With a reputation as good as Bristol boasts for music, it's little surprise to find the city has some pretty serious live music venues. And while we can play host to big acts making a beeline for Bristol as part of a tour, it's the smaller venues where credibility and quality really live. We've put together our favourite places to catch both, so take a look and then go give yourself an aural treat or two.
The world-renowned Colston Hall is Bristol’s largest venue, which is reflected in the wide range of shows on offer. With a long and impressive history behind it, boasting performances from some of the biggest names in music – Louis Armstrong and The Beatles to name just a couple – it’s not surprising that this place is still Bristol’s foremost concert hall. The fact it’s run by the Bristol Music Trust (an independent organisation and registered charity), only furthers the standing as Bristol’s most forward-thinking venue. This also helps ensure that artists as diverse as Flying Lotus and The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra can be found gracing the stage for Bristol’s music aficionados. It’s not just the performances happening inside that catch the eye. The striking architecture of the original building stands alongside the recently constructed foyer space to create a striking contrast between old and new -embodying everything that Colston Hall stands for.
Saying you’re spoilt for choice when trying to chose a pub or bar to visit on the Gloucester Road is an understatement. Recent additions to the roster, such as the excellent Urban Standard, have been steadily growing in popularity. However, when it comes to music, The Golden Lion still attracts patrons from across the city for its eclectic offering of bands, DJs and performers. Expect any and all genres, from folk and funk to rock and hip-hop, plus everything in between - and sometimes all in the same night! Local Bristol talent is flaunted here, with bands such as Yes Rebels and artists like Eva Lazarus returning to play barnstorming sets time and time again. For those brave enough to show off their own musical talents, there’s an open mic night every Monday, which is as worth attending as a punter as it is a performer. If passive entertainment is more your thing, then it’s worth heading down on a Sunday for the weekly Film Club: a pint and a picture on a lazy Sunday, what more could you ask for?
diner dinners you’ll find this side of the Atlantic. The Snack & Share menu features stacked sliders (starting at £11.50 for the veggie option), as well as chips and dips, and chilli fries. Sandwiches are superb – pick up an NY deli option, complete with fries, for £6 – while the fried chicken (£8.25) is crisp on the outside, juicy in the middle. Of course, no diner menu would be complete without a decent burger selection, and the handmade options at Ruby’s are definitely worth sampling. Classic flavour combos battle for your attention on a whopping menu, while more outlandish compositions – such as the pickled onion Monster Munch, Emmental and thousand island burger (£9.45) – are just crazy enough to work. Other American classics include a satisfyingly stodgy mac 'n' cheese (£6.75), and a sweet, smoky, fall-of-the-bone rack of ribs (£15.95), while from a little closer to home you’ll find a mean British Sunday roast. Add in a great beer and spirit selection and you have all you could need from a bar in the city centre.
Another mainstay of the Bristol music scene, Mr Wolfs has equal standing as a venue for showcasing great bands and performers - including graffiti artists, comedians and poets - and as the kind of club to go to if you’re out in town with no real plans and a belly full of booze. Open seven nights a week; expect a lively party atmosphere and tunes to make you boogie, whether you’re there on a weekday or the weekend. Be warned, though, weekends can suffer from sardine syndrome, as the venue’s popularity outweighs its cosy interior. As an added bonus, a range of lip-smackingly delicious noodles, cooked with locally sourced ingredients, are available from 6 till late all week and 12-2pm on Friday, with a two-for-one offer on a Sunday, along with free entry. If you’re looking for a place to nurse your hangover over a bowl of noodles, or just want to carry on the party from Saturday without stopping, look no further than Mr Wolfs.
After a rocky few years and a brief stint in cover act purgatory, it's great to see one of Bristol’s oldest venues back doing what it does best. A beautiful old building just a stone’s throw from Temple Meads station and conveniently situated next door to a real ale pub, The Fleece is a little rough round the edges, but packed with character. The interior is unassuming, but charming; a good combination of flagstone floors, stone pillars and very reasonably priced drinks. The intimate 450-person capacity makes it the ideal spot to get up close and personal to the band. The Fleece has a vibrant history and a knack for booking artists on the cusp of greatness. Legendary acts such as Nirvana, Oasis, Jeff Buckley and Amy Winehouse have all played shows here and helped etch the venue a place in Bristol music legend.
The Old Duke, situated on bustling King Street, is a pub and music venue that's an anachronism, but only by the very virtue that it achieves a sense of cool that’s long been missing from music venues of this nature. These days, it’s rare to find a jazz venue that oozes panache like The Old Duke. The décor reflects the history of the venue (which dates back to around 1775); with photos, sketches and paintings of musicians and patrons, old and new, adorning every inch of the wall. Outside is equally inviting, the large outdoor drinking area providing ample space for those needing a break from the ever-heaving bar area where the musicians play. Given its proximity to a wide range of other venues, individuality is a must and The Old Duke’s live music policy ensures it stands out from the crowd. Bands and artists perform every day of the week, from 8.30 on Monday to Saturday and from 12.30 on Sunday, as well as the annual Old Duke Jazz festival. Jazz is the main dish of the day here, but expect to hear blues and even some folk on any given night. A truly unique spot, whether you’re a fan of this sort of music or not, you can't call yourself a music fan in Bristol until you've spent an evening here.
Bristol’s go-to space for large-scale live gigs and the occasional club night isn’t the city’s most charming or credible venue, but it is one of the biggest, both in terms of size and the acts it attracts. And when the Academy is full to the rafters with dedicated followers of whatever band or artist is performing that night, thanks to its massive stage and huge balcony, this stonking great shed of sound takes some beating in a city seriously lacking in big venues. The days when the Academy was the spot of choice for massive house and D&B raves on a weekly basis are long gone, and it now focuses firmly on live gigs, with the ever-popular weekly Ramshackle indie night the closest it usually gets to the raves that were once its staple diet. From rock royalty and of-the-moment pop, to reggae superstars, hip-hop heroes and dance acts preparing for the festival season with their ‘live’ shows, if there’s a Bristol gig on their tour list, the Academy is where you’d usually expect to find them.