bristol pubs

The Hare on the Hill and the mysteries of pub atmosphere

It’s great when a pub suddenly levels up, even if it’s not always easy to work out what’s changed or why it’s better.

The Hare on the Hill is one of a cluster of pubs in Kingsdown, a hilltop neighourhood north of Bristol city centre.

We’d visited a couple of times in the past and it simply didn’t click with us.

Once, we recall, we were told by the staff behind the bar that we should probably go to a nearby brewery tap if we wanted decent beer.

In general, our impressions were of a lack of warmth and atmosphere, as if it was permanently ten minutes from closing time on a wet Wednesday in February.

Then last year someone told us we really ought to give it another go. It is under new management and, according to our informant, much improved… somehow.

We’d missed the relaunch, perhaps because it happened, unfortunately, in spring 2020. When we could finally get out to pubs again, The Hare wasn’t high on our list of priorities.

When we made our first visit to the new incarnation just before Christmas, we were immediately impressed.

Pot plants at The Hare on the Hill.

It felt as if the heating had been switched on. There was both more light and more warm shadow.

The walls were covered with greebling that we’re certain wasn’t there before: paintings, prints, posters, signs, vases, jugs, kitsch ornaments, Boba Fett figurines and what felt like hundreds of beautiful pot plants.

Interesting music played softly from a record player on top of a piano.

On the bar were several cask ales from local breweries, a choice of lagers from Lost & Grounded, and a selection of Belgian and British beers on keg.

“This is like a different pub,” we said to each other.

As we left, we noticed a fridge full of Belgian and German bottles: Orval, Duvel, Cantillon, Augustiner, Jever, Schlenkerla – a nice slice of the classical canon.

Last night, we went back after dark, and found it no less appealing.

Sitting on a table for two by a radiator, we listened to conversations crossing over each other in the gaps between tracks on Love’s 1966 album Da Capo:

“…it’s about using your bishops tactically…”

“…that little pub in Hotwells that looks like a converted terrace house…”

“…she said they hooked up before Christmas…”

“…I’ve been obsessed with Talking Heads lately…”

“…earned a pint after walking up that bloody hill!”

Looking back at photos of the pub in its previous form, we wonder if it’s as simple as the paint on the walls. It used to be blue, now it’s mostly brown, burgundy and nicotine beige. Proper pub colours.

Or maybe it’s that you can tell it’s being run by people who live in the flat upstairs. There’s a sense of personality and personal investment that was never there before.

Whatever magic has been wrought, it’s rocketed up our Best of Bristol list and will be a regular destination from now on – especially as its proximity to several other excellent pubs invites a crawl.