What is the city but the people? Life has been on ice, but fear not, the end is in sight! Pubs are open and city spirit is back – just in time for the Great British Summer. THE FACE has teamed up with Beefeater, a gin which has encapsulated city culture since it began in London back in 1820. We’ll be finding and meeting the people breathing life into their cities, the contrasting mix of characters converging to celebrate and keep the city’s independent venues and drinking destinations alive – in spirit at least – until we meet again.
If Bristol was a country it would be the love-child of Sweden and Mexico. Bright, ramshackle but aspirational in the best possible sense. It’s the sort of place you visit and then consider moving to forever after. A city that makes sense in a world gone mad. A refuge and meeting place for radicals, kind hearts and creatives. It eschews homogeneity for independence and wild-eyed originality at every opportunity.
It’s little wonder, then, that it spoke to Chilean-born and Cumbria-raised DJ-producer Shanti Celeste when she arrived here to study illustration before swiftly dropping out to party like a true Bristolian. “Visually it just seemed like a really colourful and vibrant city. I felt very at home there right off the bat,” she explains. She began working with local label Idle Hands. The anything’s possible atmosphere of her new home found her co-running label Brstl and producing her own tunes. Her 2019 album debut, Tangerine, reflects the sunshine on concrete dichotomy that courses through the veins of her city.
“There is a real sense of community within the music scene in Bristol,” says Shanti. “Everyone supports each other and often collaborates.” Which likely goes a long way to explaining how a small and largely rural city at the base of a small island birthed everything from trip-hop to cult station Noods Radio.
“Bristol has a bright future ahead,” Shanti beams, citing the opening of new spots like Strange Brew (for more, read on) . “I hope this will inspire more people to open up small to mid sized venues that will become hubs to the community and help promote and support local talent. Due to its amazing musical and creative reputation I don’t think Bristol will ever stop bringing young people to the city, therefore keeping it as exciting as ever.”
Poco is the poster child for a certain type of sophisticated laidback lifestyle that has come to symbolise modern Bristol. Now thoroughly established on the Stokes Croft indie scene, it is a cafe by day and a tapas spot at night. Sustainability is their mantra, not a passing phase. The food also acts as ambassador for the ethos: oft experimental but always delicious small plates that are served up, boasting flavours that live up to their looks.
People don’t go to Bristol for the hype queues. If you want to wait for Insta-famous food, go to London. But Matina became an accidental hypespot. Ensconced at the heart of local favourite, St Nick’s Market, it serves affordable and world-standard Kurdish that has people sneaking out of work early for their lunch. Look out for the Everest-levels mountains of red cabbage; order your chosen filling for a £5 wrap and don’t miss the Turkish apple tea.
Shanti’s spot of choice for murdering an En Vogue number, this Cotham boozer has it all. There’s live music and open mic nights; a well-used darts board; sports screens; three, yes three, beer gardens; and, of course, those legendary karaoke nights. Bristolians are proud of this stridently independent boozer that has weathered many storms to avoid getting scooped up by a behemoth brewery.
Pigeonhole this place at your peril. As its name suggests, it is a wonderful spot for a late-night Gin Sling, made with top-notch ingredients by serious connoisseurs. But Gin & Juice is here to serve your many and multiple whims. Open seven days a week, from morning through until late night, you can stop by for fresh pressed juice and smoothie bowls at breakfast, bagels for lunch and charcuterie boards to soak up the botanicals as day turns lazily into night.
Hands up who’s had lockdown dreams of being at a gig, five rows back, tall dude’s hair in your warm drink, bathed in wet heat and thoughts-drowning noise. It is venues like the Exchange that have stayed the course and will make sure that we can live this dream once more. A Bristol mainstay since 2012, the non-profit hosts local and national talent across its two live spaces. It also houses a record shop and recording studio. Plus, always in service to the local community, they’ve hosted flea markets, art shows, book launches and talks.
The crew who run this tiny Harbourside joint are as proud of their independent status as they are of their punchy and perfectly formed cocktails. Plus, they love a bit of theatre. Close your eyes and point at the ever-changing zine style drinks menu - whatever you order will be slightly mental, made at the bar, executed with care and may well be on fire. With names like Unicorn Tears and Mother in Law’s Wrath and ingredients ranging from grapefruit sherbet to Irn Bru, the Loose Cannon team take mixology irreverence to new levels.
Shanti sees this spot as Bristol’s future. A city-centre mid-size venue that can be many things to many misfits. As is the wont of venues opening in 2021, it is one thing by day and another after dark. Come in the afternoon to leaf through records, chow down on a toastie or check out some art. As night falls their “DIY music venue” is the site of live jazz, afrobeat and everything in between. And, as if that weren’t enough, they’ve treated themselves to a brand new mirror ball for the grand re-opening. Disco baby!