Like a Local: The best intimate live music venues in Bristol

by Isla Greenwood  |  Published August 21, 2018

You can feel the buzz of Bristol before you’ve even got into the city. Soundsystem culture has been alive and well in the city for over five decades now and this is what gives the place its unique sound.

Live at the LeftBank (Photo: LeftBank Bristol)

With musical roots that spread all across the world, the concentration of musical talent and passion in the most lively town in the South West of England makes it a magnet for musicians, DJs and producers. Here is TravelMag’s decisive list of some of the best ways you can get under the skin of the humming musical utopia that is the city streets of Briz.

Much of the action is around Stokes Croft, Gloucester Rd and St Paul’s, but we’ve included a couple from slightly further out, and with new places opening all the time, its worth exploring if you have the chance. Bristol is a walking and cycling friendly city and you’ll rarely find yourself more than a half an hour away from where you need to be.

The LeftBank

Located on the well pounded pavements of Cheltenham road, The LeftBank is a small unassuming bar open almost every night for live music. The musicians set up in the corner and are at crowd level which provides for one of the most intimate feels for a venue in town. Every Thursday the LeftBank plays host to a jam open to anyone who has an instrument to hand. It’s headed by the LBJB’s, the house band who keep the funk and soul flow rolling in between transitions and always kick the end of the night into the sky with an epic send off finale for the crowd. They will tell you what Mozart pointed out many moons ago – ‘that to play a wrong note is insignificant, to play without passion is inexcusable’ – and there is no lack of life and vibe in this place. It’s a local bar with a friendly faces feel, and many wonderful humans open to conversation and co-creation. Sometimes the best jams happen outside on the street whilst people are grabbing a late night bite to eat.

128 Cheltenham rd, Montpelier, BS6 5RW

The Golden Lion, can be found purring at the top of the Gloucester rd. (Photo: Synx508 via Flickr)

The Golden Lion

At the tip top of the Gloucester road perches a Golden Lion, painted onto the walls of one of the loveliest, dustiest and well-worn pubs in the city. In the back of the venue, curled up like a snoozing cat is a warmly lit stage which sometimes plays host to jam sessions led by local bands and open mic nights. If you go along at the right time the band might even hand you a maraca so you can be part of the flow. It’s a space for all kinds of human creatures, with plenty of characters and stories to be heard and exchanged. Plus if you have a bike or skateboard, unicycle or rollerblades you can roll down the hill to the city centre in about 4 minutes flat without pushing or pedalling once.

244 Gloucester rd., Bristol, BS7 8NZ

Some of the best gigs in Bristol happen on the city pavements (Photo: Charlie Marshall via Flickr)

The Gallimaufrey

The Gallimaufrey is one of the most soulful spots on the Gloucester road, humming with locals, musicians and students; it is aglow with life. Live music happens there most weekends but the top nights to check are Thursdays and Sundays when there are usually jams open to anyone who turns up with an instrument on their backs, and gigs are played by local psych legends such as Waldo’s Gift with the occasional Hiphop cypher open to the floor. You can’t see the ceiling for the paper cranes and people huddle around long shared tables making for a cosy and welcoming atmosphere. Make sure to check out the delicious selection of local cider, the West Country’s most precious produce.

26-28 The Promenade, Gloucester rd, BS7 8AL

The Canteen

The Canteen is the bar, restaurant and gig venue leg of Hamilton House, arguably the beating heart of this part of town due to its history as one of the central beacons of the Stokes Croft movement. It all began ten years ago when artists began to move into an empty office block. Since then the building has bloomed into an all-inclusive community space run by a collective called ‘coexist’. It’s used for workshops, classes, healing, exhibitions, you name it, it probably happens at Hamilton House. The Canteen offers live music every single night of the week all year around. And all the acts are paid for by the venue so it’s free of charge to you and your ears. The music starts at 9.30pm and after 10pm the restaurant tables are moved to make space for dancing feet. The acts range from String Quartets to Hungarian folk bands to Afrobeat legends. Get there early-ish to avoid queues.

80 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3QY

The Hillgrove Bristol (Photo: Richard Toller via Flickr)

The Hillgrove

This is a top spot on one of the hills and when you step outside for some fresh or not so fresh air you’ll be greeted with a seriously beautiful view of the town at night – a place where fallen stars have been caught by street lamps and bedroom windows. Check it out on Friday nights when locals come and step up to the decks. It’s a quieter part of the city and slightly hidden but well worth tackling the steep gradient for the vast array of local ales they have on tap which are usually switched fortnightly.

53 Hillgrove St N. Bristol

The Chelsea

This review on the Facebook page from a punter sums it up pretty smoothly:

“Proper pub. Decent beer and cider. Great live music. Friendly atmosphere.

No hipsters”

It’s really all you need to know. Oh, and that there is always, at all times, someone falling through the ceiling behind the stage. There is nothing more to be said. Go there, and you’ll see what we’re talking about.

60-62 Chelsea Road, Bristol, BS5 6AU