On a recent crawl we visited a couple of Bristol pubs that have transferred ownership and whose personalities have changed considerably.
The Dame (Dean Lane, BS3) is the new name for The Tap & Barrel, which we never got round to visiting before it closed suddenly in March 2023.
We’re sufficiently savvy at interpreting Google Reviews that we think we have a reasonable idea of what it was like before, and can safely say the new incarnation is quite different.
The owners have cleverly hit on a niche that works in that location: it’s a skateboarding and street-art themed pub, opposite a skateboarding park, surrounded by street art.
Even on a January Sunday afternoon it was fairly busy, and although the balance was towards student-aged youngsters in hoodies, there were actually people of all ages.
Skateboarding has, after all, been around a long time (Fred Astaire was a fan) and there were a couple of grey-bearded skatey dads with pushchairs.
There was no cask ale but there were good keg options from local breweries, including Bristol Beer Factory and Lost & Grounded, and a couple of interesting bottles, such as Duvel.
This is a classic example of a pub that has not got much for us personally but we’re glad it exists, serving a distinct crowd, and appears to be thriving.
Not a million miles away is The Junction at Wapping Wharf, which Bristol Beer Factory took on in spring 2023 after the Wild Beer Company collapsed.
We didn’t much like it in its previous incarnation. The space was cold but also noisy, like a canteen rather than a bar, and it was often hard to find anywhere to sit. So we only visited a couple of times despite the interesting beer.
Rather unreasonably, we also took against the new version becasue when we took a detour shortly after it opened to check it out it was closed for a staff party. And because we decided it didn’t count as a new tick for our Every Pub in Bristol project we didn’t prioritise going back.
With hindsight, that was daft of us, as it’s actually a vastly different, much improved space.
The lighting is more subdued and the interior is darker and more pub-like. So, although it looks like a glass box from the outside, it’s pretty cosy inside, the way Wetherspoon pubs or micropubs in unlikely buildings can sometimes be.
We were in from the tail-end of the Sunday roast crowd through to the much quieter just-one-more school night stretch.
A very on-it, cheerful bar manager made us feel welcome as we pondered which of the several Bristol Beer Factory cask ales to choose. In the end, we tried most of them, with Milk Stout and Our House session pale the standouts.
We wrote about this last beer in more detail on Patreon but the gist is that, despite its modern branding and use of experimental hops, the beer of which it most reminded us was Hopback Summer Lightning. And we were very happy with that.
All of this was a reminder that the pub scene doesn’t stand still. What was good can go bad, and what was dead can spring back to life. We must be ever vigilant, and always on patrol.
For more on Bristol pubs check out our guide to local pubs updated for 2024.