Sat beneath the rumble of regular trains chugging out of Temple Meads is a bustling bar with an odd mix of muttering woolie-hatted beer sippers and excitable post-work suits, spilling out of the gleaming new offices that have erupted from the ground nearby. Different walks of life, different conversations, but all collectively and quizzically looking to figure a bit more out about this modern-looking, sawdust-infused micro-brewery and this area in which they find themselves.
The arches along Oxford Street span from the shiny new buildings in Temple Quay to the small streets of The Dings, a historic residential neighbourhood to the east of Bristol’s city centre. Within these old railway arches, two businesses have sprung up that have built a fast and strong social media ‘hype’, with suitably Instagrammable interiors and enticing produce – beer and doughnuts. What’s not to like?
An Old Market seller recently told us ‘Little Martha’s great. The arches are starting to get a bit of a Bethnal Green vibe which is where I used to live in London. I can see it becoming a very trendy place in the near future!’. Quite a statement considering there are only a handful of businesses there, but Little Martha’s and Future Doughnuts seem to be flying in their popularity in just a short space of time and it surely must only be a matter of weeks, if not days, until the other sub-trainline premises are snapped up.
However, this isn’t just about a rogue, out-lying street in Bristol where hipsters assemble and discuss their disdain for Cliftonites. This is a frontier of a movement and a greater shift that is happening.
Bristol is moving east.
Historically, tourists and residents have had to head west into the setting sun for the landmarks, scenery, entertainment and cuisine. Bristol’s centre, along with Clifton and Southville, sits on the western fringes of the city, close to an expanse of protected countryside and the green and pleasant lands of North Somerset. But despite the west’s favourable past, a moment's glance into the ‘metaverse’ or a well-timed eavesdrop into daily conversations had with our buyers, it is evident that keen interest is being paid to the new and exciting venues of the east.
For a few years now, Old Market High Street and Church Road, running through Redfield and St George, have become go-to places for soft drinks, hard drinks, quick food and now, downright amazing cuisine. Chido Way on the High Street in Old Market typifies what the venues in this area are all about. Unpretentious yet innovative. While fairly new, it has an atmosphere which has been carefully and stylishly curated to be relaxing but interesting and has set a new standard, which in my opinion, is the best Mexican food on offer in the city.
Similar can be said as you advance east along Church Road, with the food on offer at Lock-Up and Red Church exceptionally regarded, especially for an outstanding Sunday lunch. For coffees and lunch as well, as you move east, 25A Old Market, Fed303 at Glitch, Poco Deli and Orchard Café are all relatively recent additions to our city but are doing it as well as anyone. If you then include Totterdown and Easton as eastern suburbs, and places like Bank, Nook, Public Market and No. 12, then it’s clear that the east is stacking up with a wealthy arsenal of options facing the traditionally powerful west.
So what of the future? The area around St Phillips perhaps presents Bristol’s biggest opportunity for the development and expansion of the city centre. Fred Wyatt, the owner of Meanwhile Creative, based in St Phillips for a number of years, told us “the area is currently the city’s backyard. It can seem to have a bunch of messy, dirty, noisy uses, but with its proximately to the city centre, transport links and river frontage, it has so much potential for more”. The area, which has been home to Bristol’s iconic venue ‘Motion’ and attached music venue ‘Marble Factory’, has recently seen a series of new launches such as PropYard and The Cider Box. Each has a strong social media presence and are driving visitors from all over the city and beyond, and, with the former announcing an immersive Van Gogh exhibition for later this year, we’re surely only seeing a small amount of the full potential pulling power and accessibility of this area. Several questions still surround the development of this area: its landscape, congestion and the involvement of the university and the subsequent effect on long-standing communities and populations nearby. The east is currently in an early stage of development and flux. Grand plans can be seen on the Silverthorne Lane website, where Feeder LLP is proposing a major ‘canal side’ mixed-use regeneration of the area, reminiscent of Wapping Wharf and Brandon Yard. The proposal involves 371 new homes including several essential affordable homes, a secondary school and commercial spaces
There is a feeling that done well, the east could retain its character and waterside history. Done well, this intriguing part of Bristol could progress positively on the path it is on,
of independent and innovative local businesses making the most of more affordable commercial space in the east, compared with the city centre and the Georgian townhouse of the west. Entrepreneurial small businesses and venues, sitting side by side with major companies' headquarters and substantial government offices, all mixed with some established local communities and traditional Victorian streets, encapsulating what modern Bristol is about.
Equally, there could be a looming tide change of evolution that quashes this independent revolution in the east, pricing out adventurous independents, and there could be a whole new landscape to look out upon from vantage points of Temple Meads and Totterdown. This route would give the area and those that surround it a completely different dynamic, and the options for the area could span much further from here, with football stadiums and university halls talked about in board rooms across the city.
It’s probably too early to say how this area may look in the future. However, in the present, from the cranes in the skyline to the east of the city centre right down to the conversations around the long tables of St Phillips taprooms, it is clear that the east is advancing and giving the City of Bristol an exciting extra dimension.