bristol pubs

Bristol Pub Guide: Our Advice on Where to Drink

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.

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

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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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