bristol pubs

The suburban Bristol pub that became a Pret

The Victoria Inn was always a mystery: how long could it be before someone took on that handsome building and brought the pub back to life?

Unfortunately, it never happened, and now it’s a branch of upmarket sandwich shop Pret a Manger.

We walked past The Victoria , AKA The Queen Vic, every day for three years. It was at the end of our road, more or less, boarded up but intact. Ready to go when the call came.

When we wrote about micropubs for Beer Advocate we focused briefly on The Victoria, because it seemed to represent something:

It closed early in 2017 after a year of competition from the Draper’s. Did the micropub steal the “proper” pub’s customers and contribute to its death? The locals don’t think so. From talking to various fellow drinkers over the months, we’ve established that the Victoria was a fairly rough pub, struggling with public order issues. [Drapers Arms landlord] Garvan Hickey, for his part, expresses distress at the fate of the former neighbor: “I want pubs to do well. I’d like to see the Queen Vic open and trading as a pub again.” Not least, he admits, because he thinks a real run of pubs on that stretch of Gloucester Road might bring in yet more customers.

The Queen Vic in 2018.

Pubs in old retail units – small, compact, with limited hours – seem viable today in a way that grand old pub buildings sometimes don’t, especially outside city centres.

We heard news from time to time of plans to convert the The Victoria – to turn it into a “house of multiple occupancy” with a “courtyard amenity area”.

Then it was going to become a branch of Greggs the baker.

And, finally, last year, Pret came into the frame.

Do you remember when Pret was sort of cool? When we both worked in central London in the noughties, it was where you went for a treat at lunch. The sandwiches were expensive but actually, obviously better than you’d get anywhere else.

There was a falafel sandwich dripping with ketchup. Another with crayfish.

The bread tasted fresh and the staff seemed happy to be working there.

In his 2015 autobiography How to Be a Man: (and Other Illusions) Guns N’ Roses bass player Duff McKagan wrote:

[My] favorite place is a chain called Pret A Manger. I know they have some shops in the States, but they started here, it’s where I discovered them, and they’ll always be a London destination for me. Pret has hot and cold wraps of all kinds (try the hot jalapeno chicken!), healthy sandwiches, great salads and soups, and strong espresso. This is always the first place I try to get to when I go to the UK… Cheap, fast, and kick-ass.

Actually, with hindsight, maybe this was a shark-jumping moment.

These days, over-extended and having struggled through COVID, the magic (oh, come off it, you can’t describe a packet sandwich as having ‘magic’!) has gone. And the staff certainly aren’t happy these days.

Seeing that branch on Gloucester Road, a grey corporate-branded blob where there used to be a bit of history, made us feel sad.

Neighbourhood pubs are already prime targets for developers and Tesco. Now they’ve got Pret, Subway and the rest to contend with, too. It doesn’t bode well.

But it certainly makes commercial sense, in an area full of work-from-home types who are more likely these days to want lunch in the suburbs than in town.

And in The Drapers Arms across the road, we noticed a folded Pret sandwich packet on one table, next to a pint of ale.

It’s not a crusty cheese roll but it’s decent enough boozing food, we suppose.

One reply on “The suburban Bristol pub that became a Pret”

I’d still describe Pret sandwiches as “actually, obviously better” than most of the competition. I wouldn’t use words like ‘magic’, but then I wouldn’t have done that to begin with. Don’t build ’em up and you won’t have to knock ’em down…!

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