bristol pubs

Graffiti and ale: 3 alternative pubs in East Bristol

I’m a bit of a hippy and I like hippy pubs. There – I’ve said it. It’s just a shame Ray doesn’t.

He posted recently about a session in the pub with his dad, including his commentary about the feel of the pub:

We’re going to take Jess sometime, and play euchre, though I doubt she’ll feel quite as at home as Mum and Dad, or as me. It’s the kind of pub I grew up in, and around, and doesn’t have a hint of London about it… But then there are pubs Jess likes where I don’t feel completely at ease, which I believe she’s going to write about soon.

While Ray was on his session, I was drinking in three pubs which are more to my taste than Ray’s.

The occasion was the CAMRA Bristol and District Ladies (BAD Ladies) pub crawl around St Werburghs.

St Werburghs is a fascinating area of Bristol, cut off geographically from the rest of the city by a combination of cliffs, motorways and allotments. 

It’s been known for many years as a haven for alternative lifestyles and includes a self-built cooperative housing estate and a city farm.

The crawl took us to three of the four pubs in St Werburghs: The Farm, The Miners’s Arms and The Duke of York. All of them have hippy vibes of varying degrees and make me feel nostalgic for my early drinking days – while leaving Ray a little on edge. He’s such a clean boy!

The Farm has an enormous beer garden and several of my drinking companions told me it was more of a family pub than an alternative one these days, especially on Sundays.

Last time Ray and I visited someone was trying to persuade the bar staff to give them the beer slops from the drip trays, allegedly to keep slugs off their plants in their allotment.

On this occasion it was the First Beer Garden Day Of The Year and my heart sank at the apparent chaos in front of the bar. Veteran pub goers and infrequent flyers went two different ways: the veterans crowding every inch of spare bar, the infrequents forming a queue out of the door. 

Which goes to show that looks can be deceiving, as the extremely hard working and friendly staff seemed supernaturally capable of working out which order to serve people in. Bravo.

There were three ale hand pumps, although one was in the process of being changed.

A line up of hand pumps on a pub bar: New Bristol Brewery The Joy of Sesh, New Bristol Brewery Bitter, something else from the same brewery, and Wye Valley Butty Bach.

The Miners’ Arms does not have an enormous beer garden but there is a square of grass round the back which the punters pour onto when the weather is nice.

It’s a typical backstreet corner pub on the outside, and inside it’s no-frills from about table level down, with lots of former pump clips around the walls and bar.

It’s a Dawkins pub and now Dawkins isn’t brewing seems to have gone over to New Bristol Brewing, with NBB on three of the four hand pumps.

We got put off coming here a few years back due to a few too many roaming dogs on long strings. But I didn’t spot any on this occasion and, in fact, there is now a sign saying that dogs and babies are welcome “as long as they behave like civilised adults”.

A skittle alley with red velvet draped on its walls and black and red paint on the walls.

We missed most of The Duke of York the first time we visited. We featured it (and The Farm) in a gallery post on Bristol’s painted pubs, written fairly shortly after moving here.

The high level of decoration continues on the inside with an enormous quantity of arty greebling which could be at home in a Brussels bar.

We noted during our first visit that it was cosy and vaguely hippyish, and didn’t go again –not because it’s bad but because there are lots of similar places in East Bristol and, as previously mentioned, this is not necessarily Ray’s cup of tea.

What we hadn’t noticed on our first visit is that there is a whole separate drinking area round the back.

In fact, it is one of the few pubs in Bristol that still has a working skittle alley – and several different groups actually played skittles during my recent visit.

There’s also a sizeable beer garden and another space upstairs including a pool table and dartboard.

What struck me about the crowd is that there were quite a few younger people who had come in to play games as much as drink.

For those that do like to drink, there were four ales on, all in great condition.

What is the quality of hippyness these pubs share that Ray struggles with?

The pervasive smell of weed, perhaps – which just reminds me of Walthamstow and Leytonstone c.1995. And I’d rather have that than the overwhelming stink of scented candles and bleach.

There’s also the layer of worn-in grot that goes beyond ‘character’. I barely notice it but it makes Ray squirm.

On balance, it’s probably quite nice that there are pubs he likes and I don’t, and vice versa. Because, contrary to what you might have heard, we remain distinct and separate human beings.

6 replies on “Graffiti and ale: 3 alternative pubs in East Bristol”

I’d never thought of there being such a thing as a “hippy pub” – possibly because when I was growing up we only really had ageing first-generation hippies plus a few Neil-like second-gen Gong and Hillage fans (hi Steve!*), and there weren’t enough of either to make it a viable market. Probably the closest thing back then were “biker pubs”**, although I rarely went in one (and only then with trepidation). Can’t really be doing with weed, either. But “[a] layer of worn-in grot that goes beyond ‘character’” – I’m not exactly sure what this means, but it immediately makes me smile and think of some of my favourite pubs***. Apparently I like hippie pubs.

*who almost certainly won’t be reading this, but you never know

**Characteristics of a Biker Pub, circa my teenage years: singles by Deep Purple and Steppenwolf in the jukebox rather than Mud and T Rex, pork scratchings rather than crisps, cider on handpump, dogs welcome (usually large), everyone looks like your older brother (even if you haven’t got an older brother). More intimidating than – but in many ways preferable to – Proper Pubs, which didn’t feature cider, heavy metal, dogs or pork scratchings and where everyone looked like your Dad.

***The King’s Arms in Salford, the Crescent ditto, the Beech in Chorlton before its last couple of renovations

Love a good alternative/rock pub with a good juke box. Shining examples for me include…
– The Salisbury in Manchester (near Oxford Road station), great juke box, Old Peculier on cracking form every time and a rock/alt/biker pre-club/gig crowd
– The Bell in Bath. Community owned and full of old hippies with occasional live music/DJs etc
– The Hobgoblin in Bath (sadly closed, gentrified and reopened), like a hybrid of the other two above, but had a more goth/metal crowd, the best jukebox I’ve ever used, and Robinson’s Trooper as a permanent line. I always made a beeline there when I visited my brother, partially due to it winding up his partner who doesn’t like grubby alternative pubs or rock
Stockport seems to have a bit of a lack of alt pubs at the moment. Back in the 80s/90s it had The Edgerton Arms (full of punks and goths), The Manchester Arms (biker pub, then fancy wine bar, now flats), the Wellington (student/indie pub by the college). Now all that’s left is The Old Vic that looks like Steptoe’s yard and smells like wet dogs. YMMV.
Thanks Jess for the “to do list” for next time I’m down in the Bath/Bristol area.

The Salisbury’s a good call. Haven’t been in in yonks, mainly b/c the beer was a bit rubbish the last time I did; might check it out now.
Ye Olde Vic (if you please) is, indeed, a bit much (and only opens evenings). Excellent beer, though.

1. Seconded re: the Hobgoblins jukebox – difficult to understate how rare it was to be able to play/hear Pavement albums in a pub in 2002.

2. Would be very interested in B&B’s takes on The Bell ????

The Bell in Bath? We both quite like it, although it feels quite different at differing times of day.

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