Bristol boasts a plethora of fabulous bars of all shapes, sizes, colours and creeds. From floating boat bars packed to the timbers with locally crafted ciders to underground hidden gems with vaulted ceilings, tucked away under King Street, from rooftop terraced beauties in the heart of the city centre to secret prohibition style bars – Bristol has got it all.
In this round-up, Wriggle picks out our more 'out-there' highlights from around the city: check out our top picks of the quirkiest and coolest watering holes in the city – let us know if we've forgotten your favourite!
It wasn't long ago that this little corner shop was stuffed full of second-hand publications and shelves of Dickens. Today, The Old Bookshop has managed to retain its stylishly dated quirks from years past, while becoming one of Bristol's top food ventures. Everything here is ramped up to the nines, from the eclectic hodgepodge of antique musical instruments and disconcerting taxidermy, to the menu of modern small plates, the seductive bar, and the mixed bag of live music. And despite the razzle-dazzle, it's not all show here. Having been crowned Bristol's Best Bar at the Bristol Life Awards 2017 - these guys are standing their ground at the forefront of Bristol's buzzing bar scene.
A quintessential part of the drop-dead-gorgeous St Nick's market, The Rummer is one of Bristol's premier cocktail spots and an all-round-terrific indie highlight in a city-centre hotspot. Their spot-on classic drinks, and insta-worthy cocktails are held in the highest of esteem by critics, bloggers and in-the-know locals alike. Boasting over 400 premium spirits from all corners of the globe and a bar team with serious mixologist pedigree, this historic building (legend has it that an inn has stood here since the 1200s) is one that lives long in the memory. Oh, and there's also an epic gin distillery hidden underneath the bar.
The guys behind The Ox, the Milk Thistle and Pata Negra have turned their hands to something a little bit more casual – and boy have they nailed it. Bambalan is a dreamy rooftop bar and restaurant that overlooks the heart of Bristol. Think fresh and healthy food: their dips and flatbreads are unreal – beautifully coloured smooth hummus, spiced beetroot, labneh and baba ganoush, contrasted with the flagship Rotisserie Chicken. But you're not here to read about food – this is about bars! And what a bar Bambalan is. Quality local beers and a range of soothing drinks are the order of the day, along with cocktails by the jug.
The Clockwork Rose is a quirky little cocktail bar that's a dream destination for cocktail lovers and steam punk fans alike. The eclectic decorations and unique interiors will draw you in, just begging you to snap a photo of them for your Instagram. It's their deliciously creative cocktail menu that'll make you stay though – expect inventive, intriguing, and downright mad cocktails that are as tasty and addictive as they are unusual.
Like a pint or two? We know you’re going to fall head over heels in love with Beerd. Whenever you feel like discovering new flavours of local craft beers, real ales and ciders, head over to this emporium of good times and brilliant brews, nestled over on St Michael's Hill. With an impressive range of local beverages from the city’s finest breweries including Arbor Ales and the New Bristol Brewery, your first trip to the bar will make you face your biggest challenge of the night: which beer to try first? There’s no need to panic, though: their friendly and knowledgeable staff will be straight to the rescue, and can guide you calmly and collectedly through their selection, until you find the perfectly-balanced drink that fits your needs. More of a juniper fan than a hop lover? Beerd also showcase a glorious range of locally distilled gins, with tipples on offer from Bristol’s own Psychopomp and Bristol Dry Gin distilleries.
Another floating fantasy, the Grain Barge requires you to wend your way over to Mardyke Wharf, and climb aboard its historical water-borne self. Built in 1936 by the Charles Hill shipyard, Grain Barge began life as a transport barge, shipping barley and wheat from Bristol to Cardiff. The barge is now permanently moored in Hotwells, just across from its original berth, and with breathtaking views across Bristol harbour and the fabulous SS Great Britain, beloved of Bristolians across the city. Once you board the Grain Barge, there's a range of spaces to relax: the recently revamped 'Hold Bar' lurks in the belly of the Barge, and provides an intimate, cosy and unique space to enjoy some drinks, whilst discovering some excellent local live music. Elsewhere, the main harbourside lounge and dining area is light & airy, whilst the upper 'al fresco' deck boasts a breathtaking 270 degree view of the harbour.
One small step down Midland Road, another giant leap for Old Market's bar scene. To The Moon is a bright new star for Bristol to gaze toward when the sky turns twilight. It's a distinctive little space interspersed with reclaimed furniture, stunning wall murals painted by local artists and a bar-front pieced together with vintage copies of Rolling Stone magazine. The music is eclectic and brilliantly curated and there's a great selection of delicious artisan cocktails and local craft beer to enjoy as you nod along (think Good Chemistry, Arbor & Dawkins). Time here is best spent enjoying the space, chatting with friends, perusing the selection of local and sustainable fashion in the lounge area or kicking back in the blissful secret hideaway at the end of the bar. Under a canopy of glass and bathed in natural moonlight, it’s a night-time hideaway you’ll want to get lost in.
A stone's throw away from Clifton Downs train station, Flipside have been offering a plethora of classy concoctions to the always-buzzing Whiteladies Road crowd. With its decor akin to New York loft bars but with a distinctly British twist; you can expect a low-lit night of good vibes whilst going down the rabbit hole of sampling their extensive cocktail menu - a mix of classics and in-house creations. Where else can you get a Heisenberg? A secret concoction served up with a suspicious-looking sachet of edible Blue crystals. Their Espresso Martini is well worth a try as well - created with home-made spiced rum.
Up for some exceptionally amazing cocktails? Kinkajou got you covered! Tucked away at the top of Whiteladies Road, you'll find this great hidden gem of a pub. Just walk down a small set of stairs and ring the doorbell. At Kinkajou they have an abundance of cocktails, that will most certainly meet your expectations. Kinkajou has a very friendly and knowledgable staff, that are more than happy to help you choose the right cocktail for you.
The Last Word is a quirky cocktail bar and restaurant in the very heart of Clifton Village offering some of the most alluring cocktails in Bristol. Despite being a rather new establishment, there’s already a buzz of excitement lingering at its doors. Amongst the hums of chatter you’re sure to see a few trendy sorts casually swigging a dirty martini, or turning their hand to something equally as sophisticated. By the Last Word’s own admission, no afternoon is complete without a glass of bubbles and the prosecco afternoon tea here hits the mark with an array of sweet and savory treats.
Part of the creative team behind The Rum & Crab Shack and Dead Man's Fingers rum are now the proud new owners of the Vittoria. This newly refurbished version of the bar is blending the tradition of an old English pub with a New Orleans bar sprinkled with hints of the classic American 'dive' bar. What's not to like? Expect great music, an awesome spirit selection, incredibly long (6 hours) cocktail happy hours and a host of events such as a weekly quiz, a bring your own vinyl night, a £5 Margarita day and many more in the pipeline.
Did you hear the one about the two dudes from Italy who moved to Bristol and discovered a love of craft beer...? Wriggle your way over to Stokes Croft, and enter the small but perfectly formed world of the Croft Ales microbrewery. Inspired by the rich, varied culture and creativity of the incredible Stokes Croft neighbourhood, Pedro and his wonderful team established the Croft Ales brewery and tap room as a way to bring genuinely handcrafted, small batch beer to the fine people of Bristol. Every beer available is vegan, and they are working hard to be able to bring you lucky Wrigglers some gluten free options soon, so watch this space. The atmosphere is friendly, the vibes are chilled, the music is great, and the beer, needless to say, is bloody brilliant.
Referred to as “the flirty younger sister” of Hyde & Co (another great speakeasy by the same folks), we’d consider Milk Thistle more of a classy (but slightly sozzled) great-aunt. This place smacks of timeless grandeur: walls dripping with rich velvet curtains; leather clad armchairs and mahogany propped bar stools; stained glass drenching sultry light over a fabulous array of spirits (they layer three bars across just as many floors). The drinks ain't cheap (great auntie wasn’t either), but they’re expertly crafted and served in style by smart, attentive and discrete mixologists. It’s always La Belle Epoque – so don your smartest stitches, hide the budget and get involved.
Next door to Steam, there’s a black wooden door with the word, Shebeen painted on it in white. This is a (semi) secret authentic Irish snug and liquor store. It’s run by welcoming if irreverent Kevin and Frank. Pictured on the wall is Kevin’s father who was an international goalkeeper and played in goal for Ireland on numerous occasions. Kevin and Frank will remember your names, offer you a drink including a Guinness or beer which are on draft and something from their list of wines or whiskeys.
You'll be hard-pressed to pinpoint anywhere closer to the hearts (and palates) of local cider connoisseurs than this. A quintessentially Bristolian waterside haunt and bonafide floating institution around these parts, The Apple (a wonderfully characterful river boat with canvas covering on the top deck and a salubrious sofa retreat down below) gently bobs alongside its own cobbled quay and seating area on the Welsh Back, awash with friendly clientele and proudly serving real cider from an astounding assortment of bottles, barrels and boxes.
The original Prohibition bar, Hyde & Co, was one of Bristol's first hidden cocktail bars, and it's still just as popular today as it was when they first opened the door nearly seven years ago. Tucked away on Clifton Triangle, Hyde & Co is the perfect cosy retreat if you need somewhere to get away from it all, whilst not compromising on class, quality, and cocktails. Offering expertly crafted tipples, attentive service and an atmosphere reminiscent of 1920's New York, Hyde & Co is the ideal spot to while away cold evenings with a cocktail or two (or three)!
Which self-respecting Bristolian can truthfully say they've not enjoyed a night on the cobbled stretch of boozer's paradise known as King Street? Kongs is an iconic addition to this hallowed row, combining retro gaming, ping pong and table football with a fiersome selection of booze, a lively atmosphere, and an epic array of dirty vegan subs, courtesy of resident kitchen, Bun Fiction.
For sophisticated drinks that will delight the senses, excite the tastebuds, and fill you with childlike glee at the incredibly creative concoctions on offer, look no further than Her Majesty's Secret Service on Whiteladies Road. Entering Her Majesty's Secret Service (or HMSS to those in the know) is a treat in its own right; look for a black door, and then nip through a phone box to enter. Yep, you read that right: a phone box. Once inside, soak up the amazing decor of this cocktail bar, abandon yourself to the barman’s clearly extensive wisdom, and sit back and enjoy the unlimited monkey nuts provided on the house while waiting for your drinks.
Red Light: a bastion of grown-up fun and games, Bristol-stylee. Look out for a payphone and a graffiti covered door, pick up the phone and cross your fingers that they have a table available (or book ahead). Once inside, you are welcomed to a sultry sight of understated vintage decor, red velvet chairs and tables lit by candle light. The drinks menu is divided into sections named ‘foreplay’, ‘sex’ and ‘cigarette’, offering a variety of flavours in short and long concoctions. By focusing on quality whilst maintaining its exclusivity, Red Light has become a top spot for a relaxed and intimate drinking experience for you to enjoy the cocktail of your choice.
Long running local Bristol boozer the Pipe and Slippers may well be famous for their pipe dreams (it’s an infamous Bristolian cocktail, FYI), but its cosy and classic pub interior provides the perfect setting for pulling up an armchair by the fire and not moving. What makes it so brilliantly Bristolian (read: quirky and seriously cool), is the fact that in this gloriously traditional British-style pub, you can enjoy one of the most extravagant, delicious, and well crafted cocktail menus in the city. Winning!
This Low-key, unpretentious Clifton village bar is one of Bristol hidden gems. Amoeba has carved out a niche for itself serving great cocktails, wines and stocking a belting bottle fridge. The back bar is groaning with the best spirits money can buy; if the team don't rate it, they don't stock it, ensuring everything you drink here is top notch. If you're not sure what you fancy, the staff are ready with great suggestions and are always happy to mix you up your favourite if it's not on the menu. Try the house special, the Thai Daiquiri, if you want to be transported somewhere hot and tropical and enjoy it in their lovely little patio when the sun is shining.
A Mongolian yurt beside a listed railway station, serving modern cuisine made by renowned guest chefs, as well as an absolutely stonking array of cocktails, gins, wines and local beers? There's really nowhere quite like Yurt Lush. This is one to round up the mates for. Head into this glorious canopy, be greeted by fat friendly smiles, and channel your inner cool.
Is it a bar? Is it a music venue? Okay, yes, it also sells some pretty awesome noodles right through the night, but we couldn't NOT include this epic venue in our round-up of quirky bars. This sticky, loud, attitude-filled late-night music venue, beloved of music lovers and noodle-scoffers alike, has been at the vanguard of Bristol's music scene since opening 14 years ago, delighting Bristolians with its eclectic selection of locally-sourced live music, DJs and artists, all topped off with an awesome array of tasty, satisfying food – who doesn't love a bowl of noodles at 2am?! Open late, and typically frequented by the artists themselves, their roadies, fans, and gig-goers, Mr Wolf's is THE place to kick back, have a beer or six, and discover your new favourite local musician.
Nestled in the heart of Bristol, Smoke and Mirrors is the UK's only Boutique Pub & Magic Theatre – and it just so happens to be one of the city's quirkiest spots. An intimate setting featuring some of the most talented magicians in the world – all from a privileged position just metres from the stage – as well as a cracking range of drinks – this is one of our fave places to head for a night not quite like any others.This is the place to be mesmerised and delighted by mind blowing tricks. We love those from the in-house close-up magician - be bamboozled by his magical prowess. Their shows take place in an electric 1920's style theatre, accommodating a cosy 44 seats.
As a corner of King Street's famous Beermuda Triangle, this is a place that is serious about good beer. Here you'll find 24 draught lines and a constantly-changing and wide selection of bottles (available to drink-in or take-away from their bottle shop). It's an underground bar with impressive vaulted-ceilings – making it an excellent source of escapism from cold evenings. In Summer, grab some beers and take them up and outside to their street-side pavements, or join the throng of drinkers from Small Bar and the Volley standing on the cobbled street. Pepenero is also in residence providing top-notch pizzas from the kitchen – the perfect counter-balance to a few hours of drinking beer.
A Belgium themed bar, thought the Strawberry Thief founders. Sure, why not! Tucked away on the illimitably pretty Broad Street is a bar of pure escapism. The moment you walk through Strawberry Thief's doors you'll be transported to a turn of the 20th Century Belgian beer bar. With a consistently chilled atmosphere, you can settle into a nook or corner and take your pick from over 60 specialist Belgian and European beers – whilst indulging in some of the most refined continental plates of food in the old town. Strawberry Thief's beers are a far cry from your usual selection, and we recommend you embrace getting out of your comfort zone and trying something deliciously different (if you want a good starter, we love a Karmeliet Tripel).
Fancy a cocktail with Donald Trump's head on it? No, us neither – but there's plenty of other weird and wonderful concoctions on offer over at Loose cannon, including an Irn Bru themed tipple that's stolen the Wriggle Team's collective hearts. Right in the heart of the Harbourside, this is a seriously stylish setting in which to enjoy some high quality cocktails. Forget the cheap, juice-filled, watery dishwater that so often masquerades as a cocktail these days – these drinks are decadent, delicious, and inventive. With highly trained bar staff who really know their stuff, making seasonal cocktails served in bespoke glassware, you're guaranteed to get something memorable. What's their style? Think crazy garnishes, names, and pop culture references. It's a place for quality drinks, and time with your mates.
Bristol is the second city for Black Rock because it's "gurt lush" and because there's no other city in the UK that embraces new things like Bristol does. Located in an old barristers chambers on Marsh Street, right in the heart of the Old City not far from the popular drinking holes of King Street. At centrepiece of the bar stands a 6 ton, 220 year old oak tree, quietly maturing a cocktail in its belly. It needs seeing to be believed. Wall art is courtesy of Bristol local, Ryan Gajda, who has infused whisky drinking culture in to original designs inspired by traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e wood block prints. Over 400 whiskies from all over the world are stocked in this plush bar. The knowledgable staff are on hand to help you figure out the best pick for you, so no need to be overwhelmed. Expect a selection of cocktails that are either (short and strong) or highballs (long and light). All of them based on great tasting whiskies from around the world. There’s also a range of craft beers - six draughts that showcase a changing range of local products and global favourites.