Beese’s Tea Gardens – Biergarten-am-Avon

The entrance to Beese's Tea Gardens.

The riv­er for the first half mile is abom­inably dirty, and for some dis­tance above that is not to be called clean. In addi­tion to the water being so dirty, very unsavoury odours assail your nos­trils, at inter­vals, for the first mile as you pass through the parish of St. Philip’s. After the first mile or so you come into the fresh air of the coun­try. The water here is beau­ti­ful­ly clear, and if the weath­er is fine every­thing is very enjoy­able. At one bend of the riv­er a rail­way pass­es very near it, and to strength­en the banks it has been found nec­es­sary to build some arch­es which are now cov­ered with ivy, which gives them a very roman­tic and pleas­ing appear­ance — quite unlike the mat­ter-of-fact appear­ance of an ordi­nary rail­way embank­ment. After this the riv­er is of the most pleas­ing descrip­tion. A short dis­tance above the ivy-cov­ered arch­es is a land­ing for boats called Beese’s Tea Gar­dens. The Tea Gar­dens are three and a half miles from Bris­tol, so it is just a suit­able dis­tance there and back for an after­noon. It is quite easy to go up this length any half hol­i­day after call over, and to be back by lock up.

R.W.W. in The Clifton­ian, 1867

Beese’s Tea Gar­dens opened on the banks of the Avon in 1846 as a part­ner busi­ness to the Con­ham Fer­ry.

Nowa­days, under the name Beese’s River­side Bar, there’s as much beer, cider and wine drunk as tea, and lit­tle evi­dence of Vic­to­ri­an her­itage in the fix­tures and fit­tings, but, still, it’s an incred­i­ble sur­vivor.

We first came across it last sum­mer on an evening walk, hear­ing the chim­ing of glass­ware and song of con­ver­sa­tion from the wrong side of the water. From a dis­tance it looked and sound­ed like a Ger­man beer gar­den. We did­n’t stop then but made a note to come back.

Last Sat­ur­day, we approached from Broomhill, cut­ting from a coun­cil estate into a slop­ing park where teenagers flirt­ed on the climb­ing frame next to a bas­ket­ball court. A short walk down a wood­ed path brought us to a gate that might have been trans­plant­ed from Bavaria.

Tables under the shade of a tree.

Down fur­ther, all the way down to sea lev­el, we found tables scat­tered across a lawn and huge, old trees pol­ished smooth by a cen­tu­ry of clam­ber­ing chil­dren.

It’s almost mag­i­cal, except it’s also very British: the self-ser­vice bar feels as if it ought to be at a But­lin’s hol­i­day camp and the ser­vice was abrupt to the point of aggres­sion. (Though it warmed up lat­er as the lunchtime rush passed.)

Beer and cider cans.

We drank Veltins, served in chunky Ger­man han­dled glass­ware for the first round, albeit with a stingy head of foam, and sat on a table in the shade.

I used to think it was for old ladies, the Tea Gar­dens,” said an old­er woman to her friend, “but it’s nice, innit?  It’s a laugh. And you can smoke, too. It’s  treat to have a prop­er fag.”

The River Avon

There’s some­thing class­less about the place, and a sense that it exists out­side real­i­ty, like Brigadoon. We not­ed Amer­i­cans, Spaniards, Poles, Roma­ni­ans, hip­pies, hip­sters, fam­i­lies from the estate up the hill, and plum­my tote-bag tot­ers with extrav­a­gant­ly named free-range chil­dren, and yet no ten­sion beyond occa­sion­al pas­sive-aggres­sion in pur­suit of the prime seats.

It’s so peace­ful that a boat pass­ing reg­is­ters as a major event, draw­ing peo­ple to the water’s edge to watch. We saw fer­ries, row­ers, and even a swim­mer at one point. (We wor­ry for them; we’ve heard that swim­ming here tends to make you sick.)

Beese's from the other bank

The trees and the danc­ing of light through the leaves are what makes it feel like a Ger­man beer gar­den – a sense of being out­side but shel­tered, enfold­ed in green.

Get­ting the fer­ry across the water (£1 for a 45 sec­ond jour­ney, but it beats pad­dling) was the per­fect way to fin­ish – a return to the real world in a puff of diesel fumes.

Beese’s River­side Bar is open Fri­day 12:00–11:00 pm, Sat­ur­day 12:00–11:00 pm, Sun­day 12:00–7:00 pm through­out the sum­mer sea­son.