After years of neglect, Bristol's historic quarter is set for big things. Georgina Guthrie takes us on a tour of one of Bristol's thriving districts, and uncovers a wealth of brilliant places just a stone's throw from the city centre. 

Welcome to Old Market, one of Bristol’s fastest-changing districts. For now, the main scene is a mere strip of shops and bars that has enjoyed a cultural renaissance over the past couple of years. With more places popping up in disused spaces every week, Old Market is officially a thriving hotspot of culture. Wander down West Street and discover a wealth of quirky coffee shops, brilliant bars with live entertainment, superb LGBT-friendly venues, and contemporary art galleries showcasing something a little different. 

The Old Market Assembly

This splendid old building has undergone a massive refurb, and become incredibly popular in a short space of time. This is undoubtably a Wriggle favourite, and you'll find the team there often enough. It houses The Wardrobe Theatre, a well-stocked bar, and a kitchen that serves up some of the best food in BS2. Check out the eclectic event programme and take your pick from comedy and variety acts, theatre performances, and live music. Don’t forget to grab a bite to eat before the show - the menu changes regularly, and you’ll always find a tempting veggie and vegan option (or three!)

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Alex Does Coffee

Alex does coffee. Very, very good coffee. The bean of choice is sourced locally from Extract Coffee Roasters, served in a light and bright space on the ground floor of Two’s Company Studios. You’ll find a solid range of freshly ground coffee on the menu, plus plenty of tasty homemade treats to accompany your cuppa. If caffeine isn’t your thang, then be sure to try out their delicious dark hot chocolate. Bliss on a cold winter’s day.

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Exchange Coffee Co.

Into great coffee? Of course you are, that's why you're reading this. The team behind the Exchange have opened up a lovely coffee shop and well-stocked bar for stopping by at, day or night. Into live music? Then you’ll want to pay The Exchange a visit. You’ll find this nightclub right next to The Stag and Hounds, a short walk from Cabot Circus. Here, you’ll find exciting live music playing full-pelt through a teeth-rattling sound system. After something a little more sedate? The team have also opened up a lovely coffee shop and well-stocked bar next door for stopping by at, day or night.

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To The Moon

You’ll find Wriggle favourite To The Moon a hop and a skip down Midland Road. This welcomed addition to Old Market’s thriving bar scene is a dive-style watering hole with mismatched furniture, vintage Rolling Stone mags, and delicious, handmade cocktails aplenty. You’ll also find a good selection of locally brewed craft ale, namely Arbour, Good Chemistry, Dawkins, plus a secret hideaway beyond the bar. It doesn’t stop there - check the little clothes shop inside, with rails bursting with vintage goodies and locally designed pieces. Plans are underway for the team to host foodie pop-ups in the future, so watch this space.

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Volunteer Tavern

You can’t do an Old Market pub crawl without a visit to The Volunteer Tavern. Voted CAMRA Bristol Pub of the Year 2016, it boasts a fine collection of real ales, fine wine and excellent food. It’s also got a much-adored pub garden. The bar warmly welcomes your four-legged friends to join the resident pub dog, Treacle, and her gorgeous pups. Currently Plumed Serpent are manning the kitchen so head on down for some tacos!

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No. 25A Old Market

Old Market has welcomed No.25a to an ever-growing debut of hip cafes. This glorious hangout has followed the same winning recipe as its sister cafe, No.12 Easton. And it doesn't stop here - the deli shelves are piled with local craft beer, coffee, posh popcorn and so much more, meaning you can stop by to stock up your cupboard with the finest of things. The freshly made coffee is the highlight for us, and everything is served up here in a chic, stripped-back interior. The hot food menu is limited to toasties and pastries, making it the perfect lunchtime pit-stop as you explore the second-hand furniture shops nearby. Don’t leave without trying the ox cheek toastie. And you can thank us later.

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Tiffin Time

Bristol’s enjoyed a bit of a love affair with tiffin-style Indian food since Thali Cafe set up shop years ago. And for good reason - takeaway food in reusable metal containers is both environmentally friendly and practical. Plus, it means you get to eat delicious cooked food for lunch, and that’s only ever a good thing. Tiffin Time isn’t a restaurant, it’s a mobile delivery service that brings delicious curried goodness right to your desk. Choose from the veggie curry at £5.50, or the meaty one at £6.50, plus two sides. What are you waiting for - it's time for tiffin!

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Hydra Books

Books and coffee...was there ever a more delightful combination? Head to Hydra for independently published books, lectures, conversations, and chess. Run as a local co-operative, this gem of a bookshop offers a space for novel lovers, writers and publishers alike to meet, chat and drink coffee. Check out the programme online and take your pick - from anarchist federation meetings, to historical talks and late night live music, there’s always something interesting going on.

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Stag & Hounds

Another live music staple for lovers of all things loud. The Stag and Hounds is a grungy spit ‘n’ sawdust style pub on the entrance to Old Market. The 18th century building is unique and untouched - expect creaking floorboards, stone fireplaces, nooks, crannies and moody dark woodwork. A solid range of ale and cider is served on tap, alongside the usual spirits plus a few wines. The kitchen serves up pretty good tacos and chilli throughout the day, whether you fancy a pint or not.

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Portuguese Tavern

At Wriggle HQ, we've shared fond stories of trips to Portugal. We loved the tiles of Lisbon, the custard tarts of Belém, and the sweet port of Porto. Portuguese Tavern has popped up along West Street in Old Market, bringing with it the delicious smells of authentic Portuguese cooking. Expect traditionally salty, delectable dishes, made for matching with a bottle of refreshing Vidigal Porta red. Choose anything that features the gorgeous prosciutto or grilled chourico.

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West Street Kitchen

West Street Kitchen is the fruit of months of painstaking work from owners Nathan and Millie to beautifully renovate this spot in Old Market's West Street. West Street Kitchen combines Nathan's experience in the coffee world, with Millie's baking skills. Their produce is largely sourced from their home in the Forest of Dean (just outside Bristol) - supplemented by local craft beers for the early evening trade - and turned into a revolving selection of delicacies (on the menu when we visited was a hearty home-cooked Meatball Sandwich and a French Toastie - a West-Street creation of mozzarella omelette, roasted mushrooms, and fresh tomatoes between slices of spiced eggy bread).

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The Barley Mow

Kissing the edge of Old Market, The Barley Mow provides the perfect stop for a thirsty traveller coming in from Temple Meads, if they know where to look. Luckily, if you haven’t just got in via the train, you can head to the beginning of the Bristol to Bath Cycle Path and there it will appear. The Barley Mow is owned by Bristol Beer Factory so you are guaranteed to find good beer on the taps. Look hard when you come in and you will find the door leading to a lovely, covered garden with plenty of plants and flowers, you will forget the pubs neighbour is a timber merchant. Their Sunday Roasts have been put in the top ten in Bristol and, like all good pubs, the quiz in on a Monday.

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Published -11th January 2018