Great as the relaunched Kings Head might be, it’s not that must-visit symbol of the city. Nowhere in Bristol is.
What do we mean when we talk about this kind of pub?
We wrote about what we called the Universally Recommended Timeless Institution Pub in 2021 after a trip to Leeds:
You need a bit of food to soak up the booze but it shouldn’t be a food place. It might not even really be a beer place. It’s a meeting place. A bolthole. Get away from shopping, take the weight off your feet, escape the weather, whether it’s too hot or too cold…
When this post resurfaced recently in a Twitter conversation about pubs, The Kings Head came up as a Bristol nomination.
In fact, it was nominated by Kelly from Good Chemistry, the brewery which has taken the pub on.
We replied, diplomatically, that this was an interesting thought.
And it is almost right:
- historic interior
- universally recommended
- broad beer range
So, why doesn’t it feel like The One?
For starters, it’s too small. Delightfully small. Incredibly cute, you might say. But with 30 people in, it’s full.
Secondly, no pies. No fish and chips. No bangers and mash. Though we did once see a man take delivery of a pizza called The Beast.
We don’t mind the absence of food, and many would find it an asset. But it does mean you can’t really send out-of-towners there for a lunchtime sesh.
Oh, yes, and it doesn’t open until 4pm from Monday to Tuesday, and at 2pm on Sunday. Again, very sensible in business terms, but not necessarily tourist-friendly.
Finally, there’s the location: what is that bit of town? Victoria Street is handy for the central station but has no real identity of its own.
Between the Blitz ruins of Temple Church and the wall of post-war office blocks, it’s not a place you hang out.
Now, if The Kings Head was in Broadmead, or Corn Street, or by the harbourside… But Bristol’s post war planning left the city without a distinct centre, and Broadmead is utterly publess.
To summarise, then – and here’s the bit you can quote, Kelly! – The Kings Head is one of the finest pubs in Bristol.
Its interior is gorgeous and has only been enhanced by typically tasteful, minimal tweaks by Good Chemistry.
We’d advise anyone visiting Bristol to make the 10-minute walk from town and at least try to get in.
We’ve had no trouble snagging a seat at the bar on our last couple of visits and have found it hard to leave, with beers like Fyne Ales Jarl on offer.
It ain’t Whitelocks, but it’s bloody good.
Well, what about…?
- The Highbury Vaults – a wonderful pub that ticks most of the boxes but is too far out of town, up a bloody great hill.
- The Llandoger Trow – great beer, not cosy, strangely lacking atmosphere, totally lacking pies.
- The Swan With Two Necks – we love it but it’s on an industrial estate and has one big room, and is pieless.
- The Commercial Rooms (Wetherspoon) – not built as a pub, tatty rather than historic these days.
- The Old Fish Market – not built as a pub, too corporate, rugby lads and business boys.
We do have our eye on a candidate, though, which we’re hoping to visit tonight for a reappraisal. An update will follow.
For more advice on where to drink check out our Bristol pub guide updated for 2023.