Tangent Books Blog
Quality blogging for the discerning punter
In the first of a series of posts, Evie Steen and a team of early-hours connoisseurs bring you the definitive guide to how to satisfy ferocious hunger after a few too many pints…
1. Grecian Kebab House
Where to find it: 2 Cromwell Road, St Andrews, Bristol, BS6 5AA, just up from the arches.
What to expect: Established in 1971, the Grecian is almost as well-known as the Suspension Bridge and is far more useful at 3am. Whether it’s the wide selection of £5 pizzas or a classic donner kebab in pitta bread, this buzzing shop is the place to be after a night out. You’ll meet the wackiest of characters, locals and students on their ways home from a night in the boho Stokes Croft.
House Speciality: Pizza. It’s hard to go wrong with a choice of 24 different combinations of toppings. From the no.1 cheese and tomato for the classic yet boring experience to their no.17 – ham, egg, courgette and aubergine - a selection of toppings more insulting than pineapple.
Monday-Thursday: 5pm- 3am
2. Taka Taka
Where to find it: 3 Queens Road, Triangle South, Bristol BS8 1EZ
What to expect: A rite of passage for University of Bristol students, based in the heart of their territory, the Clifton Triangle. Taka Taka is bold, luminous and in your face. It’s rare for a kebab to taste the same before the pints or vodka lemonades kick in but this place is popular day and night, taking after-club food to a whole new level.
House speciality: The Magic Roll. Chips in a kebab? Why not.
Monday – Saturday: 11am – 4am
3. Jason Donervan
Where to find it: Queens Road, Clifton, Bristol BS8 1QU
What to expect: A kebab is always more enjoyable with a pun on the side. Located right on the top of the Triangle surrounded by the likes of Gravity (previously Analog, 78, Bunker, and so on), Mbargos and Lizard Lounge, you won’t be short of whining drunk girls, barefoot with their heels in their hands flirting, asking for free chicken nuggets with their cheesy chips. Staff are good humoured. They have to be.
House Speciality: Can’t go wrong with anything but you have to try their donner kebab for the sake of the name.
Where to find it: 5 St Augustine's Parade, Bristol BS1 4XG.
What to expect: It’s extremely popular because it’s right in the centre of town located just off the harbour and the bottom of Park Street within a clutter of kebab and pizza places. Don’t be put off by the queues, they move quickly. Very friendly staff who are probably funnier than the mate you came with.
House Speciality: Hands down the best gravy in central Bristol to soak up your cheesy chips.
Sunday- Monday: 11am–3am
Tuesday- Wednesday: 11am–2am
Thursday- Friday: 11am- 4am
Saturday: 11am- 5am
5. Miss Millie’s
Where to find it: 91 Gloucester Road, Bristol BS7 8AT. (Six more shops in various locations around Bristol)
What to expect: After walking into my house after work I found my flat mate, drunk, crying in the bathroom. Was it something serious? No, she’d fallen off the meat wagon. After four years of not ingesting an animal, from what I could make out through the sobbing and mumbling, she was telling me that this was the best chicken burger she’d ever eaten. Of course I had to try it now.
House Speciality: Not often will you find me stray away from my regular chips with gravy or curry sauce but take it from the vegetarian and me, their chicken burger is definitely a winner.
Sunday – Thursday: 11am- 2am
Friday – Saturday: 11am- 3am
Sol Wilkinson marvels at the militant millennials who are turning Bristol vegan…
For the average Brit awakening from cryogenic sleep, the country must appear to have gone completely insane. There’s Brexit; a crumbling government; soaring temperatures exceeding those of Spain; Old Market’s becoming a nice place for a walk; and, on top of all this, people are giving up meat in favour of plants. Of course, the latter is an exaggerated generalisation but the Vegan society did confirm that Britain’s vegan population had risen from 150,000 in 2006 to over 542,000 in 2016 – an astounding 350% increase – and since these stats, the UK’s number of plant-based lifestyles has continued to grow like a big, beautiful aubergine. Additionally, the majority of these recent converts are young people, under the age of 34, and in 2018, Kellogg’s vegan poll highlighted that over half of all 16-24 year olds had at least tried a plant-based diet in the previous 12 months.
So what’s to account for this surge in herbivorous millennials? Whilst many lifestyle trends play the hare of the race, quickly seized up and squeezed dry for profit by marketing directors, vegetarianism and veganism have played the tortoise. Being a vegetarian since birth and occasional vegan, I can clarify that the journey from Sosmix and lentil soups to Pizza Hut’s vegan menu has been sluggish and laboured. I endured a childhood of being the only weird, pale veggie kid in my school, the mid-summer barbeques where my friend’s drunk dad would wave a greasy sausage in my face, ‘Just have a bite! No one’s gonna die if you eat a bit of MEAT!’, and eye-rolls from nearly everyone when asked to accommodate for my diet. It was an irritating culinary protest that eventually became accepted and has now reached an accelerating take-off in popularity.
Arguably, this is rooted in its sincere, progressive ethics that cannot be brushed off as a social fad. The plant-based diet has more in common with feminism and civil rights than it does with clean eating and spiralisers. It is a political expression railing against the prejudice and barbaric injustices inflicted upon animals. It seems only logical that in an age of #MeToo, Wokeness and LGBTQ, veganism would also stand with these cultural monoliths against the systematic persecution of minority groups.
And what of the backlash? The innovative work of Russian philosopher Sveltana Boym argues that ‘nostalgia has historically coincided with revolution’; the notion being that in times of imminent, seemingly subconscious social advancement, culture retreats into its shell, gazes longingly back to the past. The suggestion here is that we are either culturally or biologically frightened of change, or at least incapable of fully coping with change as it plays out in the present. This could explain why Donald Trump and MAGA exist, as well as the heights of the UKIP sentiment. It explains why confused young white males, who would have identified as hardcore liberals only a decade ago, are now manifesting their frustrated angst in the backwards politics of the alt-right. It also explains the technophobic resurgence of sales in vinyl and vintage clothes. But what does it have to do with veganism? I would argue that the ‘rare meat’ craze, which occurred in the early 2010s - hipsters feasting on the likes of kangaroos, zebras and crocodiles - harkened back to the decadent dining of exotic animals during the era of Colonial expansion a.k.a., the good ol’ days. The hope lies in the statistics that this is predominantly a practice of the youth, and not just the counter-culture either. Generally, humans feel more comfortable doing something if everybody else is already doing it, and this is maybe the simplest explanation for plant-based prevalence in the mainstream.
As well as this, the distribution of family-friendly animal rights documentaries through wide-reaching streaming platforms like Netflix, such as the immensely popular Cowspiracy, has helped ease the concept into our everyday lives. The aforementioned film has also contributed to a new factor driving the vegan switch: environmentalism.
‘The only ways you can effectively reduce your carbon footprint are to go vegan, stop driving to work and stop taking foreign holidays!’, my dad would angrily lecture his millennial co-workers, glaring at them, stood in his cycling shorts.
‘But I use energy-saving light bulbs’, one of the students feebly retorted.
I’ve been lucky to grow up as a vegetarian in Bristol. A pseudo-bohemian, artsy and anti-corporate vibe has always lingered in the city’s air - along with the smell of weed – that runs concurrent with this Jungian mass consciousness of left-leaning politics. Logically, this has led to it becoming the Petri dish of thriving veggie and vegan eateries that you can explore today.
108 Stokes Croft, BS1 3RU · Tel: 924 9200 · www.cafekino.coop
Reigns as the seminal Bristolian vegan café and for good reason. Always the most significant torch carrier of plant-based cuisine in Bristol, Kino materialises in my earliest memories of eating-out for vegan food. It used to be a cosy little living-room space on Nine Tree Hill where you could chat to the chef as they whipped you up a chickpea curry. It’s now the giant café-cum-community space at 108 Stokes Croft, permanently bustling and with more MacBooks on its tables than the Apple store. The all-vegan menu includes breakfasts, burgers, salads, soup, cakes, snacks and the most excellent Kino chips.
VX: Vegan Junk Food
123 East Street, BS3 4ER · Tel: 329 1610 · www.vxbristol.com
Vegans are often associated with frailty, clear skin and immaculate bowel movements. VX in Bedminster, a modern pioneer of vegan cuisine, provides the antithesis to this stereotype. Originating in London, VX came to Bristol with a plant-based artillery ranging from hotdogs and burritos to patisserie and milkshakes. I could only have imagined indulging in all these greasy, saturated meals as a kid. Truly revolutionary. And it’s all incredibly ‘aesthetic’ too, performing well for the Instagram generation. Don’t forget to check out the grocery and Secret Society of Vegan merchandise sections.
15, King St, Avon, Bristol BS1 4EF · Tel: 926 8057 · pepenero.co.uk
This family-owned pizzeria originally made a name for itself with its delicious range of vegan pizzas. For on-the-edge vegans, it can’t be stressed enough that Pepenero’s pizzas are the closest a vegan can get to the real deal, without sacrificing your moral ascendancy. They also serve a fantastic range of vegetarian pizzas, as well as authentic Italian starters and deserts, all prepared with the finest family recipes and organic ingredients. They recently relocated to one of King Street’s underground grottos, sharing a space with one of Bristol’s best craft beer spots, The Beer Emporium. Offering 32 beers on tap, numerous bottles and spirits, the pub is a must visit for beer geeks, who will get on with the staff of alcohol scholars and the ocean of obscure brews to explore.
Eat Your Greens
156 Wells Road, Totterdown, Bristol BS4 2AG · Tel: 239 8704
Sweet and breezy café that boasts an all vegan menu, evidencing the utter honesty in their humorously passive aggressive name. Renowned for their ‘Beasty Breakfast’, a vegan full-English that may sway devout meat-eaters to the herbivorous path.
Koocha Mezze Bar
10 Zetland Road, Bristol, BS6 7AD · Tel: 924 1301 · www.koochamezzebar.com/
Bringing the meat-centric flavours of Persia to a vegan audience, Koocha is a family-operated mezze and cocktail bar. Exhibits a chilled-out vibe whilst maintaining the amiable vibrancy that makes it ideal for a tipsy night-out with your plant-based buddies.
21 Midland Road, Bristol, BS2 0JT · Tel: 955 7691 · www.lucschinesetakeaway.co.uk
17 Harrowdene Road, Bristol, BS4 2JL · Tel: 977 7881 · http://www.everymenu.co.uk/bristol/chinese/xing_wang-7803.htm
Amidst a menu of decent Chinese food, these two obscure takeaways also provide the most exquisite fried tofu; perfect for satiating late-night munchies. Ask Xing Wang for the ‘159 Deep Fried Beancurd with Salt & Chilli’ and Luc’s for the ‘Salt & Chilli Tofu’. And make sure you order a couple of pots because they are ridiculously moreish.
Shadin Indian Takeaway
70 Broad St, Bristol, BS16 5NL · Tel: 957 2786 · shadinbristol.co.uk
Relatively unknown outside its humble locality of the South-Glos-border-burbs, Shadin Indian Takeaway is a treasure trove of the tastiest vegetarian curries in Bristol. Eating Shadin curries is like having sex with God. Not much more can be elicited with mere words about this place; a legend in the making, you’ll have to experience it for yourself.
Join us to celebrate the launch of Small Press, the new poetry and experimental writing press that champions print poetry in Bristol!Arnolfini Bookshop6.30pmThursday 24th MayWine & poetryWe'll be celebrating the launch of Small Press and its first poetry chapbook, Thumping the Table of Mist by Ray Webber - a beautifully printed small collection that combines traditional letterpress techniques with modern digital printing.We'll also be paying tribute to Ray Webber, who passed away in November last year.Copies of Thumping the Table of Mist will be available on the night for £6 - and will be available from 25th May in Arnolfini Bookshop and directly from Tangent Books.Follow along on Instagram @smallpressbooksand on Twitter @smallpressbooks
Tony Bolger continues his journey around Bristol's pubbiest pubs…
Episode 6: Bag of Nails, St Georges Road, Hotwells
I made a terrible mistake this week. Randomly picking a pub from my list of Pubby Pubs compiled by my dodgy Bristol mates, I chose The Bag of Nails. It sounded like it was going to be a heavy metal bar. It’s not. I walk in and the entire establishment is infested with cats.
It’s only a bloody cat pub!
I come from a long line of dog people that goes back to the early days of trying to convince a wolf to fetch a stick. However, much like Ross Kemp as he had a bag placed over his bald head and got shoved in the back of a van on his way to meet the Taliban, I suck it up and persevere. I see a sign on the wall declaring that PUSSY JOKES ARE NOT FUCKING FUNNY. There’s at least one thing that I and the proprietors can agree on.
There’s a terrific selection of 14 ales on tap. If there wasn’t as many cats, I’d be really impressed. I ask for a bottle due to obvious fur ball concerns. The cat-loving barman tells me they have over 40 to choose from. I ask for a generic IPA. He gives me a look and disappears. At this point, I notice a sign behind the bar stating PLEASE DO NOT ASK FOR AN IPA UNLESS YOU KNOW WHAT AN IPA ACTUALLY IS. I know that the mysterious booze is as delicious as it is unknowable. As soon as I spot this second sign, I notice all the rest. They’re everywhere. The place is plastered in pub rules. Many are just bugbears that clearly annoy the landlord. There’s one beside the IPA one simply warning NO SCIENTOLOGY.
The petulant barman returns. I’m being as fake as I can muster but he can clearly sense that I’m a dog person. He opens the bottle and picks up a glass and makes to pour it in and my perception of the world slows down. I can’t explain why there’s a reality-bending personal crisis whenever I order a drink. I just wish I wasn’t so constantly thirsty. As quick as I can, short of diving over the bar in slow motion, I tell him I’d rather just have the bottle. He insists on putting it in a glass. He definitely knows I’m a dog person.
Utterly defeated, I go to find somewhere to sit and spot a record player on the go with a good selection of LPs and several signs advising you to STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM MY RECORD PLAYER. If not for the pride of tiny lions, I’d love this. IF YOU DON"T LIKE JOHNNY CASH, SHUT UP OR GO AWAY.
The pub doesn’t smell like you’d assume. In fact, a lot of pubs that aren’t infested with cats smell a hell of a lot worse. There’s a large selection of board games peppered about the place. I see a young couple in the corner trying to play Jenga but with the feline saboteurs, it’s like the good people of downtown Tokyo trying to build a sky scraper while Godzilla and that giant butterfly thing battle for supremacy.
I take in my surroundings DON'T START MOVING THE DAMN FURNITURE WITHOUT ASKING OR PLUG OUT MY BLOODY LIGHTS. The landlord’s personality and presence are everywhere in this pub. NO STILETTOS AS THEY PLAY HAVOC ON MY FLOOR BOARDS. He’s clearly an eccentric and wacky tyrant. NO STUPID CHRISTMAS JUMPERS OR STUPID INFLATABLE ANIMALS OR FISH.
The one about the Christmas jumpers is still up and I can’t imagine the place being swarmed by inflatable fish despite there being an aquarium down the road. This place is as big as a tiny pub can be without graduating into a small pub. If a miniature, live action rendition of the power struggle in The Lion King wasn’t going on around my ankles, I’d love this place. The landlord isn’t here but he is clearly as mad as a box of frogs.
NO ANNOYING SCREECHING
ALL HOLOCAUST DEBATE MUST BE FACTUALLY BASED
KEITH MOON WAS THE BEST
These rules are plastered everywhere, some printed on A4, some scrawled on scraps of paper. I’d need a lab to prove that some were written in human blood. If there wasn’t a truculent tabby eyeballing me, I’d be utterly charmed, and this would be my new local.
So, my boozy conclusion – If you like cats, flat shoes and Johnny Cash, give The Bag of Nails a whirl. If you like dogs, high heels and inflatable stingrays, don’t.
Tony Bolger continues his journey around Bristol's pubbiest pubs…
Episode 5: The Bulldog, Filton Avenue
Every day, my bus, the 71 goes up Gloucester Road through Filton and past The Bulldog. The bus stop is actually called The Bulldog. Without fail, I look out the window to see the assembled characters congregating outside the pub. I’m always intrigued. There are always people rushing to get on the bus. I've never seen anyone get off. Today, I got off.
Past the half dozen picnic benches outside, there’s a sign inviting people to “Come in and roast your chestnuts by our open fire.” This is literally a bad sign. There’s an old school hat stand just inside the door which would be more at home in a detective’s office from the 30s. There are no coats hanging from it. I wonder why. I walk into the big open room with a pool table and a dart board down the far end. There’s a couple of empty booths but there’s no space around the bar area at 4 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon.
There isn’t a fireplace in sight. And no chestnuts.
The barmaid greets me with an “Alright me luvver”. I’ve waited two years to hear a Bristol girl say this.
There are no ales on tap but there are two fridges, one brimming with cans of Natch and the other with Thatchers. On tap they offer Carling, Stella and Fosters. I order a Stella and the friendly barmaid asks me if it’s OK if I have it in a Fosters glass because Mark is using the Stella one. It costs £3:70. You can smell/taste the toilets from the end of the bar.
Beside the three fruit machines, there’s a jukebox pumping out a steady stream of generic gangster rap. Past this, there's an alarming selection of those machines where you put a quid into a slot and twist and then jelly beans come out. They've also got those toys in balls things. It's a real Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Child Catcher’s corner.
I take a seat in front of a sandwich board advertising
MEAT RAFFLE SUNDAYS
Sitting here. I imagine Karaoke Friday being like X-Factor mixed with The Hunger Games. Entertainment Saturday is as vague as it is ominous, and Meat Raffle Sunday could be anything from baskets of plucked crows to organised swinging.
I finish my drink quickly, put three quid into the juke box and get the hell out before Kylie comes on.
Tony Bolger continues his journey around Bristol's pubbiest pubs…
Episode 4: The Crown Tavern, Lawfords Gate
In doing research to find Bristol’s pubbiest pubs, I asked every local I know for recommendations. Several suggested The Crown Tavern in Lawfords Gate (between Old Market and the start of Stapleton Road), at which point someone else would, without fail, instantly chime in that they thought it had closed down. Standing directly outside, I also thought it had closed down. The windows are covered in blackout blitz curtains. The Germans would never suspect that this was a watering hole open for business. The taxi driver who brought us here couldn’t find the place even though he was using a sat nav. The Google blurb for the pub actually mixes it up with The Crown in St Nicholas Market.
Goodnight Sweetheart was a telly program in the early 90s in which Rodney from Only Fools and Horses travels back in time to a pub during World War II and becomes a bigamist (all of my pop culture references are pre-1997). We walked into a slightly less nice pub from World War II. The high ceilings give an old-fashioned vibe that’s hard to put a finger on, figuratively and literally. The walls are all white with green trim and matching seats. A dart board dominates the centre of the room with yellow crime scene tape on the floor in place of an oche. There’s a tiny stage on the other side which is covered in plastic which is covered in dust. This place hasn’t seen a hootenanny in a while.
Directly ahead of the entrance, a rather distinguished older gentleman behind the bar looks as surprised to see us as we are to be there. I doubt he gets many scruffy, skinhead, beardy weirdos. There are three gentlemen and a lady playing cards at the end of the bar. We’re the only ones in here under eighty. Exquisitely aware that we aren’t the regular custom this establishment is accustomed to, we approach the bar as unmenacingly as possible.
It’s difficult to imagine that back in the late 70s and early 80s The Crown played an important part in Bristol’s cultural history when it was one of the main meeting places for the city’s punk bands. Yes, this is the place where Chaos out of Chaos UK might have enjoyed the company of Becki Bondage out of Vice Squad, Bear Hackenbush from Lunatic Fringe and their spikey-haired chums.
Apparently, the punks adopted The Crown because it’s fairly central but also because it was safe from the marauding gangs of skinheads and mods who roamed the city centre looking for punks to beat up. Presumably if the gangs had made it as far as The Crown, they’d have assumed it was closed and moved on down Stapleton Road.
We ponder whether the card-playing lady at the end of the bar is the aforementioned Rebecca Bond, but a quick internet search reveals that Becki Bondage is now based in London and is still performing as Vice Squad.
Back to the bar… on tap, The Crown offers Bass, Guinness, Blackthorn and Stella. I order a Stella but the gas needs changing, and the beer trickles out like sand through an hour glass. The bar keep has the patience of a Buddhist monk and clearly has no intention of changing it. It’s awkward. I won’t lie. I watch the flat lager dribble into the glass and start to think about the past. And the future. What does it all mean? At the half way point, I consider asking for a can of Budweiser instead, but I’ve lost all confidence. I’m on the cusp of a full blown existential crisis before the glass is full. I should have gotten a half.
We get a pint a Stella and a Bass. It cost £3:50. For both. In Bristol. In 2018. On the optics, there’s Martini for a pound and a type of rum I’ve never heard of for £1:20. A word about the Bass, it’s something called Flat Bass and is apparently very rare and sought after by many ale aficionados.
There’s a telly above the bar entrance and even though no one is watching it, it’s set to the volume of the one at your deaf granny’s house. Sky News is on and there’s bombing and shooting going on in the Middle East and the telly is so loud I’m worried about PTSD. I should have gotten a Martini to take the edge off. A couple more customers trickle in to warm welcomes. All the regulars know each other which is charming.
More out of a dark fascination than a call of nature, I go to investigate the men’s room. It’s like the toilets in The Goonies. Minus Sloth. Out the back, between the bar and the toilets, there are two water-damaged, warped and knarled pool tables uneven enough to intimidate a mountain goat around which are NINE buckets strategically placed to catch rain water from the holes in the ceiling. This would be a great place to hold a fight club. I’m really glad I didn’t need to use the toilets.
Tony Bolger continues his journey around Bristol's pubbiest pubs…
Episode 3: The Seven Stars, St Thomas Lane
The Seven Stars doesn’t quite fit with the motif of my previous outings into Bristol’s ‘pubbiest publand’. Both the Mardyke and The Long Bar are the sort of places that could be kindly described as ‘basic’ and more accurately as ‘rough’.
Certainly, neither of them can claim to be ‘The Pub That Changed The World’. But that’s the title that Bristol historian Mark Steeds has bestowed on The Seven Stars, a seemingly traditional boozer tucked away next to The Fleece & Firkin in St Thomas.
“The Seven Stars was the base for Thomas Clarkson when he visited Bristol to begin his investigations into the slave trade,” explains Mark. “It's the site of the world’s first major civil rights movement. You name me any other pub that can claim that.”
In 1787, Thomas Clarkson arrived in Bristol and began his abolitionist crusade against slavery. At the time, slavery was the backbone of Bristol’s economy so obviously Clarkson faced opposition, hostility and threats of violence at every turn.
That is, until he was introduced to the landlord of The Seven Stars, a man named Thompson. The two joined forces and using the pub as their headquarters, they conducted their research into the vile industry. Upon investigating the conditions on the slave ships, they learned that the free sailors often received very similar treatment to that of the slaves. Many free seamen were dying on board the slave ships or taking part in mutinies to escape the atrocious conditions on board.
In fact, these sailors were often conned into signing up to serve aboard these ships while drunk or simply kidnapped like the slaves themselves. Clarkson and Thompson were able to expose the reality of slavery. This was a huge blow to the slave industry and proved pivotal in changing attitudes worldwide because before the slave trade was publicised as a great boon for working seamen.
“Clarkson found that of the roughly 1000 Bristol sailors engaged in the trade in 1786, almost half never made it home,” Says Mark “He then used the technique in all of Britain’s port cities and the results became a major factor in changing public opinion.”
There is an ongoing petition to turn the pub into a World Heritage Site and I have no doubt that The Seven Stars, Thompson and Clarkson will eventually receive the recognition they deserve for the huge part they played in changing the world. There’s already a large plaque on the pub’s outside wall explaining its historical importance.
History coming alive aside, it’s a good, warm pub and won the CAMRA Bristol Pub of The Year in 2010 for its excellent selection of ales. The bar is tucked away down a cobbled lane but the leaping pig sign hanging on the corner serves as a good landmark for finding it. There are five picnic tables outside the pub. Inside, there’s a very chilled, friendly atmosphere with exposed wooden rafters on the ceiling and wooden floor boards.
This may not be as bar-brawling or riotous as the first two pubs on this list but that’s not to say that this place isn’t a proper down-to-earth boozer. Brit pop is the music of choice, there’s old ads on the walls as well as water colours of ye olde Bristol and a picture of Mona Lisa holding a lager. When you go into the men’s, the smell tells tales of pisses taken in the 1770s and at the back of the pub, perilously close to the toilets is a pool table and dart board. Both couldn't physically be used at once without causing serious injuries, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t always keen to try.
Mark Steeds is the author of Cry Freedom, Cry Seven Stars (Bristol Radical History Group) available from www.tangentbooks.co.uk.
Tony Bolger continues his journey around Bristol's pubbiest pubs…
Episode 2. The Long Bar, Old Market
Beside The Stag And Hound and across from The Punch Bowl on Old Market roundabout is The Long Bar and I’m two minutes late. I find my friend standing outside the pub beside the wheelie bin. “We’re not really going in here, are we?” This isn’t an Aladdin showing Jasmin a Whole New World moment. I coerce her in with the promise of cheap booze. As the name suggests, Long Bar is as narrow as it is brown, with tiny individual booths opposite the bar so that you can still drink alone, haunted by the past even when the place is packed. We’re the only ones in there under 50 and not wearing chequered flat caps. This was already a surreal experience.
My friend was quick to notice that she was the only human female on the premises. She wasn’t as quick as one of the locals though. “What’s a lovely couple like you doing in a place like this then?” It was an excellent question. We were looking for a bargain and a proper taste of Bristol. This place is indeed a proper old man’s watering hole.
After running the gauntlet of seasoned cider drinkers and weaving through and jumping over the dozing bull terriers like a thirsty Indiana Jones, we arrive in front of the landlady surrounded on all sides by a wall of Monster Munch. Available on tap were several lagers including Fosters and Kronenbourg. Ciders included Thatchers, Cheddar Valley and Natch. Natch was also available in cans. For emergencies. Just in case.
“Two pints of your cheapest lager please”
“That’ll be £4.60.”
My experience at The Mardyke the previous week wasn’t a fluke. There are other bargains to be found in Bristol. For beer to be any cheaper than this, they’d have to be making it themselves in a bath in the cellar.
The back of the bar opens up in what feels like a wooden barn built by The Amish with a raised wooden ceiling. Fairy lights that are definitely up all year round decorate the rim. This isn’t festive, and Mary and Joseph surely would have tried their luck again for a last-minute cancellation at the inn.
Arms wrapped around each other, leaning over the duke box, three geezers sway in amiable comradery, howling out the lyrics to The Stranglers’ banger Golden Brown. One of them intermittently roars to the universe “I DIDN’T CHOOSE THIS LIFE.” The universe isn’t convinced.
It’s 4 O’clock on a Thursday afternoon. Across from the three juke box tenors is a fruit machine and beside that is a washer/dryer still in the original packaging.
The building was constructed in the 17th century and the exposed stone at the back is said to date back to the original medieval wall that surrounded Bristol. Unfortunately, this has all been painted mustard yellow which would have Tony Robinson from Time Team spinning while standing knee deep in an ancient grave.
Randomly, the toilets are all black tile, floors to walls to ceilings with futuristic, recessed blue lighting like something out of an 80’s sci-fi porno. I really didn’t see this coming but they’re perfectly clean and serviceable.
This is a scruffy boozer but not unpleasant. It’s full of characters and cheap booze. You’re guaranteed a bargain, an experience and Natch. No matter what happens, you’re guaranteed the Natch
Tony Bolger is Tangent's guest blogger for the next couple of months and his chosen subject is Bristol Pubs – Cheap Ones With Very Few Frills.
Do join in and post your thoughts and reviews. Over to you Tony…
I've lived in Bristol for two years but still feel slightly lost most of the time. People tend to give directions using pubs and bars as landmarks so you’ll inevitably hear “Turn right at The Lager Hole. It used to be The Booze Bucket.”
You see, bars in Bristol are constantly changing hands, names and personalities to become ever more pretentious and expensive gastro/frappé-fusion/crafty copies of each other. But there are still proper pubs out there that haven’t changed hands, prices or their hoover bag since the last time England won The World Cup. I’m going to get a tetanus shot and I’m going to find these pubs. If you’re tired of paying £6 for a chocolate stout and eating haloumi off a kitchen floor tile in a place with all the charm of a Maccy Dees, I invite you to join me on this Bristol Booze Odyssey. Hopefully the sessions won’t be as dramatic as the title.
The first stop on this tipple voyage is The Mardyke across the road from the Grain Barge on Hotwell Road along the harbour. The Mardyke is by all accounts a Bristol institution. Established in 1820 under the name the Cross Keys. Apparently, it used to be a biker bar. We shall see what it is now.
We step inside out of the cold and into 1952. The room is silent. There’s a real “Ya ain’t from round here, are ya boy?” vibe. Then, in wonderfully unfortunate timing, one of the locals gets a text message and his ring tone is that iconic Sergio Leone cowboy music that plays whenever Clint Eastwoodmoseys into town. DO DO DO WAW WAW WAW. The décor is what I would describe as brown which must be handy for cleaning. There’s pictures of random old kings and queens getting married, Winston Churchill and a creepy little girl who was probably a ghost the whole time on the walls. There’s a sign above the bar warning:
“OUTSIDE THE PREMISES: DO NOT OBSTRUCT OR INTIMIDATE PASSERS-BY.
STAY OFF THE HIGHWAY”
Then Abba comes on the jukebox and we know everything is going to be OK. We proceed to mosey up to the bar where the very friendly barkeep greets us with a smile. He isn’t a disenchanted goth whose acting career didn’t work out, so the customer service is really excellent. Making a quick assessment of the bar, I notice the wide selection of cans in the fridge and unusual array of bottles on the optics. I’d never seen apple sours or Pernod upside down before. I order three pints of Fosters. The barman charges me £6.90. First, I think he’s misspoke. Then I’m positive we have indeed accidentally travelled back through time but Abba’s still on, our beers are wet and our glasses are clean, so we proceed to sit on the brown church pew style benches and listen to Fernando.
Out of curiosity more than necessity, I went to investigate the men’s room. It was perfectly serviceable though I was surprised and charmed to see the old-fashioned toilet with the pull-down chain but although this alcoholic endeavour is technically a stab at investigative journalism, I’m no Ross Kemp and there was no way I was washing my hands with the crusty bar of soap on the sink.
While you’re drinking your two espresso martinis for a tenner and listening to whatever audio poison is infecting the Top 40 on Spotify this week, you could really be anywhere but at The Mardyke, you know you’re in Bristol which is exactly what we wanted all along, isn’t it? This is a quaint, authentic, proper pub with proper, manly locals who are happy to ignore you as long as you like 1970s Eurovision bangers. You should check it out and if you have any pubby pub recommendations or would like to submit a pubby pub review of your own, please do get in touch.
Last week we got to have a play around with print at The Letterpress Collective, learning to set lead type, wood lettering and learn about the printing process (or experiment for those of us who have over 25 year's worth of experience of working in print, ahem Richard). We had a brilliant time playing on the little hobby presses as well as the bigger roller presses: also seeing a working Heidlberg is a sight to behold!
All this was part of an exploration for a new print project at Tangent, so keep your eyes peeled for more collaborations with The Letterpress Collective: we're looking forward to working with them more in the future!
Thanks so much to the wonderful Nick and Ellen for a brilliant workshop!