Bristol has a huge number of pubs and bars and an ever-growing number of breweries. If you’re in town for a few days or hours, where should you go to drink?
We’ve been asked a few times for advice on this and so decided that, rather than keep typing up the advice in emails and DMs, we’d risk public humiliation, and the fury of local beer geeks and publicans, by giving it a sort-of permanent home here.
We haven’t been to every pub in Bristol — in fact we’re 152 down with, we think, about another 250 to go — but we’ve visited most of those in the city centre, and most several times.
In general, Bristol pubs are pretty easy to find, and fairly easy to read — chain pubs look like chain pubs, craft bars look like craft bars, and so on — so you won’t go too far wrong following your instincts. There are lots of hidden gems so do explore.
And if you want to keep things loose there are some decent crawls: St Michael’s Hill, Gloucester Road and King Street all have runs of varied and interesting pubs close together, one after the other.
Before we get down to business we must once again thank Patreon supporters like Jonathan Tucker, Peter Allen and Andrew Brunton who justified us spending a bit too much time putting this together. If you find this post useful please do consider signing up or at least buying us a pint via Ko-Fi.
We’re very fond of the The Drapers Arms, 447 Gloucester Road, Horfield, BS7 8TZ, and find it hard to be objective but here are some facts and figures: it is a former CAMRA local pub of the year; serves at least five local ales direct from the cask; is open from 5pm to 9:30pm Sun-Thu, 4:30-9:30 Fri, and 12-9:30 Sat; and is a bus ride from the city centre, or about an hour’s walk.
A while ago we talked about the importance of giving straightforward answers. With that in mind here are three quite different pubs we’d particularly recommend if you’ve got a couple of hours spare between trains and meetings.
The Barley Mow, 39 Barton Rd, St Philips, BS2 0LF — definitely a pub, but modern; large range of sensibly chosen keg beers; several cask beers, often including Moor and Bristol Beer Factory; a short walk from the central station at Temple Meads.
Small Bar, 31 King Street, city centre, BS1 4DZ — the best of the city’s full-on craft beer bars being relatively cosy and avoiding most of the clichés. The beer range is big but not over-facing and includes some accessible options, too. If you’re after our North Bar or Hand Bar, this is it.
The King’s Head, 60 Victoria Street, city centre, BS1 6DE — an old school pub with a quirky historic interior and a small range of classic cask ales such as Harvey’s Sussex Best.
We’re working on some sort of separate guide just covering these — the kind of place with only one, two or three hand-pumps, one of which is permanently dedicated to Bass, Courage Best, Butcombe, or something along those lines; which is, or feels, antique brown; and which, if you’re lucky might have ham rolls in clingfilm or a pork pie to eat.
The Merchants Arms, 5 Merchants Road, Hotwells, BS8 4PZ — a small, basic 19th century beerhouse with partitions, pork pies and soft light through etched windows.
The Orchard, 12 Hanover Place, Spike Island, BS1 6XT — a genuine backstreet pub hidden away behind the SS Great Britain. It specialises in cider (hence the name) but also has decent beer and a vast range of good value bar snacks.
Colston Arms, 24 St Michael’s Hill, Kingsdown, BS2 8DX — a multi-room pub, one bare, one fancy, with a great pint of Butcombe and a varied crowd heavily seasoned with medical types.
Highbury Vaults, 164 St Michael’s Hill, Kingsdown, BS2 8DE — a characterful, truly broken-in Young’s pub with invariably excellent Ordinary, alongside other beers. Wonderfully cosy in winter.
The Bank, 8 John St, city centre, BS1 2HR — on an alleyway next to a churchyard along the line of the old city wall this small pub has the feel of a local boozer despite its central location.
For Beer and Other Things
The Cornubia, 142 Temple St, city centre, BS1 6EN — this famous pub is hidden behind a lot of 20th century buildings away from the immediate centre. It is festooned with flags, filled with oddments, and has a long line-up of cask ales including some rarely seen in Bristol.
Hillgrove Porter Stores, 53 Hillgrove Street North, Kingsdown, BS2 8LT — a Dawkins house and one of our favourite pubs with an atmosphere of Bohemian decay, plenty of beers to choose from across all formats, and (slightly out of leftfield) very superior Japanese nibbles from Kansai Kitchen.
The Volunteer, 9 New Street, Old Market, BS2 9DX — a pub you’re unlikely to stumble upon tucked behind blocks of flats, with an atmosphere somewhere between hip and hippyish, and a small but varied range of draught beers.
The Hare, 51 North Street, Bedminster, BS3 1EN — three interesting cask ales, a few British and international beers on keg, and plenty of bottled beers including classics from Belgium. Reminds us, somehow, of being in Sheffield.
Snuffy Jacks, 800 Fishponds Road, Fishponds, BS16 3TE — another of Bristol’s four micropubs, looking out onto a busy artery road. It has a bank of guest ales, tending towards the pale’n’hoppy on our visits, and a good atmosphere when busy. Hours limited: 5pm-10pm Mon-Fri, 12-11 Sat, 12-4.30 Sun.
Grain Barge, Mardyke Wharf, Hotwells, BS8 4RU — a pub on a boat with views over the water and across to the SS Great Britain. A long-time favourite of ours with a range of Bristol Beer Factory beers on cask and keg, and in bottles, plus guests. Lots of eating goes on but isn’t compulsory.
Strawberry Thief, 26 Broad St, city centre, BS1 2HG — a somewhat convincing attempt to recreate a Belgian cafe in Bristol helped no end by the view out over the Art Nouveau Everard Printworks. Mostly imported beer so can be pricey but there are bargains to be had, and more mainstream local ales and lagers if Tripel isn’t your thing. (Notes.)
The Commercial Rooms, 43-45 Corn St, city centre, BS1 1HT — flagship Bristol Wetherspoon pub in a gorgeous historic building. The cask range seems more varied than many others in the chain, the keg range is considerably more adventurous than usual, and our impression is that this pub gets the best of the region’s staff, too.
BrewDog, 58 Baldwin St, city centre, BS1 1QW — it’s a BrewDog bar, with all that entails, but the beer range is wide, the service efficient, and the view positively Parisian.
Zero Degrees, 53 Colston St, city centre, BS1 5BA — the interior might be rather sterile but the beer is simply very good these days, especially the takes on classic Continental styles. The view from the roof terrace is pretty spectacular, too.
These are pubs that, though they’re not particular favourites of ours, are generally rated and which we often see recommended to visitors.
The Bag of Nails, 141 St George’s Rd, Hotwells, BS1 5UW — intensely characterful, furiously local, with lots of cats.
The Three Tuns, 78 St George’s Rd, Hotwells, BS1 5UR — built a cult reputation in recent years as the primary outlet for Arbor Ales.
Wild Beer at Wapping Wharf, 6-8 Gaol Ferry Steps, BS1 6WE — city tap for the experimental Somerset brewery. Clean and modern, often busy to the point of queues out the door, with lots of dining going on.
The Royal Navy Volunteer, 17-18 King Street, city centre, BS1 4EF — a famous Bristol pub that went all in on craft beer about five years ago and now has a big list of cask and keg ales on the wall.
The Beer Emporium, 15 King St, city centre, BS1 4EF — interesting location in vaulted cellars, and a fairly wide selection.
Tap Rooms — there are several with Moor’s (Days Rd, St Philips, BS2 0QS) being perhaps the most notable.
Finally, here’s all of that in the form of a Google Map:
Don’t like our list? Write your own!