, with a slightly younger crowd sipping big brand lager, well-known ciders and fluorescent cocktails.
If you’re looking for a good local, you’ll struggle to find anywhere better than The Lansdown in Clifton. Since husband-and-wife team Charles and Amanda Yaxley took over a decade ago, it’s become something of a thriving village pub – a relaxed, warm and inviting hostelry right in the heart of Clifton. The couple has worked hard to build up a core crowd of regulars, and the pub itself – traditionally decorated, with a lovely beer garden and separate function room – is particularly cosy and welcoming.
Long before Stokes Croft became Bristol’s most talked-about neighbourhood, The Pipe & Slippers was being talked about as one of the city’s best boozers. Previously a so-so watering hole called The Berkeley Castle (a tribute to its former name can still be found in the cast iron signage out front), the pub was given a new lease of life in 2004 by Joby Andrews and Mike Cranmey. Such was the success of their revamp that the duo has since applied the same formula to two other Bristol pubs, with equally impressive results. The Pipe & Slippers remains the jewel in the crown of their growing empire, though.
You could hardly call The Rose of Denmark a ‘hidden gem’ (you drive past it on the way into Bristol when you exit the Portway), but it’s certainly in a curious location. Though just a short stroll from Clifton, Bedminster and the city centre, it’s not a place you’d stumble across by accident. Even so, it’s a popular pub with a growing reputation. There’s a sleepy, old-world charm to the pub itself – partly a product of its centuries-old history – and a dining area featuring a roaring fire.