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

The jukebox at 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.