We visit the cosy old Bristol pub with a smugglers inn atmosphere that's perfect for winter

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It has been open since 1700 and one of the oldest pubs in the city

Of course, there are older pubs in the city but it’s usually The Hatchet, The Rummer, the Llandoger Trow and Ye Shakespeare on Victoria Street to grab the headlines.

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Just off Blackboy Hill, The Port of Call is certainly tucked away and very much a pub you need to know about.

You’re unlikely to just stumble upon it unless you live nearby or you’re lost in the steep backstreets opposite the Downs.

And despite its landlocked urban position, it still lives up to its nautical name. As you walk up the short, steep lane to the entrance, it genuinely feels like arriving at one of those old Cornish smugglers’ pubs you dive into on holiday.

I’ve been visiting The Port of Call since the 1976 summer heatwave. I was only seven so still drinking lemonade but it was my parents’ favourite local, mainly because of the small suntrap courtyard garden at the back.

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In those days, it was a Courage Brewery pub and the old red Courage sign is still on the wall outside.

Returning to this cosy pub now is always nostalgic for me and it hasn’t really changed that much over the years. 

There’s still a small woodburner in the fireplace, low 'mind your head' beams, old black and white photos of stormy seas and a large choice of warming rums, whiskies and gins.

It has also become something of a destination for the more traditional real ale drinkers, rather than the trendy craft beer crowd.

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The real ales available at The Port of CallThe real ales available at The Port of Call
The real ales available at The Port of Call | Mark Taylor

When I visited this week, the choice of draught ales included Timothy Taylor Landlord, Adnams Ghost Ship, St Austell Tribute and Bristol-brewed Hop Union Bonville Pale.

My pint of Otter Ale - an increasingly rare sight outside its Devon home - was in perfect condition.

For cider drinkers, there’s Lilley’s Crazy Ghost (a cloudy blend of cider and Perry) and three types of Thatcher’s. Also on draught is Moretti, Neck oil, Amstel and Guinness.

The Port of Call has always been known for its traditional pub food and a clipboard menu of evening specials on the bar included homemade steak and kidney pie, pork burger, 10oz rump steak, calamari and homemade French onion soup.

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If it’s just something to nibble on over your pint, there’s also ‘posh’ nuts (£2.20 a dish) including wasabi, cashew and pistachios, and jars of proper pork crackling to chew on.

As well as an evening quiz (with a rolling jackpot), there’s a lunchtime roast on Sundays and Tuesday is set aside for steak night.

Its close proximity to the Downs also means the pub is a popular pitstop for dog walkers and four-legged visitors even have their own jar of dog treats on the bar.

Forty-seven years after I first visited the pub as a child, The Port of Call is still one of the best pubs in Bristol and its cosy smugglers inn atmosphere makes it the perfect place for a stormy winter’s evening. You won't want to leave.

The Port of Call, 3 York Street, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 2YE.

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