Last weekend we drank Belgian beer in Bristol’s most convincingly Belgian pub, The Portcullis in Clifton and, finally, felt as if things might be getting back on track.
It took us a couple of visits to this pub over the years before it really clicked. Unfortunately, the click happened in February 2020, and you know the punchline to that gag.
Last summer, when pubs reopened, we didn’t even consider The Portcullis. It’s compact and cosy – not qualities much in demand in recent times – and, anyway, we were generally sticking close to home for our rare pub trips.
Earlier this month, though, we sat down together and drew up a hit list of pubs we wanted to visit now that we’re both double-jabbed. Perhaps because what we’re really craving is a trip to Belgium, The Portcullis ended up near the top of the list.
That visit last February was a highlight of an admittedly highlight-light year and we had a distinct sense of unfinished business.
We walked to Clifton from Barton Hill, via Hotwells, wondering what we’d find. Would it be rammed and sweaty? Would there be tables all over the street? Plastic screens everywhere?
It was, thankfully, exactly as we’d left it, with the welcome tweak of a permanently open front door and a constant gentle breeze. We took stools on the shelf by the door – exactly where we sat last time we came in – and ordered at the bar. It felt thrillingly normal.
We hardly stopped smiling through that first round (Poperinge’s Hommelbier and Tripel Karmeliet, served in the correct glassware) as cautious, good-natured pub life went on around us.
Three men watched football on an iPad propped against the wall at the end of their table. An elderly regular was greeted with low-key delight as he made his return after months away. A student tried to order a pint of Leffe and was firmly told it comes by the half. The landlady trapped a wasp under a beer glass with a beermat and took it out into the street – four times.
We carried ourselves out, trapped under a beer haze, after several happy hours.