We go inside the drinking den burrowed under a Victorian villa in Bristol

Access is through an inconspicuous black door

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As with any decent speakeasy-style drinking den, it all begins with an inconspicuous black door.

Hidden gems are termed so for a reason but, burrowed away under a Victorian villa that’s long since been converted into flats, you really wouldn’t guess that the Knowle Constitutional Club was there - let alone that it’s been there for 117 years.

Luckily, you don’t need a password to get in. An annual membership fee, priced at a rather reasonable £25, is all it takes before you’re straight down the steps into the suburb’s secret underground bar.

Except that it’s not supposed to be a secret. When BristolWorld meets trustee Helen Featherstone at the club, she tells us she wishes more people knew about it.

“We don’t want to be hidden,” she said. “We should really have a sign up. These days community groups are crying out for space, and that’s exactly what we have. And it’s an amazing space at that.”

The bar area at the Knowle Consitutional Club.The bar area at the Knowle Consitutional Club.
The bar area at the Knowle Consitutional Club.

Inside is a snug bar area decked out with newly-restored benches that have been here since the club opened its doors as a business men’s club back in 1904.

It’s a little ‘shabby chic’, with plaster artfully left off the walls exposing the original brickwork, but instantly homely and not something you’d want any other way.

The bar is delightful enough, but what adjoins it borderlines on magical - a huge hall decked out with two massive fully-operational snooker tables, quite possibly dating back to the late 1800s, with the most beautiful art deco ceiling.

Picture taken from inside on Friday night (January 12)Picture taken from inside on Friday night (January 12)
Picture taken from inside on Friday night (January 12)

Helen said: “When I first got involved with the club six or seven years ago, it was in a lot of disrepair, and we discovered there was a leak in the snooker hall.

“To find the source of the leak, we had to take down the suspended ceiling and when we did we just couldn’t believe what we found underneath, we were so shocked.

“We actually don’t know if it was meant to be painted brown, or if it’s stained from all the nicotine that’s been released over the century.

The old snooker hall.The old snooker hall.
The old snooker hall.

“I imagine this hall has a lot of stories to tell.”

One that note, Helen lifts up one of the snooker table covers to reveal dozens of boxes stuffed with old photographs and documents belonging to the members of yesteryear, including a subscription book dating back to the 1930s.

“I love this stuff,” she says. “Look, it says here that a member was actually struck off back in 1938. I wonder what he did.

“And of course, many went to war.”

The club has been close to the hearts of many Knowle residents for generations, with some members picking up where their parents and grandparents left off.

A membership subscription book from the 1930s.A membership subscription book from the 1930s.
A membership subscription book from the 1930s.

“Ah yes, Fanny Tingle,” says Helen. “She comes to the club around once a month and does pop-up food events.

“She does a three-course vegan meal for around a tenner. It’s incredible.”

Other events held weekly at the club include bingo night, quizzes and live music.

The walls are adorned by the work of a local artist and the club is also a staple in the Totterdown Arts Trail.

Entirely run by volunteers, this is a place the community can seek company, comfort and creativity.

While volunteers are just happy to have pulled the club back from the brink during the Covid era, they’re now turning their attention to what lies next for Knowle Constitutional Club.

“There’s rather a lot of steps, and next we’re really hoping to make the club more accessible, although it will take some major work,” said Helen.

“But for now I’d say, if you’d like to come along, please do join us. There’s great company and good chat.

“Have a drink, have a game of snooker, throw a birthday party or hold your own art exhibition if you want to.

“It’s very much a club run for its members by its members, and we’re a friendly bunch.”

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