Bristol jottings

by Rick Johansen

Bristol on a warm spring day, particularly the cobbled King Street with its myriad of great pubs, takes some beating. I had taken the bus into town to join my sons and their friends as they celebrated son number two’s birthday. The rapidly fading Broadmead Shopping Centre doesn’t take much beating, the pungent smell of skunky weed, assorted homeless people sitting in doorways, Chuggers leaping in front of you and yesterday a recruitment fair for Islam, as assorted bearded men (no women allowed, presumably) handed out free copies of the Qu’ran and water to passing persons. On a sunny, pleasant day, I decided against being openly rude, giving my usual, “Sorry, I don’t do God” routine before slinking off to the real action on middle class King Street.

The vibrancy of King Street stands in marked contrast to Bristol’s tired and worn out shopping centre and it illustrates, at least in part, a city of two halves. There is plainly little money changing hands in Broadmead, while there is plenty of it in nearby Cabot Circus, the city’s bland and breezy modern shopping centre which to me has all the attraction of a hospital ward. Having done my shopping (Wes Streeting’s new book, if you must know, plus records by The Move and English Teacher) I made my way to King Street.

King Street is now mercifully traffic free, but given how many people were down there, there would be no room for them. Legendary pubs like The Naval Volunteer stand alongside newer establishments like Kongs and the excellent Beer Emporium. Further down and you have the jazz pub, The Duke (Ellington) and the magnificent Llandoger Trow, alongside the more modernist Brewhouse. The boys had commandeered part of a long table right in the middle.

Intending to stop for a pint or two, and no more, I of course stayed much longer and every time I made a move to leave, another pint appeared, as if by magic. I felt less than magical when I tottered off later on.

As pubs in the burbs gradually die off, the King Street boozers are thriving, even with beer prices at or around £7 a pint in some places. Soon, I fear, that the only pubs left in Bristol will be in town in general and King Street in particular and in affluent, leafy areas like Clifton.

The atmosphere was loud, but friendly and safe. Loads of handshaking and hugs between people who had only just met. One connection with Broadmead was the fug of weed hanging over the area and the numerous vapers, along with the grim stench of tobacco (that’s the ex smoker in me).

The one downer was the pub toilets. First I paid a visit to the Brewhouse gents and was, frankly, disgusted by what I saw. Lads, I suppose you would call them, pissing en masse in the sinks, which for someone like me, who likes to wash their hands after a bathroom break, was repulsive. The cubicles in three of the pub toilets I used were permanently engaged and all you could hear was people sniffing loudly. Hay fever, I expect. What else could it be? I can only imagine that people who piss in the sink in a pub toilet would do they same at home.

I had a brief look at Bristol’s Harbourside before taking the bus home. It’s been lovingly restored to maintain our merchant navy history, which my dad was a part of, and more bars and restaurants.

It’s all a bit busy and noisy for me but yesterday I made an exception. I don’t like large crowds – “that’s why you supported Bristol Rovers ha ha ha” – and yesterday there were large crowds. And if I am being totally honest, it was quite a relief to board the bus home, arrive home, eat some absolute junk and fall asleep in front of the telly.

I definitely recommend King Street and the Harbourside area. Sure there are downsides, like men pissing in sinks, sacks of Charlie disappearing up people’s noses, the ever present smell of weed and, did I mention, people pissing in sinks. I’ll be more inclined in future to visit quieter, less crowded places to drink but a one-off, of a reminder of just how brilliant Bristol can be for a nighttime experience. My main reminder of how excellent the place is the very thick head I seem to have. Maybe I drank something that disagreed with me?



You may also like