Notable Pubs: The Elmer’s Arms, Old Market, Bristol

We’re sure The Elmer’s Arms was announced as a micropub when it opened earlier this year – real ale, homemade furniture, conversation, no lager, no music, right? Got it.

But we’d also been told to expect something “a bit different”, and that’s what was evident even as we approached the small antique frontage on Old Market, Bristol’s gay village. (Which drops off steeply in every direction to either dystopian post war roadscape, industrial estate or generally dodgy fringelands.)

The pub (“formerly Rainbows; Proud Bar; Lounge; Masons Arms”) was pulsing with dancefloor lights, and there were glowing Trojan Records logos in the window. A suedehead DJ was on display, spinning a vintage 45 delicately between his fingertips as he searched for the next track, while his partner, in two-tone vintage dress, awaited her turn at the decks.

Ska DJs in a pub window.

Inside, the front half of the small space was lit low, aquarium colours cycling, while the area around the bar was bright. Behind the bar, in purple tonic suit and with grey statement sideburns, was Elmer himself, dashing back and forth, up and down, looking delighted to be busy rather than put upon.

The beer was mostly craft (def 2) on keg, with a solitary cask propped on a stand at the end of the bar with a damp towel to protect its modesty. We ordered Lost & Grounded Keller Pils (a fine beer) and something hoppy from Lervig the name of which we didn’t write down, and retreated to the darkest corner at the end of the bar.

Most of the other customers were in full mod uniform, to varying degrees of commitment: jeans, Harrington and T-shirts at the lower end of the scale; vintage boots, vintage dresses, vintage suits, Steve Marriott mops and skin-n-fringe at the other.

One veteran from the second time around, perhaps in his late fifties, wore a heavy woollen overcoat in bold checks, sharply creased grey trousers and what looked like handmade shoes in bold tan. He wasn’t showy, just confident in his inner modness. We noticed and wondered about the enamel England flags on each lapel.

The dancefloor at the Elmer's Arms pub.

“Elms”, as people kept calling him, dashed out between serving drinks to clear a dancefloor and a couple of people went for it at once, shaking cherry red Derby boots in the air and beaming with joy.

We, along with some stray hippies and a handful of real ale sniffers, didn’t quite match the scene, but it was fun to be a tourist, and Ray, something of a lapsed mod, but always too round in the middle and too self-conscious to really pull off the look, muttered something about coming back more appropriately attired sometime…

There’s a story here that people who worry about the loss of pubs ought to find cheering: Elmer’s was a pub, then a bar, then a taxi office, but has been reborn as a pub. A lively one, at that. How often does that happen?

Another strangely normal, typically unique pub. An expression of personality – is that what micropub is coming to mean? – and a haven for a subcategory of a subculture. One more possible arrangement of the standard modular components, with a few custom circuits.

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