Not many places can match Bristol when it comes to clubbing - even its comedy clubs are second to none. Whether you're after well-known turntable talent banging out the beeps and bleeps in quality bars or you're just nonchalantly looking for something low-key, cool and credible, Bristol should have you well covered. We've put together a list of the best places to rave away your troubles in our city, so take a look and take the plunge - your ears will like you.
Five years ago, Motion was nothing more than a skatepark hidden away in an industrial complex behind Temple Meads train station. Today, the enormous multi-roomed venue isn’t just Bristol’s biggest nightclub, it’s regularly polled as one of the very best in the world. With a cavernous main room at the heart of a sprawling complex of smaller spaces, outdoor areas and, occasionally, the adjacent Marble Factory venue, Motion provides a regular home for not just home-grown Bristol nightlife institutions such as The Blast and Futureboogie, but global mega-brands such as Defected and Cocoon, too.
Are you the sort of clubber that likes to be around ‘beautiful people’? Do you like to wear your box-fresh Nikes out for a night of shuffling on the dancefloor? Do you define a great club by the standard of décor and choice of imported spirits on offer? If your answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, then move along, there’s nothing to see here… There’s a good reason The Black Swan is affectionately known as ‘The Dirty Duck’ by Bristol’s raving fraternity. It is, let’s be honest, a bit of a dive – but that’s the beauty of the place. Who needs functioning toilets when you’ve got a monstrous sound-system to lose your mind in front of, and a huge back garden to attempt to find it in again?
Cosies has a rightful reputation as one of the city's most legendary party spots. A wine bar by day, when night falls Cosies transforms into one of Bristol's best clubs. A long standing focus on all things dubwise and bass heavy means this tiny basement venue has become synonymous with the sound-system culture that lies at the foundation of the Bristol club scene. The Sunday reggae sessions remain an essential dance for those of a roots persuasion, while for those who like their riddims a little tougher, local dancehall dons Ruffnek Diskotek are regularly on hand to cater for all of your bashment needs.
There aren’t many cities in the world that can boast a nightclub on a boat, but then as we all know, Bristol isn’t like many other cities. Originally brought to the Mud Dock area back in 1982 as a floating theatre and art gallery, the Thekla became a nightclub in the early-90s, providing a platform for early performances from the likes of Massive Attack and Bristol’s then-booming D&B scene. Taken over by the owners of Nottingham’s Rock City back in 2006, Thekla repositioned itself as both a nightclub and venue for live gigs, with shows from bands such as The XX and Santigold helping make the old boat a firm favourite of Bristol’s indie and dance crowds alike.
If you fancy a few drinks with your mates in a nice intimate venue, then it’s probably best to give Lakota a swerve. But if you want to go to a three-room mega rave and have a good old skank, then it should definitely be on your agenda. Back in the heady days of 1990s super clubbing, Lakota was one of the most famous clubs in the UK, regularly inviting superstars of house, techno and jungle form across the UK and world to come play in one of its many rooms. Since the turn of the Millennium, the vast space has represented rowdier end of the dance music spectrum, playing host to many of the city's larger drum ‘n’ bass and psy-trance parties.
For Bristolians of my (aging) generation, Dojo Lounge will always be synonymous with illicit nights using an older sibling’s I.D. That fact alone is a testament to the club’s staying power; it's been open for over 13 years, nestled away secretively between shops and hairdressers on Bristol’s trendy Park Row, where many legendary Bristol clubs have come and gone (Level, R.I.P.). The longevity is compounded by the music on offer. With Drum 'n' Bass vibes every Friday night, Dojo manages to stay true to its roots as one of Bristol’s primary proponents of underground music, with resident nights from promoters Intrigue and Foundation:Bristol on offer each month.
Sharing an enormous courtyard with the Full Moon pub and backpackers’ hostel, you don’t even need to step inside this Stokes Croft venue to get an idea of what to expect on a night out here. Now resembling some sort of all-year festival, complete with outside bars, sheesha areas and numerous picnic tables, Attic and its sister pub are hugely popular with Stokes Croft’s ‘alternative’ contingent, tempted in by a musical menu of reggae, ska, D&B and live bands. The fact you can hang around in the courtyard smoking rollies and talking six-form politics all night, without anyone noticing you’ve not actually bought a drink since you arrived, no doubt adds to the popularity of Attic with its regulars.
Popular rumour has it, the multiple rooms that make up Timbuk2 were originally caves used for holding slaves on the midway point of the transatlantic trade triangle in which Bristol played a pivotal role. Fortunately, that rumour is little more than fallacy, and the true origin of the space - as underground storage for wine - is much more relevant to its current incarnation as a night club. Under the management of respected techno producer and DJ Marco Bernardi, Timbuk2 has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years, and you can now regularly find some of techno’s biggest names playing in the Small Street venue, as well as plenty of the bass-heavy sounds Bristol never seems to tire of.
Much like the Blue Mountain in Jamaica from which it takes its name, this decades-old Stokes Croft club stands proud and immovable. As everything else around it strives to be more upmarket, Blue Mountain stays true to its roots in a very honest and reassuring way. Two rooms and a large covered outdoor terrace are connected by a winding, narrow staircase, which becomes a little cramped when the club hits capacity (as it often does). In this instance, the terrace is a godsend. The interior (and toilets!) have definitely seen better days, but this isn't a club you visit to swan about in your best trainers drinking cocktails. You come to Blue Mountain for one thing only - a rave.
Tucked away just below the chain bar Armageddon of Park Street, wedged between a couple of gay bars and across the road from the O2 Academy, this subterranean bastion of bass and beats is one of the only places to hear decent dance music on this side of town. After first opening a few years back, B45 suffered somewhat from a saturation of dark D&B nights in its early years, but, these days, the musical menu is notably broader. While quality D&B nights are still the venue’s bread and butter, you’re now just as likely to hear bashment, deep house or UKG blasting out in its compact main room as you are 170-bpm breaks and bass.