Despite its rich musical legacy and present-day status as a hotspot for genre-busting electronic music, Bristol hasn’t escaped the gentrification and council restrictions that have clawed away at UK nightlife over the past decade. Venues and DIY spaces including the Clockwork Club, Surrey Vaults and Brunswick Club have been shuttered or demolished outright, only to make way more yet more luxury developments or student flats.
Thankfully, Bristol is a resilient place, with many of the city’s best parties popping up in improvised club spaces in studios and basements, while existing nightspots are diversify their programmes to bring in new sounds filtering in from the underground. All of which is to say, you’ll rarely find a venue that focuses on a single genre, or that caters to a distinct crowd – check out any of our favourite bars and clubs in Bristol and you’ll feel like you’ve had three nights out in one.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Bristol
Best clubs in Bristol
By day, this former police station in the city centre offers affordable workspace to creatives and puts on array of fun-sounding dance classes. But The Island doesn’t switch off when workers pile out for the evening – it also hosts a winning array of club nights. Our top tip? Head to one of the parties in the original early 20th-century police cells that stretch under the main rooms.
If you fancy a few drinks and a catch-up with mates... then best give Lakota a swerve. But if you like the sound of a three-room mega-rave (and a good ol’ skank), it should definitely be on your agenda. Back in the heady days of ’90s raving, Lakota was one of the UK’s best-known clubs, regularly booking superstars across house, techno and jungle. Since the turn of the Millennium, the vast space has also played hosts to many of the city’s larger drum ’n’ bass and psy-trance parties.
Cosies has rightfully earned a rep as one of the city’s most legendary party spots. A longstanding focus on all things dub and bass means this tiny basement menu has become synonymous with the sound-system culture that helped birth Bristol’s club scene. The Sunday reggae sessions remain essential for those of a roots persuasion, while for those who like their riddims a little tougher, dancehall dons Ruffnek Diskotek are regularly on hand to cater to all your basement needs.
Are you the sort of clubber that likes to be around ‘beautiful people’? 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… The Black Swan is affectionately known as ‘The Dirty Duck’ by Bristol’s raving fraternity. Let’s be honest, it is a bit of a dive – but that’s also its charm. Who needs functioning toilets when you’ve got a monstrous sound system to lose your mind in front of, anyway?
As you go in, this craft beer bar-cum-pizza joint may seem like your average trendy boozer. But head to large room at the back and you’ll find a much more party-ready atmosphere. You can jam a surprising number of clubbers into the Crofters’ wood-lined interior – come here for a very cosy, very crazy, very boozy night out.
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 reassuring way. 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.
Ten years ago, Motion was nothing more than a skatepark hidden away in an industrial complex behind Temple Meads train station. Today, the enormous multi-room venue isn’t just Bristol’s biggest nightclub, it’s regularly ranked among the best in the world. With a cavernous main room at the heart of a sprawling complex of smaller spaces, outdoor areas and the adjacent Marble Factory venue, Motion provides a regular home for not just home-grown Bristol institutions such as The Blast and Futureboogie, but global mega-brands such as Defected and Cocoon too.
Sharing as it does an enormous courtyard with the Full Moon pub and backpackers’ hostel, you don’t even need to step inside this Stokes Croft venue for an idea of what to expect on a night out here. Now resembling some sort of year-round festival, complete with outside bars, shisha areas and an array of picnic tables, Attic and its sister pub are hugely popular with Stokes Croft types, drawn in by an impressive musical menu of reggae, ska, drum ‘n’ bass and live bands. The fact you can hang around in the courtyard smoking rollies and talking sixth-form politics all night, without anyone noticing you’ve not actually bought a drink since you arrived, no doubt adds to its popularity.
There aren’t many cities in the world that boast a club 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 club in the early ’90s, providing a platform for early performances from the likes of Massive Attack and Bristol’s then-booming drum ‘n’ bass scene. Taken over by the owners of Nottingham’s Rock City back in 2006, Thekla repositioned itself as both a club and gig venue, with shows from bands such as The XX making it a firm favourite of Bristol’s indie and dance crowds alike.
Tucked beneath Park Street’s Armageddon bar, wedged between a couple of gay bars and across the road form the O2 Academy, this subterranean bastion of bass and beats is one of the only places you can hear decent dance music on this side of town. B45 suffered somewhat from a saturation of dark drum ‘n’ bass nights in its early years, but these days the musical menu is noticeably broader. While quality drum ‘n’ bass is still the venue’s bread and butter, you’re now just as likely to hear basement, deep house or UKG blasting out in its compact main room.
This Bristol clubbing institution is hidden among a long line of shops and hairdressers on ever-trendy Park Row. Many legendary venues have come and gone in these parts (R.I.P. Level), but one quick glance at the programme here will suffice to explain Dojo’s longevity. Thanks to its excellent drum ‘n’ bass nights every Friday, the club has stayed true to its roots, with established resident nights from promoters Intrigue and Foundation:Bristol taking place each month too.