bristol pubs

The Siren’s Calling, Portishead: nautical

The supposed best pub in Bristol for 2023 isn’t in Bristol, it’s in Portishead. And it is, indeed, very good.

We decided to visit The Siren’s Calling a few months ago when we saw a sign in The Merchants Arms in Hotwells which said something like: “The pub CAMRA says is the best in Bristol isn’t really in Bristol so actually, it’s us.”

We’d also heard of the pub because Ray’s dad’s band played there back in 2021 and Ray designed the poster.

Unfortunately, our previous experience of Portishead meant we had to work hard to find the enthusiasm for the schlep. Last time we went it rained and the buses were totally unreliable. Not Portishead’s fault but these impressions linger.

This time, we decided to walk from Bristol, and get the bus back. The frustrating thing being that long stretches of the path run alongside what looks like a perfectly serviceable railway line, which was closed in 1967.

At any rate, walking in unseasonal October sunshine, we arrived at Portishead Marina with a thirst. The atmosphere was that of a sunny seaside town, with people eating chips on the rocks and yachts in the lock.

The Siren’s Calling is in the ground floor of a new block of flats surrounded by coffee shops and a branch of Co-Op. It’s not a promising location, architecturally speaking.

But then The Cockleshell at Saltash makes something similar work, as do any number of German beer halls installed in grey post-war blocks.

What was promising at The Siren’s Calling was the atmosphere on the terrace outside. The pub was covered in delightfully tacky Oktoberfest décor and there were groups of people in Alpine hats drinking lager by the two-pint Maß.

The interior of the pub with big glass windows, long shared tables and a view of the crowded, sunny terrace.

Inside, we found a single large room scattered with tables and benches, all decked out with blue and white plastic tablecloths.

Despite our reservations about the style, we ordered Festbiers front the Dirndl-clad bar staff, both served in appropriate glassware, and found a corner.

It was quiet mid-afternoon but still had a decent atmosphere – peaceful rather than dead.

“We should come back in the winter,” said Jess. “I bet it’ll be like one of those bars on the Belgian coast.”

Everyone was drinking German beer in two-pint mugs, even a group of dainty older ladies in designer deck shoes.

There was also a party of cyclists in Lycra debating Fleetwood Mac; a pair of hefty lads with, apparently, hollow legs; and one or two serious drinkers hovering round the bar.

What struck us with round two was how reasonably priced it was. A bottle of Jever and a pint of Ayinger Hell came to less than £10. The split turned out to be £4.60 for the Helles and £5 for the Jever.

A chalkboard also advertised a hundred Belgian beers. Without a printed menu we couldn’t verify that but we certainly spotted all the beers we could think of wanting to drink in the fridges behind the bar.

“It’s a proper old skool beer list,” said Jess.

“Why doesn’t Bristol proper have a pub with a list like that?”

“With all those new flats going up, maybe it will get one at some point soon.”

The pub got busier and busier until there was a bona fide queue at the bar.

As the live band struck up at 4pm, with accordion and mandolin, we finished round three (Duvel and another pint of Ayinger Hell) and slipped out to walk, or wobble, towards the bus stop with the low sun in our eyes.

9 replies on “The Siren’s Calling, Portishead: nautical”

Daughter lived in Portishead for a year – about 400 yards from The Siren’s Calling. Loved the place every time travelled down on a visit… even opened Christmas Day. The cask choices were very well judged. Have seen plenty of more limited and less interesting Belgian beer menus (there was a printed menu, at least then, but one had to ask for it) in Belgium. Since she moved to Bristol last August the *range* of drinking options on visits has widened enormously but yet to find anything trying to do what the Siren does. Maybe it wouldn’t work in a much larger environment?

BTW, the Government signed off the reconstruction of the Bristol-Portishead rail link in 2022 with a projected opening date of 2026. Like that’s going to happen under this regime.

As a very long time exiled YTFC supporter the A303 Stonehenge bypass saga has been running for close to 40 years. Just become a standing joke amongst fans based in London/South-East each time some minister announces the single lane bottleneck down to the West Country is going to be solved this time. We’re into double figures of schemes and solutions across that period, and every one has ended up cancelled.

I visited in the summer, and was very impressed by the range of beer and the atmosphere. An excellent pub.

Just down the road is the Hall & Woodhouse, which a few years ago won a CAMRA/Historic England Pub Design Award for a new-build pub. The design is based upon a stack of shipping containers – the kind of place that makes you think that it would be awful if every pub was like that, but as a one-off which responds very positively to its position on the quayside, it’s well worth a visit.

You’re right – to the extent that (personally) very much disliked it ????: but then have a downer on Hall & Woodhouse’s desperate attempts to be trendy, both in venues and beer releases. Should stick to what they’ve actually been pretty good at.

The other place in Portishead quite liked was The Port, Tap for Portishead Brewing Co. The establishment was teeth-clenchingly-right-on (and that’s from someone been accused of wokeishness – but doesn’t extend to endless indulgence of small children being indulged in their small-childness and annoying equally over-indulged yappy dogs, in a dispenser of alcoholic beverages). But some of the beers were thoroughly decent.

Personally, I’m not a fan of H&W’s beers, but I do think the Portishead pub, along with another on the outskirts of Swindon which opened a couple of years ago, is a pretty decent attempt to do something a bit different. Like the Portishead pub, the design of the Swindon one (also called the Hall & Woodhouse) is influenced by its location – in this case next to the canal. Much more interesting than the bland identikit boxes that the likes of Marston’s inflict on new housing estates….

I wonder how long it’s had that name. The Siren’s Call would make more sense – “Calling” suggests either “the vocation of the siren” or “the siren is currently calling”, neither of which really works as a pub name. H’mph, is what I say (frequently).

We always found the Windmill in Portishead good for breaking the journey if Mrs Mudge was driving to or from Cornwall.

I understand the Siren is also planning on opening another branch in a new build in Bath. One to look out for at some point.

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