A pub with a guv’nor

The Bag of Nails pub, Bristol, photographed by Stephen Powell.
The Bag of Nails pub, Bris­tol, adapt­ed from a pic­ture in Stephen Pow­ell’s blog post, linked below.

There are some pub­li­cans who aren’t man­agers or ten­ants mere­ly ‘liv­ing the brand val­ues’ for a year or two on their way some­where else, but who are part of the pub, just as the pub is part of them.

We arrived in Bris­tol with a print-out of Stephen ‘Blue Giant Beer’ Pow­ell’s very tidy pub crawl and, just as Michael Jack­son’s 500 Great Beers used to be ‘The Book’, it became ‘The List’ – an author­i­ty to turn to in moments of con­fu­sion. One of the pubs on The List is the Bag of Nails in Hotwells which, along with the Three Tuns and the Grain Barge, offered a neat crawl-with­in-a-crawl. If we did­n’t like one, we fig­ured, we could move on to the next, fin­ish­ing in the Grain Barge as a safe bet.

We approached the Bag of Nails cau­tious­ly. Luke, the guv’nor, isn’t ashamed to describe him­self as ‘ranty’. Online, he occa­sion­al­ly gets angry at CAMRA and also at Brew­dog, amongst oth­er things. We’ll be hon­est: we were a lit­tle ner­vous – what if it was an angry pub? Then we remem­bered we were adults, gave our­selves a pep talk, and went for it.

We walked into the warmth and our spec­ta­cles (we are both four-eyed) fogged up as we stum­bled towards the bar. As we com­menced peer­ing at the pump­clips, hop­ing that this atro­cious hes­i­ta­tion would­n’t get us thrown out, some­one sit­ting on a high stool kind­ly leaned in: ‘I’d strong­ly rec­om­mend this one.’ We ordered a pint of that one, what­ev­er it was, and a pint of some­thing else, and scur­ried off to a free table. That is, most­ly free – we were shar­ing it with a cat, but he did­n’t seem to mind us too much.

In the cub­by hole next to us were sev­er­al box­es of records and a turntable. The walls were cov­ered with admirably clear, detailed instruc­tions on their use, only light­ly pep­pered with the gen­tlest of threats: ‘Do not fuck up my records.’ After a while, the guv’nor came to change the music. We all but held our breath as he went about it, not wish­ing to invoke his wrath. ‘You can put the next one on when this side fin­ish­es,’ he said. It seemed, some­how, a much friend­lier ges­ture than any ‘have a nice day’ script­ed cus­tomer ser­vice speak ever does.

As the evening wore on, the crowd thinned out, and we realised for the first time that there was a tiny black kit­ten – as if from a Dis­ney car­toon – prowl­ing up and down on the bar. The guvnor was teas­ing it with a dan­gling key-ring. Per­haps not so scary after all?

We did­n’t make it any fur­ther on our mini crawl and, in fact, had one more pint than we’d intend­ed to because we were so com­fy and con­tent­ed. We thought it was a great pub, but not every­one will. Go and make your own mind up.

8 thoughts on “A pub with a guv’nor”

  1. I enjoy bag o’nails too and always try my bets to get there when in Bris­tol for more than an hour or so. There’s often some live­ly debate or oth­er going on and beer has always been in good nick.

  2. What’s that just above “Free House” – “B.T.S Group”? Those accoun­tants get in every­where…

    It’d be inter­est­ing to make a list of things that can be relied on to make you feel more com­fort­able in a pub – or less com­fort­able. A pub cat would def­i­nite­ly be on the first list.

  3. Popped in here on a crawl on my way to the Fac­to­ber­fest ear­li­er this year – and loved it. Eas­i­ly my favourite of those we tried – and will be back soon. Quirky in a (very) good way.

  4. Love this place, Mal­com and Berry (the cats) are hilar­i­ous and the beer/atmosphere is great too. What I espe­cial­ly like, for no par­tic­u­lar rea­son, is the eclec­tic range of glass­ware that your pint of half may come served in – includ­ing old beer fes­ti­val glass­es and Courage ones.

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