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.
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.