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Pub/Bar of the Month May 2018: Small Bar, Bristol, UK

Small Bar, Bristol, UK

There’s a beautiful simplicity to the best beer bars – an acknowledgement that you don’t have to dress things up to impress, that the purity of the offering says it all.

Small Bar, BristolThat’s all very evident at Small Bar in Bristol. This craft beer outlet opened in 2013, occupying two adjoining buildings that had previously failed as other licensed premises.

It is the brainchild of Bruce Gray, who after realising that a career as a golf professional was not likely to pan out, began working in pubs.

He joined BrewDog and helped to establish the first bars in its now global chain, before setting up the Hanging Bat bar in Edinburgh.

Moving south, Bruce opened a craft beer distribution business and formed Left Handed Giant, a cuckoo brewery that – with great success – has recently sought crowdfunding to finance a new city-centre brew pub.

Small Bar is the public-facing aspect of Bruce’s business and has proved so popular that a sister establishment was added in Cardiff in 2016.

Internally, the Bristol venue consists of two linked drinking areas downstairs and one upstairs room accessed by two staircases.

The décor is deliberately unfussy – stripped-to-the-brick walls, plank panelling, board and flagstone floors and exposed old fireplaces.

Seating is provided by a mix of candlelit tables, some – in continental beerhouse fashion – big, long and designed for sharing with strangers, with armchairs and sofas upstairs for those who want to lounge. Don’t be fooled by the bar’s name, there’s capacity here for 200 customers.

Quality and Quantity

The beer list varies but encompasses everything from pilsners to Baltic porters, via US IPAs, milk stouts and sour beers, all drawn from the country’s leading craft breweries and other top international outfits.

Bristol’s brewing contingent is, of course, well represented, so expect to find not only Left Handed Giant beers but also offerings from the likes of Moor Beer, Arbor, Wild Beer and Wiper and True.

While most of the thirty-one options are in keg, there are four handpumps for cask ale, too.

Unusually, beer here is not served in pints. In restricting quantities to one-third, a half and two-thirds, Small Bar plays the quality card, claiming that – as well as encouraging more experimentation – this ensures the beer doesn’t get too warm in the glass, but the smaller measures are also totally appropriate for many of the beers on offer, which are stronger and more challenging that your average British bitter.

Staff members are well informed – something that runs right to the heart of the concept, with a systemised training scheme in place. Employees take the appropriate Cicerone qualifications so they can handle queries from customers.

Yet Bruce and his team know their limitations. The food provision is currently delegated to a local specialist in fried chicken, so variations on that theme – and other items, including vegan – are available until 10.30 pm.

The bar sits just behind Queen Square on King Street, which has rapidly become Bristol’s craft beer focal point. Neighbouring establishments such as Beer Emporium and the Famous Royal Navy Volunteer compete for your attention here and both are worth a visit, but Small Bar is one place I am always drawn to whenever I visit Bristol.

I like the beer, I like the ambience and, yes, I like the simplicity.

Small Bar, 31 King Street, Bristol BS1 4DZ.
Opening Hours: 12–12.30 am; 12–1 am Friday and Saturday; 12–midnight Sunday

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