Filton is and isn’t part of Bristol, out on a limb where the city fades into country via mile after mile of suburb, in the land of aircraft hangars and road junctions. It certainly isn’t famous for its pubs.
We’ve passed through many times, either on foot or on the bus, and noticed the shortage. Some, we guess, have disappeared, converted to other uses, like the George VI, built in the 1930s and now a DIY centre.
Others were never built, we suppose, perhaps because Rolls Royce, Bristol and other aerospace giants had their own on-site social clubs.
Nonetheless, with our duty to visit #EveryPubInBristol in mind, we set out in the bleak days between Christmas and New Year to explore as many as possible of those that do exist.
First, the most prominent and visible of them all, The Air Balloon, a Greene King pub on the big roundabout next to the Airbus site. It looks like a typical 1960s pub building – sparse and modern but with, as usual, a few bits of faux-Victorian detail glued on top.
Though hardly our kind of place – every bit of character there might have been has been buffed out by the corporate makeover – it had more buzz, better beer and warmer welcome than we expected.
In the absence of a local Wetherspoon, that’s the function it seems to perform, offering reasonably-priced fast food and space for large parties to dine and drink together. There was even a corner, in front of the TV, for a handful of older, harder drinkers to bash down pints and grumble at each other.
Like Dorian Gray’s painting in the attic, though, the gents toilets perhaps revealed the true soul of the place: foul-smelling, strewn with bloody tissues, battered and broken. All the Live, Love, Laugh decor in the world can’t compensate for that.
A few doors up, there’s The Plough, which isn’t part of a chain and is certainly characterful. Low-lit to the point of gloominess, slightly tacky to the touch, with evidence of a governing force. In this case, we gathered from snatches of conversation behind the bar and the astonishing range of vodkas on offer, a Pole.
You know how sometimes you approach a pub and can tell everyone is thinking, “Hello, hello, what have we got here?” The Plough was like that. Not unfriendly, just… curious, or perhaps even sceptical.
The interesting looking cask Citra pale ale from Severn was off but their keg session IPA was on, and decent enough.
At the bar, middle-aged couples gathered to exchange notes on Christmas. A young woman fed the jukebox and lined up one 1990s rave tune after another. Pool balls clicked and smacked.
We sort of liked it. We’ll probably never go again.
For completeness, and with great reservations, we decided we had to investigate The Bristol Concorde, a Brewery’s Fayre in the shopping centre. We hoped it wouldn’t count as a pub – that it would so obviously be an anonymous hotel bar that we could just skip it. But it has a unique name, a bar, cask ale… It passes the test.
It was bleak.
Like a waiting area, or furniture showroom, or old people’s home.
We wallowed in it, looking out over the bland backside of the Premier Inn as dusk fell, knowing that we’d be able to leave soon enough for what we suspected would be the most interesting of the lot.
The Ratepayer’s Arms is a council-owned pub occupying a corner of the local recreation centre.
It’s an odd place. If you look towards the bar, it feels much like any other social club with plenty of charming clutter, pickled eggs, rolls and drinkers clustered round the bar. Look the other way, though, and it’s all blank walls and municipal fixtures and fittings.
Still, the welcome was notably warm, nobody paid us the slightest attention – just how we like it – and we enjoyed the buzz of local gossip and, inevitably, bitter criticism of the quality of Boeing aircraft these days.
“Fancy a crawl?” someone asked. “We could go up The Bristol Concorde after this one.”
Everybody laughed at this absurd suggestion.
There are lots of houses in the area and the pubs there are were certainly busy, which made us think the area could certainly support a micropub or two. In fact, we bet there’ll be one before the end of 2021.