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Bristol's diverse music and arts scene has left a mark on even its smartest venues, which continually give a nod to the city's beloved slow and heavy beats. Culture and entertainment are at the heart of the bar culture here, with much of the leftfield action centred on the Stokes Croft area with its famed examples of street art.
But things are a bit more polished near the rejuvenated Bristol docks, where it’s about boat bars and converted warehouses boasting terraces with stunning harbourside views – or folk just sitting outside their houseboats, enjoying the bustle on the cobbled streets.
Lots of the city's bars are pitched around soberingly steep Park Street and Queen's Road. Smart Clifton starts at the top of Park Street, home of everything from studenty dives to exclusive cocktail dens where you need to ring a bell to gain entry. But whether you opt for a pint of scrumpy in a dingy music venue, or a swanky cocktail made with perry liqueur and other fancy (but still local) booze, you'll find Bristol's bar-goers friendly, unaffected and nearly always up for it.
You can't get more Bristol than a converted barge moored on the city’s floating harbour, serving cider every which way. On summer evenings, bag yourself a bench on the cobbled street nearby and sip a cider Sangria; in winter, it's all about chilling on a cosy leather sofa below deck with a cider toddy in hand.
The first-floor bar of Goldbrick House was recently refurbished and doubled in size – all in the name of speedy cocktail service. The downstairs café/bar is satisfying enough, but the mini-maze of rooms upstairs (the study, the library, the loft, the terrace) make for a perfect party-hire location.
It's pretty clear these days that decent ales aren't limited to chin-stroking enthusiasts, and this neat little pub extols some of the best booze the West Country has to offer. Even if their medieval beer festival isn't quite your thing, it's hard to beat a pint of local, organic ale in this lovely local.
Ring the bell to gain admission to this low-lit basement bar (pictured, left) run by cocktail meister Aurelius Braunbarth, who sharpened his skills on the German bar scene. Nurse one of his classically orientated cocktails and you could almost be in an intimate, just-the-right-side-of-seedy, late-night Berlin hangout.
Another speakeasy-style set-up, Hyde & Co's peephole front door feels exclusive and generally keeps out the rowdy student masses. The team behind this elite venue have avoided advertising and relied on word-of-mouth to generate interest. Just don't shout too loud about it, or everyone will be clamouring to get in.
The guys who dreamed up cool Hyde & Co recently branched out to launch this impressive three-floored cocktail bar. As ever it’s oh-so-discreet; they have shunned advertising and simply allowed the buzz around the Milk Thistle to build for itself. Such subtle intrigue chimes well with the gentlemen's lounge decor and ornate wooden panelling in this impressive, Grade II-listed building.
If you fancy a night out in the heart of town, but want to avoid the bingeing riff-raff, you could certainly do worse than this restored historic inn with its selection of snazzy classic and re-worked cocktails. It’s hard to believe that this place once had renowned ‘dive bar’ status.
Artfully coiffured followers of fashion mix amiably with the student crowd and musos in this on-trend venue, all drawn by varied live sessions and DJ nights. Clubby artwork covers the colourful walls and there are sporadic exhibitions by local artists and illustrators, who are even allowed to jazz up the exterior from time to time.
With its brief but elegant drinks list, this unpretentious little station bar is a winner. Sip a local beer or Champagne cocktail in the cool surrounds of exposed brickwork, stylish wide enamel lamps and work by local artists.
The Zerodegrees formula of home-brewed beer served in an über-modern setting has worked for the company elsewhere in the UK, but Bristol has embraced it with gusto, keeping this bar buzzy most nights. Be prepared for the occasional rush of partying stags or hens though.