Bristol Pub Guide: Our Advice on Where to Drink

BRISTOL PUB GUIDE with vintage map image.

First pub­lished 07.06.2018; updat­ed 07.02.2019

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 203 down with, we think, about anoth­er 150–200 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 in the sub­urbs and up side streets, too, 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.


Our Local

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.

The Drapers Arms -- a table with beer and filled rolls.

The Shortlist

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.

Antlers on the wall at the Barley Mow.

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.

Tasting glasses at Small Bar.

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 -- collage.

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. Handy for Tem­ple Meads sta­tion, too.


Proper Pubs’

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 Merchant's Arms -- chairs and tables.

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 bar at the Orchard with cider list and snacks.

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. (Note: under new man­age­ment since the end of 2018; unchanged last time we went but we’ll keep an eye on it.)

The back bar at the Colston Arms.

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.

Low light at The Highbury Vaults.

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, decent yard for sum­mer drink­ing.

The Bank at Christmas.

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

A wonky lampshade at the Hillgrove Porter Stores.

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.

Cosy in The Volunteer.

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.

Hand-pumps at The Grain Barge.

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.

Saison Dupont in branded glass.

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.)


Neighbourhood standouts

Stillage at Snuffy Jacks

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.

Pint of Landlord at the Good Measure.

The Good Mea­sure, 2b Chan­dos Road, Red­land, BS6 6PE – the in-town tap for local brew­ery Good Chem­istry which opened in Decem­ber 2018. Min­i­mal but not sparse, with a small but care­ful­ly cho­sen selec­tion of keg and cask beers, includ­ing Tim­o­thy Tay­lor Land­lord on our last vis­it – a real state­ment of intent along­side the hazy IPAs.

The Plough, Easton.

The Plough, 223 Eas­t­on Road, Eas­t­on, BS5 0EG – a large back­street pub just off the Bris­tol-Bath cycle path. Hip­py vibes, St Pauli obses­sion, pick­led onion mon­ster munch, and a sen­si­ble beer range for the loca­tion.

The Annexe Inn exterior

The Annexe, Sey­mour Road, Bish­op­ston, BS7 9EQ – a strange pub in a per­ma­nent tem­po­rary struc­ture behind its twin pub, the Sports­man. Social club ten­den­cies but very pub­by nonethe­less with an out­stand­ing line-up of clas­sic ales: Hop­head, Lon­don Pride, Land­lord as stan­dard, and occa­sion­al gems such as Batham’s. Good val­ue piz­zas, all the sports. In the process of being acquired by Wick­war but hope­ful­ly they won’t change it too much.

Shabby decor at the Oxford, Totterdown.

The Oxford, 120–122 Oxford Road, Tot­ter­down, BS3 4RL – com­mu­ni­ty local, cult favourite, and Good Beer Guide reg­u­lar. Stu­dents and elder­ly ska-fans on our last vis­it, with Bris­tol Beer Fac­to­ry milk stout on cask.


Chains

Hazy beer at BrewDog Bristol.

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, Bristol.

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.


See Also…

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.

Bot­tles & Books, 356 Glouces­ter Road, BS7 8TP – bot­tle shop with a few seats and a few keg taps; a nice change of speed if you’re up this way vis­it­ing the Drap­ers Arms.

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!

7 thoughts on “Bristol Pub Guide: Our Advice on Where to Drink”

  1. Lik­ing the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of Brew­Dog under “Chains” – which of course it is. Can almost hear the wail­ing and gnash­ing of teeth at this dis­tance from Ellon, though.

    1. It’s not a big polit­i­cal state­ment – just that it would have felt weird not to include it, but would seem equal­ly weird to rec­om­mend a bar that exists, in almost iden­ti­cal form, in sev­er­al oth­er cities… Just acknowl­edg­ing the facts, real­ly.

  2. That’s going to be real­ly use­ful the next time I go to Bris­tol. How­ev­er, I don’t know when that’ll be, although I am going to Bath next week – any tips there?

    1. I’m not B&B, but I vis­it Bath mul­ti­ple times a year to see my broth­er.
      Top picks are:
      The Green Tree, tiny with sub­ter­ran­ian toi­lets, lots of good qual­i­ty real ale and a cosy back­room.
      The Boater, non-Lon­don Fullers’ pub, espe­cial­ly when they have the ESB on.
      The Star, long and thin pub back­ing onto a raised ter­race. Loads of char­ac­ter and serves draft Bass from the bar­rel, via a jug.
      The Bell, com­mu­ni­ty-owned and very bohemian/hippy.
      If you want crafty, the Elec­tric Bear tap­room at their brew­ery is open Fri­day and Sat­ur­day and is real­ly rea­son­ably priced.

      1. Thanks, HC. We don’t know Bath all that well but have had plen­ty of fun wan­der­ing about going into pubs almost at ran­dom. Bath pubs most­ly quite pleasant/interesting, though there does­n’t seem to be tons of excit­ing beer about. The Old Green Tree was a def­i­nite stand­out.

  3. Is the “Coeur de Lion” on Bath’s Northum­ber­land Place still worth a vis­it?
    My notes sug­gest that the Devenish used to be excel­lent, whilst on my most recent vis­it, Bath Ales “Gem” was very drink­able!

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