In the mid 18th century, Bristol was England’s second largest city and a hotbed for merchants and sailors who sailed across the Atlantic, importing exotic goods like cocoa, rum, tobacco and sugar. Bristol is well known for its maritime history, and taverns and alehouses along the harbour side (the majority of which had been established a century earlier) thrived on a clientele of sailors, pirates, smugglers and other nefarious souls.
Some of the best examples of these 17th century pubs can be found on King Street, just five minutes away from the centre of town. Named in 1660 to mark the restoration of the monarchy and Charles II, King Street is also the home of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, the oldest continually operated theatre in the country and famous for producing well known actors and actresses including Gene Wilder, Daniel Day-Lewis and Patrick Stewart.
The Old Duke:
It’s a relatively small pub, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for by being world famous. Usually rammed with people every night, The Old Duke is synonymous with live music and has been for years. Some of the most talented blues and jazz musicians in the business have come from all over the globe to play here and there’s never been a lack of audience to appreciate them. There’s no entry fee to get in and Tuesdays are open mic nights, where anyone can volunteer themselves to jump up and play a couple of tunes in front of the eager crowd. Out front there are plenty of benches scattered across the cobblestone street which it shares with another equally famous pub, The Llandoger Trow. The Old Duke even hosts its very own annual jazz festival every August, which is immensely popular with locals and tourists alike.
Opening times Sun-Thurs 12am-12pm, Fri-Sat 12pm-1am.
The King William Ale House:
Yet another old favorite on King Street, The King Bill as it’s known locally, is a popular pub for larger groups, so it’s a good place to arrange to meet people, have a few drinks and officially start the night by challenging each other to a game of pool on one of the many tables on the first floor. Toilets are on the next floor up, and trying to navigate stairs that have shifted over time after a few drinks is disorientating, but always good for a laugh.
Opening times 12pm-12am Mon-Sun.
The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer:
Quieter than some of its neighbours, but equally as comfortable, The Royal Navy Volunteer boasts soft leather armchairs perched next to colossal fireplaces as well as a variety of ales and lagers. It sits directly next door to The King William pub and was the former home of John Elbridge, a wealthy land owner and Controller of Customs in the city who founded the Bristol Royal Infirmary in 1739. The pub has undergone some restoration over the years, giving it that clean modern edge, but dark wood panelling on the walls and sturdy oak furniture remain and add to its charm.
Opening times Tue – Sat 12-3pm & 5pm-11pm. Closed Mondays and Sundays.
Renatos is a wonderful place. Open until late and run by an Italian family, it’s one of the few places in Bristol where you can get authentic Italian pizzas whilst simultaneously enjoying a beer late at night. It’s very popular, so expect some difficulty getting a table in the evening, both inside and out, but don’t let that put you off – Renatos oozes charm and a lively atmosphere. It sits next to the famous Bristol Old Vic and, over the years, a legion of actors, actresses and musicians from Bristol and beyond have left signed photographs and personal messages, which the owners have plastered across the walls, allowing punters to pick out the familiar faces. Upstairs, the more formal restaurant area offers up delicious Italian cuisine at very reasonable prices.
Opening times Mon – Fri Noon – 2.30pm; Mon – Sat 6pm-11.30pm
The Llandoger Trow:
The Llandoger Trow sits directly opposite the famous Old Duke, but don’t assume that it cowers in its shadow. The Trow is another pub dating back from the early 17th century and has seen plenty of action in its day. It was the regular haunt of famous pirate Captain Blackbeard, partially survived a bombing in World War II and has appeared on British ghost-hunting series Most Haunted Live! It’s also got connections to the literary world – Daniel Defoe wrote his classic novel Robinson Crusoe after meeting a sailor here named Alexander Selkirk who’d been marooned on an island in the South Seas for 4 years and Robert Louis Stevenson also used the bustling Bristol port as a setting for part of Treasure Island.
The bar is a homely place to enjoy a drink in the evening, while upstairs in the restaurant you can enjoy very reasonably priced pub food during the day.
Opening times Mon-Sat 12pm-11pm, Sundays 12pm-10.30pm.