Whether you're into cider, real ale, gourmet pies, Banksy or even Noel Edmonds, my pick of Bristol’s most interesting and hip hostelries should keep you entertained and well oiled
First stop for some liquid refreshment should be The White Lion at the Avon Gorge Hotel (www.theavongorge.com). Situated in chic Clifton, what really makes this bar stand out is the outdoor terrace, which perches on the edge of the gorge and has spectacular views of the world-famous Clifton Suspension Bridge and south Bristol. Few bars in Britain can offer such a dramatic view, making this the perfect summer spot for a pitcher of Pimm's and observing the well-to-do locals or, if you are around in August, watching the hot air balloons drift by during the Annual International Balloon Fiesta.
If the traditional Bristol cider experience is what you're after, then located just round the corner is The Coronation Tap (www.thecoronationtap.com), a small local cider-house that has been serving Bristol’s students for generations. Behind the bar there are half a dozen barrels of different types of ciders, from sweet to dry and varying in strength. For the brave (or stupid) there is the Exhibition cider, which, at a barnstorming 8.4% alcohol, is only served in half-pints. But should you overindulge, at least there might be a medical student close to hand.
If real ale is more your tipple, then head for The Highbury Vaults on St Michaels Hill, which with good reason features in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide. With its dark, hardwood interior, which dates back to the 1800s, this traditional pub is the perfect antidote to the bland and soulless chain pubs of today. At the back is a quaint beer garden with pretty hanging baskets and some interesting sculptures. However, if you look at the right-hand side exterior of the pub there is a piece of graffiti that looks suspiciously like the work of Banksy. Is it the work of Bristol’s man of the moment or a pastiche? Pay a visit and decide for yourself.
Next stop: Las Iguanas (www.iguanas.co.uk). A chain, I hear you scream. Well, it may indeed be a chain but this bar/restaurant started up in Bristol in the early Nineties and has expanded from a small cocktail bar to the O2 Dome. Despite nationwide success, their head office remains in Bristol and they have two Bristol venues on trendy Whiteladies Road and Millennium Square. The South American-themed food always tastes fresh, with predominantly locally-sourced ingredients, and is great value for money. Up until 7pm every day, you can get two courses from the set menu and a beer or wine for a credit-crunch-defying £9.40, and they don't skimp on the main-course portions either.
Another Bristol company enjoying nationwide culinary success is Pieminster, whose pies can be found at food festivals around the country and at London’s fashionable Borough Market. These gourmet pies have been winning rave reviews with food critics, with their exciting combinations; a personal favourite is ‘The Matador’ (beef and chorizo). A great place to enjoy a Pieminster pie and mash, washed down with a local ale, is The Grain Barge (www.grainbarge.co.uk) in Hotwells. Overlooking Isambard Kingdom Brunel's SS Great Britain, this floating barge is owned by the Bristol Beer Factory, a local independent brewery, and also features in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.
If it's Bristol’s most famous pub you're looking for, then the Llandoger Trow probably has the greatest claim. Located centrally in cobbled King Street, this old pub dates back to 1664 and, although now part of the Brewers Fayre chain, hasn’t changed much in appearance since, with its timber-framed exterior and old-world decor. In fact, the Llandoger Trow features in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island as the fictional Admiral Benbow Inn. It's steeped in old-world charm and atmosphere: if you close your eyes, you could be forgiven for imagining you only had one leg and a parrot on your shoulder.
If the Llandoger Trow represents the old Bristol, then the Tobacco Factory (www.tobaccofactory.com) represents the new. As its name suggests, it's set in an old tobacco factory, and with its post-industrial makeover - all exposed brickwork, shiny ventilations and hanging local art - is so hip it wouldn’t look out of place in Hoxton with Noel Fielding at the bar. Opened in 2001, this bar is chiefly responsible for bringing cafe culture to south Bristol and rejuvenating the whole Southville community. North Street is now buzzing with bars, restaurants, delis and good local butchers and greengrocers. However, the Tobacco Factory isn’t just a bar: there is a food market every Sunday, live music on Thursdays and Sundays and also a highly rated theatre, which plays everything from Shakespeare to the annual Christmas panto.
Finally, perhaps too new to be considered a Bristol institution yet is The Bocabar in Arnos Vale, opened a couple of years ago. Part of the new Paintworks development overlooking an industrial part of town, this achingly trendy converted old warehouse is a magnet for nearby media workers and artistic types and even contains its own deli. Endemol West film Deal or No Deal on the complex, so don’t be surprised if you see Noel Edmonds sipping a pint or two.
Where to Stay
The standard and quantity of accommodation in Bristol has improved immeasurably in the past decade with something for every budget.
Berwick Lodge (www.berwicklodge.co.uk TEL: 01179 581590) - located about 5 miles from the centre this new and opulent hotel is perfect if you want to pamper yourself away from the hussle and bustle of the city. The restaurant is ran by celebrated local chef Chris Wicks who clearly has his eyes on Michelin recognition.
Hotel de Vin - (see James Recommends) this luxury chain never disappoints with its luxurious and sumptious rooms, and is located right in the city centre - perfect for shopping and the sites.
Avon Gorge Hotel - (see James Recommends) recently renovated with a fantastic location overlooking the suspension bridge in fashionable Clifton, its not hard to appreciate why many people get married here.
Radisson Blu - (see James Recommends) new kid on the block, this centrally located hotel is instantly recognisble with its blue glass exterior and has all the facilities you would expect from an upmarket chain.
Premier Inn 'KIng Street' - (see James Recommends) not your average souless concrete block Premier Inn, this one is located above the Llandogger Trow pub, central and close to dozens of bars, restaurants and the Old Vic Theatre.