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There are so many decent pubs and bars in Bristol but - particularly in summer - most people congregate around the Harbourside. If you visit in summer then it's definitely worth a pub crawl in the Hotwells area, and if you can't be bothered to walk it, small ferries make their way up and down from the Centre frequently. The Nova Scotia, Cottage and Pumphouse pubs are very busy during summer and also worth a stop is the Mardyke on Hotwells Rd - an ex biker's pub. It's not as rough as it used to be but still full of 'characters' who refuse to drink anywhere else, most likely because it is very cheap!
Harbourside in the centre is lined with bars to suit all tastes, from the big and brashy Pitcher & Piano to the more laid-back and arty Watershed and Arnolfini. Across the road from the Arnolfini is The Mud Dock which is a very good warm-up bar; a nice outdoor bit and funky tunes. A walk up Park Street and Whiteladies Rd is a popular route for a pub crawl, though there are so many bars you wouldn't make it back down again! Two must-do's are the Vittoria - a tiny pub a little way up from the BBC building, even David Attenborough has been known to have the odd pint in there. A few doors up is Henry Africa's which does the best & strongest Long Island Iced Tea this side of Long Island, probably -*Ah, as of 2009, Henry Africa's is no more sadly - the premises is now called Sasperilla & still good for a cocktail, but sad to see Henry Africa's go having been there for umpteen years :( *
As for clubbing, again there is something for all tastes. If it's mainstream you're after then the 'superclubs' will provide: Oceana and The Syndicate being the main two. 02 Academy is pretty big and regularly has top acts/DJ's. Many of the smaller, legendary clubs have either gone or are under threat of going due to the ongoing redevelopment of the city. They often sit in the more run down areas so can, and have been, culled in order to provide flat or office space. Presently, the future of Clockwork, The Blue Mountain & Lakota in the area of Stokes Croft hangs in the balance for this reason and there has been a lot of protest from locals. However, Bristol is still nationally known as being one of the front runners of the underground club and rave scenes; raves still go off here, but naturally not quite the same as they did in the 80's ;)
Heading down the Old Market area - which really is rough round the edges to look at and always has been, whether there will ever be redevelopment here remains to be seen - it's interesting, at least. The Stag & Hounds pub was built in the 1400's for instance, and much of the architecture is impressive but run-down so opinion divides on whether it should be left or revamped.
Further along the road there are 'naughty' shops, head shops, gay saunas & pubs, the lap dancing club Cafe Creme and one of the best venues for club nights in Bristol - The Trinity Centre, an old church, sits at the bottom opposite Trinity police station. The Depot was a stonking hard-house club situated down this end of town which closed its doors a few years back, but if that is your preferred genre then head to Castro's at the top of Old Market. If you like your music a bit more funky, then head to the Thekla. It's an old boat just a stones throw from the centre, which comes complete with a Banksy stencil on her hull - though you'd have to be across the river to see it. It's sweaty, extremely funky & never, ever a dissapointment.
If you don't fancy clubbing it but want a late drink with a laid back vibe, head to Cosies in Portland Sq. or Renato's on King St. but get yourself in before midnight. Both of them are small and busy, you'll have to keep your eyes peeled for a vacating table, but it's worth the wait. Or if you want a more Continental atmosphere, away from the madding crowds, then head down Gloucester Road to two legendary Cafe & Bar venues - The Blue Lagoon, there's good live music Thurs, Fri and Sat, and open mic on Tues, open til around 12-1am; or pop a few doors down to The Prom known as a live music venue and longest running quiz night - both have pavement seating under cover, and most nights there's no entrance fee.