‘Quiet’ Bristol starts restoring its rightful position
‘Quiet’ Bristol starts restoring its rightful position
30 JULY 2018 7:19 AM

Once looming high in importance, Bristol perhaps has not stood as tall in recent decades. That changed with the rise of critically applauded rock bands, artists and restaurants. The hotel industry has finally taken notice.

The English city of Bristol has over the last three or four decades not really packed the punch it should.

Bristol is located in the West Country of England on the River Avon 10 miles from the Bristol Channel—the city’s access point to the Atlantic Ocean—and sits 120 miles from London. It has a population of 456,000, thus making it the eighth largest city in England.

My economics professor Garth Pinkney—I on several previous occasions have mentioned his theory of the parallel success of a city and hotel and hospitality industries and its football team—might say it suffers from having two teams, City and Rovers. City play in the second level of English football, and Rovers play in the third.

I am ashamed to say I had never visited Bristol until two weeks ago.

Some great hotels were part of my enjoyment, and the city was buzzing, helped by our almost unprecedentedly beautiful, sunny summer and Bristol Pride weekend happening while I was there.

Bristol was a very important port during the Industrial Revolution. It was home to famed engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who among other things created the famed Clifton Suspension Bridge. Street artist Banksy also grew up in Bristol, and presuming he’s still incognito, maybe it’s where he still resides?

Bristol is small enough for the human to surface, but large enough for culture to flourish. Pictured is Bristol’s harbor off Spike Island. (Photo: Terence Baker)

The city also has an infamous side—it was a major slavery port when the United Kingdom was involved in this heinous trade and afterwards when it officially was not but its ships were still hired out and managed for others to do so.

It is also where Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep hail from, thanks to the Claymation genius of Aardman Animations, and where Sir David Attenborough helped create and organize the BBC Natural History Unit.

Rock bands and artists Tricky, Portishead and Massive Attack call Bristol home, too.

The city even has its own currency, the Bristol pound, which is widely used and not just an innovative idea.

I stayed at the 141-room Ibis Bristol Temple Meads Quay. It is quiet, if you ignore the Pride participants who were partying pretty hard in the main areas of the city.

Temple Meads is Bristol’s principal rail station, but the area seems to be going through a regeneration phase, and it is a weekday business site, not a weekend leisure one, but the canal here is pleasant, and the hotel is bright and functional.

I poked my nose in Number 38 Clifton, a 10-room boutique hotel housed in a building of local, pale stone and right on Clifton Down, a large area of parkland that leads to Brunel’s bridge.

The Avon Gorge Hotel, in Clifton, too, has an enviable location overlooking the gorge that the bridge spans, and its garden of the traditional White Lion Bar pub has a garden with a perfect view of the river and the occasional soaring peregrine falcon.

Clifton and adjacent Hotwells are Bristol’s pieces of posh, leafy, uphill lanes and gorgeous, small squares and the West Mall/Caledonia Place gardens and avenue. They exist a 30-minute walk from the center of Bristol along the industrial heritage, museums and cool bars and street-food restaurants and pop-ups of Wapping Wharf and Spike Islands.

Celebrated TV celebrity chef Keith Floyd opened his first restaurant in the early 1970s in the Clifton area of Bristol. (Photo: Terence Baker)

I was thrilled to see a plaque in Clifton stating the site of the first restaurant opened by late chef Keith Floyd. He might have started the era of TV celebrity chefs back in the early to mid-1980s, and his 30-minute shows saw him appear a little sloshed by the end—filming took all day, I imagine.

Back in the center of Bristol, the Radisson Blu looms large and modern, while the Bristol Marriott City Centre, modern and sumptuous inside, has a very Brutalist exterior.

Other hospitality wonders to head to are Small Bar on King Street, one of the city’s nods to the still growing craft-beer scene; one of only two bars from the Wild Beer Co.—maybe the U.K.’s most inventive brewery, but do not write to me if you feel I am wrong—on Wapping Wharf; and Paco Tapas, a Michelin-starred Spanish restaurant on Lower Guinea St.

I enjoyed this city tremendously.

The U.K. is slowly undergoing a transformation of its high-speed train network. Depending on whom you believe, the new network might see Bristol neglected or connected to London in 50 minutes, not the 120 it currently takes.

If this new breed of locomotive comes to Bristol, expect property prices to rise. Note to hoteliers: Send your development teams down here.

I did not see hundreds of hotels, so there must be segment gaps.

And I predict that next July, Bristol City will be preparing for first-flight football.

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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