Bristol is known for many things; Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, colourful houses, hot air balloons, boats, slavery, a ridiculous accent and lethally strong cider. But Bristol has also come to the fore in recent years as the epicentre of some of the best urban art in the world.
As well as the numerous festivals and arts events every year (including See No Evil and Upfest) you can see world-class graffiti all over the city, but nowhere is more of an open air gallery than Stokes Croft, also known as The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft.
Allow me to illuminate a more artistic and less-likely-to-lead-to-liver-cirrhosis route, through Bristol’s most alternative and artistic neighborhood.
The Bear Pit
The best place to start would probably be St James Barton roundabout, known locally as The Bearpit. This subway system used to be a hub for dodginess but of late has had a bit of an overhaul with several market stalls, outdoor games and events throughout the year.
From here walk up to The Full Moon at the very bottom of Stokes Croft – a great pub with a large outdoor area which will very much set the scene for the next few pubs you’re going to encounter. Here, students mix with artists, visiting travellers, hippies and trustafarians.
There’s a curious mixed aroma of incense, shisha (there’s a shisha cafe in the courtyard for the more exotically-minded among you) and other herbal substances. The Full Moon also doubles as a hostel and hosts some great mini festivals and gigs both in the courtyard and its Attic Bar throughout the year.
After soaking in the atmosphere, make your way up past the Bristol institutions of Pieminister and Biblos to the vibrant centre of Stokes Croft, encompassing Turbo Island (a hangout spot for some of the ‘characters’ of the area at the junction of Stokes Croft and Jamaica Street, complete with mini Easter Island heads), artist studios and PRSC HQ, the headquarters for The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft. Feel free to stop off here for some lively debate and to purchase some tourist tat such as a PRSC tea towel or a Banksy mug. These guys may be anti-establishment but they’re just as enterprising as the next bozo on Dragon’s Den, dontchaknow.
From here you can either take a quick detour along Jamaica Street to pay a visit to small and perfectly formed The Bell (fine ales and comfort food ahoy!) or continue up the hill to the unofficial flagship venue of the area; Canteen.
As part of Stoke’s Croft renewal and emerging cool scene, Canteen is a good example of what the area does best.
Housed in the formerly abandoned office building of Hamilton House (now also home to several small businesses and Coexist), this bar hosts some great gigs, Bristol Beer Factory beverages and a great value, ever-changing local and sustainable menu. Finding a seat in there of a Friday or Saturday night can be a bit of a mission, mind.
Next door you’ll find The Love Inn, a reasonably recent addition to the SC scene and one to definitely try if you’re in the area, especially if you like soul food and loud music to dance to of an evening.
Other pubs to try include the Pipe & Slippers just past the junction with Ashley Road (just don’t order a Pipe Dream if you want to remember the rest of the evening), and The Crofters Rights, an unfinished-looking bar with an extensive beer selection, great gig listings and Ray’s Pizza to boot!
If you’re prepared to trek up the short but steep Ninetree Hill behind The Crofters Rights you’ll be rewarded with 2 veritable pub treats; the Hare on the Hill (another comfy and cosy pub from those lovely people at Bath Ales) and The Hillgrove.
Both have an impressive beer & cider selection and are ridiculously good destinations for a lazy Sunday afternoon. The Hillgrove even does its roast dinners from 4pm, one to consider for those of you who are incapacitated by a hangover until late afternoon on most weekends.
Get exploring, and bring your camera!
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