Hotel bars are where great nights out go to die. If it’s not the lack of atmosphere that kills them, the late opening hours mean these places attract the ones that are already on their last legs. When it’s late and options are few, but giving up the ghost isn’t a favourable choice quite yet, they can be seen limping towards a hotel in search of a final resting place.
The fact that you can’t see into most hotel bars from the street – thanks to the nature of them being, you know, inside hotels – doesn’t help. Wondering through the lobby and down corridors only to potentially find the bar devoid of atmosphere (not to mention punters) isn’t ideal.
So, these places never really top the list of joints to hit up for a cocktail or three when you’re planning a drink with mates. I mean, I’ve never before thrown The Gold Bar – the offering at Bristol Harbour Hotel – into the hat. Thing is, though, it feels nothing like a hotel bar – and not just because it has its own entrance.
The Gold Bar is not, as someone asked the morning after my visit, a bar that’s entirely coated in gold. Bristol Harbour Hotel, as you may well know, is housed in two former banks in Bristol’s historic financial centre – so the name is alluding more to bars of gold than an overenthusiastic order of metallic leaf by the interior designer. Instead, the space is elegant with a well-judged dose of art deco style and colourful eccentricity. The bar itself is marble topped with gold glass racks above and a mirrored backbar, and the space it occupies spills out into several small rooms with parquet flooring and a mix of velvet-upholstered seating and colourful armchairs – of which we found the largest pair to make ourselves at home in.
Menus are bound in soft leather, the logo embossed in gold foil on the front. The first pages are dedicated to cocktails – unusual ones, with illustrations – and then come wines, spirits and beers. The apothecary feel of The Pharmacist saw it become first pick and, featuring South West-made Pothecary Gin, crème de cassis, crème de voilette and vermouth, it was a dark berry-coloured drink that had fruity characteristics (without being overtly sweet) and a whisper of medicinal flavour. Edible flowers rested on the chunky ice cubes that clinked satisfyingly in the heavy-bottomed rocks glass.
Also among our picks was the Sparkling Goose. At £17.50 it sits at the top end of the price spectrum (the majority of concoctions hover around a more approachable tenner). The blend of Grey Goose Citron Vodka, Champagne, Chambord and passion fruit purée made for a surprisingly smooth drink, the fizz used less for its evanescence than its nicely dry bite, which rounded off the sweeter passion fruit.
Scallop shells – no doubt procured from the hotel’s seafood restaurant, The Jetty – are employed as tiny plates for popcorn to nibble on while you drink, a la the continent, and table service is in operation.
This chic city centre bar – with its cool interior and great cocktails – shall evade me no more.
The Gold Bar, Bristol Harbour Hotel, 55 Corn Street, Bristol BS1 1HT; 0117 203 4445