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The Bristol Booze Odyssey: A leisurely descent into some independent proper pubby pubs on a budget

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.

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