Notable Pubs: The Rhubarb Tavern, Barton Hill, Bristol

The Rhubarb Tavern

The Rhubarb is a rare survivor – an old backstreet pub that hasn’t gentrified or closed down, where locals still drink.

It’s one we’ve had on our #Every­Pu­bIn­Bris­tol tick-list for a while hav­ing noticed the unusu­al name on the Pub Stops of Bris­tol poster that hangs above our usu­al spot in our local.

A quick Google told us what to expect: a pub cater­ing to its locals, down-to-earth, but not unfriend­ly to strangers.

We walked there in dark­ness through eeri­ly qui­et indus­tri­al estates, past waste­land and road­side car­a­van shanties, and final­ly into a res­i­den­tial area with the smell of weed on the air as squat, mus­cu­lar dogs were tak­en for their evening walks.

The pub, by a rail­way line and oppo­site a hulk­ing, board­ed-up Vic­to­ri­an school build­ing, daz­zled from afar: there’s a paint­ed sign adver­tis­ing Georges & Co Ltd, either fake, or a recre­ation of a lost orig­i­nal, but con­vinc­ing; dec­o­ra­tive brick­work with swags and oth­er pseu­do-clas­si­cal details; and fairy lights. The build­ing is odd­ly trun­cat­ed – there sure­ly ought to be an extra floor or two – which only adds to the sense that this is a pub just hang­ing on in hos­tile ter­ri­to­ry.

The his­to­ry is a bit vague. Its appar­ent­ly old, though we can’t dig up a defin­i­tive found­ing date, but came into some­thing like it’s present form in the late Vic­to­ri­an peri­od, find­ing renew­al with the growth of the Great West­ern Rail­way.

On Sat­ur­day evening we found it busy, if not per­haps quite busy enough for its size.

A large fam­i­ly group with chil­dren was enjoy­ing a table-obscur­ing, won­der­ful­ly aro­mat­ic feast of Caribbean food, cen­tred around a tray of rice the size of Cap­tain Amer­i­ca’s shield.

There were mul­ti­ple TV screens show­ing foot­ball along with sev­er­al furi­ous­ly illu­mi­nat­ed fruit machines. Some strange light­ing scheme meant that one entire cor­ner was cycling through the Joel Schu­mach­er Bat­man For­ev­er colour scheme of lurid greens and pur­ples. Sev­er­al peo­ple were star­ing towards this elec­tri­cal storm, either watch­ing match high­lights, or per­haps just hyp­no­tised.

Brew XI beer pump.

The sight of Mitchells & But­lers Brew XI on cask was momen­tar­i­ly star­tling but the bar­man assured us that, no, the pump-clip was­n’t just a nos­tal­gic dec­o­ra­tion and, yes, they do actu­al­ly serve it. We had to order a pint, of course, hav­ing a weak­ness for orphaned brands. (Brewed by Brains these days, the inter­net tells us.)

He then did some­thing we’d like to see in more pubs: not lik­ing the look of the first pint, he sniffed it. “Hold on,” he said, before con­sult­ing a col­league who said: “Pull a cou­ple of pints through and try again.” Our man pulled through four pints in all before giv­ing up and sug­gest­ed GWB’s Ham­brook Pale Ale instead. What he did­n’t do – what hap­pens too often – was give us the dodgy pint and hope we would­n’t know bet­ter. And the Ham­brook, after all that, was pret­ty good.

Despite the bar being decked with bunting adver­tis­ing Car­ling there was a plas­tic mon­ey­bag over the keg han­dle sig­ni­fy­ing that the best­selling lager was off: “I’ll have to have Grolsch, then, won’t I?”

Local twen­ty-some­things played pool in the back bar and a ten­ta­tive group of what seemed to be food­ies arrived for din­ner, plac­ing a com­plex order punc­tu­at­ed by the bar­man’s gen­tle mur­mur: “Yes, sir… Yes… Yes, sir… Thank you, madam…”

A bloke perched on a stool and drank a pint while he wait­ed for take­away which emerged from the kitchen in four bulging car­ri­er bags. On his way to the door he stopped to ban­ter with what seemed to be his neigh­bours at the feast­ing table, telling an appalling dad joke that made the six-year-old gig­gle with delight. He left wav­ing, and being waved to.

Our favourite detail? On the dark red pat­terned car­pet, a free­stand­ing yel­low sign with a hand­writ­ten note sel­l­otaped to it: ‘Car­pet wet, please go round’.

A strange­ly nor­mal pub. Unique­ly typ­i­cal. A dif­fer­ent arrange­ment of the same old pieces to cre­ate some­thing that is all itself.

One thought on “Notable Pubs: The Rhubarb Tavern, Barton Hill, Bristol”

  1. Love­ly and heart­warm­ing detail of a vis­it to to unique and local pub. Thank you so much for shar­ing, and for doing so well to cap­ture the expe­ri­ence.

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