Two years, two hundred pubs

We’ve now been in Bristol for two years and have logged every single official Pub Visit since arriving.

We start­ed doing this most­ly to remind our­selves where we’d been for the sake of #Every­Pu­bIn­Bris­tol, but also decid­ed to log sub­se­quent vis­its to each pub, pro­vid­ing us with an inter­est­ing data set reveal­ing our habits and favourites.

Our def­i­n­i­tion of a Pub Vis­it for this pur­pose is that it has to be a pub, both of us have to be there, and at least one of us has to have an alco­holic drink.

(We’ll return to the sub­ject of what makes a pub in a sep­a­rate blog post, as this exer­cise has giv­en us a real impe­tus to define it bet­ter.)

We have cho­sen to define Bris­tol as the uni­tary author­i­ty of Bris­tol, plus any bits that join up to it with­out a break. So the pubs of Kingswood and Fil­ton (tech­ni­cal­ly South Glouces­ter­shire) are in, where­as the won­der­ful Angel Inn at Long Ash­ton isn’t because there is, for now, at least one open field in between the vil­lage and the ever-increas­ing spread of South Bris­tol.

Overall stats

We have logged 516 pub vis­its in total.

Almost 30% of these were to our local, The Drap­ers Arms.

We have vis­it­ed 216 dif­fer­ent pubs.

Our pace of vis­it­ing new pubs has slowed: we went to our first 100 in six months; our sec­ond 100 took a year; and we’ve only added 16 in the last six months.

This is part­ly because of geog­ra­phy – the pubs we haven’t yet vis­it­ed are hard­er to get to and more spread out – but also because we’ve come across so many pubs that we like and want to revis­it, rather than tick­ing new ones.

Here’s a list of all the pubs we’ve vis­it­ed more than once.

Drap­ers Arms | 150
Welling­ton Arms | 16
High­bury Vaults | 16
Bar­ley Mow | 15
Zero Degrees | 14
Brew­dog | 13
Small Bar | 11
Inn On The Green | 10
Grain Barge | 10
Hill­grove Porter Stores | 9
The Old Fish Mar­ket | 7
Bot­tles And Books | 7
Mer­chants Arms | 6
The Vol­un­teer Tav­ern | 6
The Orchard | 6
The Annexe | 6
The Bank | 5
Bris­tol Fly­er | 4
Straw­ber­ry Thief | 4
The Good Mea­sure | 4
Gold­en Lion | 3
Roy­al Oak | 3
Com­mer­cial Rooms | 3
The Can­teen (Hamil­ton House) | 3
The Old Duke | 3
Snuffy Jacks | 3
Hob­gob­lin | 3
The Hare / The Lev­eret Cask House | 3
Col­ston Arms | 3
The Grace | 3
The Vic­to­ria | 3
Christ­mas Steps | 3
Cor­ner 33 | 3
The Cot­tage Inn | 2
Nova Sco­tia | 2
The Bridge | 2
Pump House | 2
Mardyke | 2
Hare On The Hill | 2
White Lion | 2
Robin Hood | 2
The White Bear | 2
Beerd | 2
The Sid­ings | 2
Glouces­ter Road Ale House | 2
Kings­down Vaults | 2
The Knights Tem­plar (Spoons) | 2
The V Shed | 2
The Roy­al Naval Vol­un­teer | 2
Bris­tol Brew­ery Tap | 2
St George’s Hall | 2
The Gryphon | 2
The Green­bank Tav­ern | 2
The Oxford | 2

Are they really your top pubs?

Most­ly, yes.

Our top 10 includes two pubs that are there sim­ply because they are close to our house – The Welling­ton and The Inn on the Green.

The Welling­ton scored par­tic­u­lar­ly high­ly dur­ing last summer’s heat­wave, because it has Sulis, Korev and reli­able Prophe­cy. The oth­ers are all clear favourites of ours and appear in our guide to the best pubs in Bris­tol.

Porter
A pint of porter at The Good Mea­sure.
If you’ve visited more than once, does that mean it’s good?

Not always. We’ve had one acci­den­tal sec­ond vis­it, to St George’s Hall, a soon-to-be-clos­ing Wether­spoons, hav­ing for­got­ten we’d already been.

Some­times a sec­ond vis­it might be to check out a change in own­er­ship or offer.

It might also reflect con­ve­nience. The Knights Tem­plar, AKA Hell­spoons, is right by Tem­ple Meads sta­tion and so a con­ve­nient stop before catch­ing a train. Now the bridge to The Bar­ley Mow has reopened, and The Sid­ings has decent Har­vey’s Sus­sex Best, we don’t expect to need to go there again.

But three or more vis­its and it’s prob­a­bly safe to say we like it. (Although we’ve fall­en out with the Hare in Bed­min­ster now it’s the Lev­eret Cask House.)

Not quite science

Of course the keep­ing of this infor­ma­tion dis­torts our behav­iour from time to time.

If we’ve got a choice between two pubs, we’ll some­times pick the one we think ‘deserves’ to be high­er up the rank­ings. And we occa­sion­al­ly give a pub a swerve because it feels as if it’s com­ing high­er up the charts than it ought to.

It’s still an expres­sion of pref­er­ence but… Well, it’s com­pli­cat­ed.

Wishful thinking

There are cer­tain­ly some pubs that would be high­er up the list if they were eas­i­er for us to get to.

The thing is, your local is your local. Part of the mag­ic of pubs like The Oxford in Tot­ter­down or The Plough at Eas­t­on is that they reflect and serve the com­mu­ni­ties they’re in.

We’ll drop in if we’re in the area, and some­times day­dream about how nice it would be if we did live near­by, but it would be daft for us to schlep across town to go there every week because… We’ve got a local. One that’s, you know, local.

We would­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly expect these pubs to creep up the rank­ings in the next year, even though they are excel­lent.

Pubs such as The Good Mea­sure, on the oth­er hand, prob­a­bly will, because they offer some­thing dis­tinct we can’t get close to home.

(And in that par­tic­u­lar case, it’s rea­son­ably handy for the High­bury Vaults so makes a good end to a St Michael’s Hill crawl).

Some thoughts on Bristol pubs

In gen­er­al, Bris­tol pubs are good.

They tend to be friend­ly, even if they don’t always look it.

They’re extreme­ly var­ied – hip­py hang­outs, old boys booz­ers, gas­trop­ubs, craft beer exhi­bi­tions, back­street gems, fam­i­ly hang­outs, and so on.

They most­ly have real ale, even those that might not if they were in any oth­er city. We reck­on we’ve count­ed three (four if you think Brew­Dog is a pub) that did­n’t have any­thing at all on offer.

They’re loy­al to local beer, even if there’s no sin­gle dom­i­nant his­toric city brew­ery.

Your chances of find­ing Bass, Courage Best, But­combe or some oth­er clas­sic bit­ter are very high. The like­li­hood of find­ing mild is almost zero. Hop­py beers tend to be hazy, soft and sweet. (Not that we’re grum­bling but we do some­times crave paler, dri­er beers of the north­ern vari­ety.)

And we’re still find­ing good pubs: we only vis­it­ed The Annexe for the first time late last year; The Coro­na­tion in Bed­min­ster we dis­cov­ered for the first time a cou­ple of months back. No doubt in the final hun­dred or so there will be a few more crack­ers.

We’re not as sci­en­tif­ic about cat­a­logu­ing pub open­ings and clo­sures as the local CAMRA team in the excel­lent Pints West mag­a­zine but our feel­ing is that pubs are not clos­ing as fast as they were and that more pubs or oth­er drink­ing estab­lish­ments are emerg­ing.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, reflect­ing nation­al trends, pubs are more at risk in poor­er areas, and are (re) open­ing in wealth­i­er or ‘up and com­ing’ parts of the city.

Final thoughts

This has made us think hard about what makes pubs attrac­tive to us – although grant­ed, we’re not nec­es­sar­i­ly typ­i­cal cus­tomers.

Yes, it’s impor­tant for pubs to have a unique sell­ing point to stand out (that’s the pub with the heavy met­al, or eight types of cider, or amaz­ing cheese rolls) but, when it comes down to it, our drink­ing habits are pri­mar­i­ly influ­enced by con­ve­nience.

We sus­pect that’s fair­ly uni­ver­sal.

The Distant Gleam of a Backstreet Pub

There’s something Narnia-magical about looking along a silent terraced street at night and seeing a corner pub throwing its light out over wet asphalt.

You know the feel­ing – walk­ing up the cen­tre of the road because there’s no traf­fic, TV light flick­er­ing behind cur­tains here and there, and the sound of your boots crunch­ing and echo­ing in the qui­et.

It’s spe­cial, too, because by our reck­on­ing, after pubs on hous­ing estates, this is the most endan­gered species.

Last Sat­ur­day we made a con­cert­ed effort to ‘tick’ a few pubs for our #Every­Pu­bIn­Bris­tol mis­sion and so end­ed up in Tot­ter­down, across the riv­er from Tem­ple Meads, wan­der­ing among rows of hum­ble Vic­to­ri­an hous­es.

Sign: "Booze, food, tables & chairs".

Our first tar­get was The Shake­speare, a pub we gath­ered from the 1975 guide was once a bit naughty…

The pub that one of us came very close to being beat­en up at… [but] pub guide writ­ers can run faster than nice young men with Nazi badges!

It looked mys­te­ri­ous and invit­ing, like one of those West Lon­don mews pubs, hid­den from casu­al pun­ters. To find it, you’ve got to live in the neigh­bour­hood, or be hunt­ing for it, or be a bit of an explor­er.

Inside, it’s all scrubbed wood and mild gas­tro ten­den­cies, but by no means pre­ten­tious: “Unfined? We don’t sell that hazy shit here.”

Less than a min­ute’s walk away, deep­er into the maze, there’s the curi­ous­ly named New Found Out – anoth­er cor­ner, anoth­er spill of yel­low, but also an air of mis­chief.

It was plain, bright, and live­ly in that way which makes it hard to quite relax. But, still, there was a bloke read­ing Bri­an Ald­iss between puffs on his asth­ma inhaler, and every­one seemed friend­ly enough, even if we did feel as if we were draw­ing a few stares.

The Oxford in half darkness.

Our final pub, The Oxford, was­n’t quite on a back­street, but was hard­ly on the main road either. We felt like Goldilocks here: if the first pub was too posh, and the sec­ond too rough-and-ready, The Oxford was just right.

It sat in the sweet spot between scuzzy and char­ac­ter­ful, with a ska band, a lot of Spaniards, and a bloke in a pork pie hat who looked as though he’d been sat in the same seat since 1968.

Every Pub in Bristol: The First 100

Collage: Bristol pubs.

On moving to Bristol in the summer of 2017 we commenced a mission to visit every single pub in the city. This is what we’ve learned in the first six months.

Com­plete­ly unsur­pris­ing­ly, the pubs we vis­it most fre­quent­ly are those near our house. We have (well, Jes­si­ca has) been keep­ing notes in a spread­sheet record­ing each vis­it which means with the click of a but­ton we can see our most-vis­it­ed pubs.

At num­ber one, by a mas­sive mar­gin, is The Drap­er’s Arms – not only the near­est pub to our house by any mea­sure but also, clear­ly, the best pub in the area and one of the best in the city. We’ve been there togeth­er 28 times (plus the odd solo vis­it for one or the oth­er of us that does­n’t count for the pur­pos­es of this count) which equates to about once a week.

The Inn on the Green is at joint third with five vis­its; The Welling­ton joint fourth with four vis­its; and The Gold­en Lion joint fifth with three.

The Bar­ley Mow near Tem­ple Meads sta­tion is our clear sec­ond favourite with six vis­its – one a month – and it is indeed a pub with which we con­tin­ue to be very tak­en.

In gen­er­al, any pub we’ve vis­it­ed more than once despite (a) this daft mis­sion and (b) our gen­er­al excite­ment at new turf to explore must have some­thing going for it. So, with­out fil­ter­ing or com­ment on indi­vid­ual pubs, here’s the com­plete list of those we’ve been to at least twice.

Draper’s Arms 28
Bar­ley Mow 6
Inn on the Green 5
Grain Barge 5
Welling­ton Arms 4
Hill­grove Porter Stores 4
Gold­en Lion 3
Brew­Dog 3
The Old Fish Mar­ket 3
Snuffy Jacks 3
High­bury Vaults 3
Com­mer­cial Rooms (Wether­spoon) 2
The Can­teen (Hamil­ton House) 2
The Straw­ber­ry Thief 2
The Bridge 2
The Mardyke 2
Zero Degrees 2

With more data we’d expect a prop­er top ten to emerge in the next six months and sus­pect some of those names will drop away from the lead group.

Capsule Reviews

Anoth­er col­umn on the spread­sheet records in a few words our impres­sion of each pub. These are great fun to write and some­times a bit snarky (“nice beer, filthy glass­es”) but their pur­pose is to help us rec­ol­lect the pub months and hope­ful­ly even years after what might be one vis­it. We test­ed it last night (in pub #103) and it worked:

Marston’s with­out the Marston’s? The Pump House. Bel­gian brown cafe vibe? The Grace. Crazy fol­ly, now a Flam­ing Grill? The Black Cas­tle. Cosy, smells like a swim­ming pool? The Vic­to­ria. (It is next door to a lido.)

The Next Stretch

We’ve got no more local ticks so it’s bus rides and shoe leather from here on. At the moment there’s a long list of pubs we’ve seen or heard of and are keen to vis­it – The Post Office Tav­ern at West­bury on Trym, for exam­ple, AKA ‘The Pot at Wot’; The Sev­en Stars in the city cen­tre which we vis­it­ed before we moved to Bris­tol but haven’t been to since; and The Colos­se­um, a rare post-war sur­vivor in Red­cliffe.

Rather than let the less imme­di­ate­ly invit­ing pubs pile up so that we have to slog through them at the end, we’re try­ing to get to them on the way. So far we’ve found that a lot of Bris­tol pubs which look dodgy from the out­side are at worst fine, and at best very pleas­ant sur­pris­es – full of warmth and com­mu­ni­ty feel­ing even if the face they show the world might sug­gest oth­er­wise. Just in case, though, we’ve giv­en our­selves a get out clause: if we’re made to feel unwel­come in some active way, we can count it as a tick with­out stop­ping for a drink.

FAQ

How many pubs are there in Bris­tol?
We don’t know exact­ly, and don’t need to know at this stage, but we’ve seen esti­mates of about 450 which feels about right.

How are you defin­ing ‘pub’?
We’re not – we want to be flex­i­ble and retain the right to play it by ear. Hav­ing said that, if we can walk in off the street, buy draught beer with­out feel­ing oblig­ed to order food, and take a seat with­out reserv­ing a table, then it’s prob­a­bly a pub. In oth­er words, we’re going broad rather than nar­row, includ­ing tap rooms, bars, social clubs, and maybe even some cafés.

What counts as Bris­tol?
We keep chang­ing our minds but prob­a­bly the Bris­tol Built-up Area. Again, this won’t become an issue for a while – there are plen­ty of obvi­ous­ly-in-Bris­tol pubs to tack­le before we start wor­ry­ing about mar­gin­al cas­es, but we do par­tic­u­lar­ly want to tack­le sub­ur­ban pubs and those on the out­skirts, while still find­ing some way to lim­it the chal­lenge.