We visit the ‘time capsule’ 17th Century Bristol pub that has just reopened
and live on Freeview channel 276
With around 50 UK pubs closing their doors every month, the reopening of historic Bristol pub the Kings Head is a reason for the city’s drinkers to be cheerful in the run up to Christmas. The Grade II-listed pub in Victoria Street closed in March 2020 when Covid hit and was put on the market in November 2021.
Dating from 1660, many of the fixtures and fittings in the Kings Head are said to be the oldest in the UK. They are so notable, in fact, that they are included in the Campaign for Real Ale’s National Inventory of historic pub interiors - the only Bristol pub to be listed.
The bar itself dates from around 1865, with gilded glass panels and brass strips engraved with names of different drinks. But it’s the ‘tramcar’ bar at the back that makes this timewarp pub so unique. An enclosed, wood panelled area that can fit around 24 customers at a squeeze, it even has its own serving hatch to save people having to walk around to the main bar area.
The new owners are Bob Cary and Kelly Sidgwick from St Philips brewery Good Chemistry Brewing. It’s their second pub, having run The Good Measure in Redland for a few years. With its listed status, the pub only needed a few cosmetic alterations and the William Morris-style wallpaper and Art Deco side lights are sympathetic to the original look.
The Kings Head was for years run by a large pub company so the big difference now is the fact it’s a freehouse and independently owned. Back in the day, the pub was a favourite venue for traditional real ale drinkers and it had a reputation for the quality of its draught Bass.
Now, there is a large choice of both cask and keg beers from local and national breweries, although the focus is, understandably, showcasing beers from Good Chemistry Brewing.
On the stormy evening I visited, the pub was already packed with a friendly and appreciative crowd of beer lovers. With the wind howling and the rain lashing down, it had the darkly-lit, warm embrace of a remote coastal pub in the depths of winter, rather than one slap bang in the heart of the city.
The cask ales included the chocolatey Dark Munro from Swannay Brewery in Orkney, Good Chemistry Square Edge, Verdant Penpol Pale Ale from Cornwall and Two By Two Porter from Newcastle.
Keg beers included Good Chemistry’s Kokomo Weekend and Shadow Future, The Kernel Table Beer (at just 2.8% ABV, it’s a welcome low-alcohol option) and Vault City’s Fruitfool (a sour beer with mango, raspberry and vanilla). The cider was Pulpt Level, a medium dry from Somerset, and there’s a concise choice of premium spirits and wines.
As somebody who used to drink in the Kings Head a lot in the nineties and noughties - it was always my go-to venue for pre-gig pints before heading to the Fleece nearby - it’s great to see the pub back open and busy.
The new owners have saved one of the city’s truly classic time capsule pubs and breathed new life into it for a new generation of drinkers. Christmas really has come early on Victoria Street.
Kings Head, 60 Victoria Street, Redcliffe, Bristol, BS1 6DE.