Where else would you find one of Bristol’s coolest bars but hidden underneath an Indian restaurant? Right at the top of Whiteladies Road opposite the Downs, Hausbar has long been a place to finish a night in style. The original Bristol speakeasy bar, which you have to ring a doorbell to gain access to, is rather out on a limb – especially with plenty of cocky young upstarts now opening nearer the centre of town. But despite no longer being unique, Hausbar retains what has always made its name as a venue for discerning drinkers.
As secrets go, a secret room within a secret bar is as secret as you might get. Hyde & Co may be just off the Clifton Triangle, one of Bristol’s busiest nocturnal thoroughfares, near a magic bar and surrounded on almost all sides by kebab shops, but if you didn’t know it existed, you might walk by it blissfully unaware of the delights within. Cocktails dominate but are most certainly not the only drinks here, with bottles of Wild Beer and Burrow Hill cider both making the short journey from Somerset.
Red Light advertises its presence on Union Street by, well, a red light, emanating from a graffiti covered doorway. Pick up the payphone, press the button and… presto. Billing itself as a late-night drinking den, with an air of 1950s panache, Red Light has a cocktail list that pairs customisable classics with new creations. True to its location, it’s about quality, not crowd-pleasing. All in all, Red Light is great, late-night hidey-hole, and an ideal place to escape the boisterous antics of Park Street.
Hidden in plain sight, it is likely that even some of the drinkers in the White Lion pub next door might not know that the Milk Thistle contains four floors of decadent excess. If you don’t like wood panelling and taxidermy, look away now. Each level has a different function, with a ground floor cocktail bar, first floor private members lounge and various function rooms including private dining with chefs from sister restaurant The Ox. If you’re here with a group of friends, try the Milk Thistle punch or selection of Trappist beers made by monks in monasteries across Europe.
If you like rum, you’re in luck at the Rummer – although the shared monikers is just a happy coincidence. With more than 400 premium spirits from around the globe, it may well be the largest collection in Bristol. Recent addition Cap Savanna Rum comes from Reunion Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. An espresso martini and roaring log fire can also warm the cockles on a cold winter’s night or a day spent exploring the stalls at nearby St Nick’s Market.
In Bristol we’re always much more likely to build a bar underground than on the top of a grand skyscraper. While we don’t have the latter, we are more than well-served with the former especially in the Old City. The Doghouse is the newest bar to make its home in a centuries-old space. Cocktails and spirits on offer here can be drunk if you so desire while having a little wiggle to the DJs playing most nights of the week. There's also a fine selection of wines thanks to bartender Phillipe Bonneau from France, who also just happens to be a brand ambassador to a particular fine company from over the Channel.
Look above the bar at Small Bar and after the list of IPAs, stouts, blonde beers and the like, you’ll see an extra category: crazy shit. Don’t expect anything less than 10% here, costing up to £4 for a half – and be thankful that you can choose to drink whatever unusual delight you have ordered in a bespoke one-third glass. An indication of the popularity of this place since it opened towards the end of 2013 is that it has become one of the after-work venues of choice for Bristol’s chefs, waiters and baristas - a good sign if ever there was one.
Let your competitive spirit take over at Kongs. If vintage arcade games such as stone-cold classics Street Fighter II or PacMan aren’t your style, give your wrists a workout on the table football table or don your coolest headband on the table tennis table where a ricocheting shot could end up behind the bar. Lagers are not frowned upon here with an international selection that includes Sierra Nevada from the USA, Affligem from Belgium and Birra Moretti from Italy. Ciders on tap are Thatchers Gold and Symonds.
Beer. Beer everywhere. There are literally hundreds of choices in the ‘Emp’. Don’t be fooled by the small bottle shop on street level. Three vaulted cellars downstairs play host to more beer than anywhere else in Bristol. An ever changing selection comes from all four corners of the globe as well as closer to home, often in the shape of breweries including Wiper & True and Ashley Down, who share premises in St Werburgh’s, and Towles from Easton. Belgian beers are celebrated every Wednesday, with 10% off and 250 bottles from which to choose.
Collaboration is the name of the game at the Urban Standard, a bar that's seen the coming together of the teams behind the former Urban Wood on Colston Street (now the second Roasemarino restaurant) and Moreish on Chandos Road. The result is a bar that those with a misspent youth will remember as an amusement arcade. It’s now just as fun, swapping one armed bandits for Wiper & True beer – the gold standard for Bristol breweries and an easy way of knowing a good pub, bar or restaurant in the city if you see one of their distinctive bottles. Up to five beers can be on tap here at any time, including Arbor Transatlantic PA.
Braces and bourbon are two lingering impressions of The Bootlegger. The braces are sported in a dashing shade of red by the bartenders, while the bourbon is just there to be drunk. The Bootlegger has the unique distinction of being a speakeasy-style bar in Bristol that isn't hidden behind a doorbell or a payphone. Live music from chaps and chapesses strumming to their hearts’ content on double basses bigger than themselves is like a passport in time back to the 1920s and 30s jazz scene. But there are also DJs here who bring the music policy more up to date.
Whisky is the drink of choice Woods, a near-legendary after-hours drinking den just off Park Street. When other bars start battening down the hatches for the night, Woods is just coming alive – unlike the butterflies, moths and assorted animal skulls that make up most of the decoration on the walls. The Woods is split into three distinct areas. Prop up the bar downstairs, sit back in the Chesterfield sofas upstairs or head outside to a small courtyard area. There are some 50 Scotch malts to choose from, alongside selections from America, Ireland and Japan.
A quirk of the licensing laws means that it has to be table service at the Strawberry Thief, so wait to be shown to your spot by a waitress in a crisp linen shirt and navy blue apron. It makes for a slightly sterile atmosphere, but then the beers are the stars of the show here. And what a selection. Peruse the substantial drinks menu made up almost entirely of Belgian bottled beers, then sit back and be presented with your choice usually served in its own branded glass.
Lock your bicycle to the anchor outside; order a drink underneath the trombones, trumpets and tubas fashioned into a light; and then take a seat next to the time machine. The Old Bookshop is nothing ordinary and features almost as many animals as Farthing Wood – but of the stuffed variety rather than the living, breathing kind. An open-minded music policy has seen appearances from the likes of Bristol jazz chanteuse Beth Rowley and bands with more members than you could think could possibly fit onto the tiny stage inside.
Call it the Galli – everyone else does. ‘Gallimaufry’ is a hodgepodge, jumble, a confused medley. All very apt terms to describe this Bishopston bar that, since opening in 2012, has swiftly become one of the go-to bars in an area of town not short for drinking choices. This is a bar with a quirky and artistic vibe well-suited to the ever-eclectic Gloucester Road. Keeping it independent and local, as is the way around here, you’ll always find at least two beers from Bristol breweries as well as some from further afield which are changed regularly, all the better to wash down some award-winning food of which brunch is a particular speciality.
If cider is a West Country institution, then the Apple is its spiritual home. Come the summer and its outside seating area is invariably packed. Come the winter and hunker down for the night with a drink of mulled cider in hand under a heater or a blanket. If you think the floor beneath your feet is moving, it might not just be the cider talking – the Apple is located on a former Dutch barge now moored permanently at the end of King Street. It's fermented apple juice all the way, and what a selection. With names like Tractor Fuel (£3.60 a pint), you’d be wise to line your stomach.
In the wilds, a mile outside the city centre, The Office is working hard to prove that stepping off the beaten track can have its rewards. Delicious, cocktail-shaped rewards. Found on a corner of the Wells Road, The Office is laid-back and minimalist, with exposed brickwork, decently priced cocktails, and a reputation for excellent bar food. Maybe it’s the dim lighting, or the low-key chatter, but it’s the type of place that makes you to hole up in a corner and get friendly with the drinks menu. The official list is short and sweet, combining classics with two or three more unusual variations (chocolate-orange martini anyone?) that change weekly.
Located on the Bath Rd in the creative hub that is Paintworks, Bocabar is a real jewel in this end of town’s crown. The space is vast and open, which is hardly surprising given it is the top floor of a warehouse space used for events. However, despite its size, it somehow still manages to feel cosy. This is probably down to the mish mash of rustic furniture, curios, fairy lights, rugs, artwork and toys (kids are very welcome here and the space is perfect for buggies).
Team Love are a typical Bristol success story, veering in various directions but always keeping true to their primary goal - giving people a bloody good time. From roots promoting one-off nights, Team Love now puts on festivals such as Love Saves the Day in Bristol and the Garden Festival in Croatia, as well as programming stages at Glastonbury and sound systems at St Paul’s Carnival. It might not be easy to distil all of that into a single venue, but The Love Inn is a pretty fine effort.