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The Bristol Booze Odyssey #4

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.

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