Stokes Croft - Bristol’s bohemian quarter
“It’s a great place to go out in the evening. A lot of music is happening here,” says Mark Wheatley, who works at MixRadio, a music streaming service founded by Peter Gabriel.
Mark lives near Stokes Croft. When he moved here, the locals called this area ‘Stabbing Alley’ owing to problems with violence and drugs. Today he thinks the area is almost too safe and boring.
“It used to be more edgy. Musicians and artists lived here because it was a creative area, and because house prices were cheap. Now people are moving further out.”
Broad spectrum of dance music
Much of the dance and electronic music of the 1990s that came from Stokes Croft centered around the Lakota nightclub. According to Mark, the area still produces great dance music, although the music scene has evolved and broadened. “Bristol is hard to pin down as one scene, there is more of an underground scene at the moment.”
One example is techno band Fuck Buttons that have enjoyed success in both Europe and the United States.
“With a name like that you’re never going to the top ten lists, or get played on the radio,” says Mark, adding that this is a typical ‘Bristol approach.’ Massive Attack, Portishead and even today’s artists would rather stay here than move to London, which has prevented many of them from making a breakthrough.
Banker at day, DJ at night
“Bristolians have that kind of ‘screw you London attitude’. The celebration of being an outsider, not necessarily chasing success, is what makes the charm of the city. It gives it its edge – and the music scene definitely has an edge,” says Mark.
With more working musicians per capita than anywhere else, Bristol has the highest music concentration in the UK and attracts musicians like bees to honey.
“If you go into an office, or a bank or insurance company, you will find DJs, musicians, singers, and poets among the staff,” says Mark, who describes himself as ‘a failed musician.’ The large number of students also contributes to the vibrant music scene.
“It’s a young city. It’s all thanks to them we have this music scene, and that all the gigs happen.”
Untraditional pies at Pieminister
Others who know Stokes Croft well include Tristan Hogg and Jon Simon, founders of the pie restaurant, Pieminister. Twelve years ago, they opened their first restaurant here, together with Romany, Tristan’s sister and later Jon’s wife.
“The whole street was derelict. Nobody would start a business here, but we did,” says Tristan. “We often say that we made the area cool,” says Romany, adding, “The area is very artistic and Bohemian, and people are very independent-minded and protective. That’s why the Tesco was nearly chased out of here after protests from the locals.”
The idea for Pieminister actually came from Australia. During a trip Down Under, Jon discovered that Aussie pies were something cool and appreciated by young people. And a far cry from the traditional British pies with their unidentifiable contents. After a few detours they literally rolled up their sleeves, renovated some run-down premises, and got baking. Success was not long in coming. Nor were the awards. They sell around 50,000 pies each week in their own restaurants, in pubs, and at markets and festivals such as Glastonbury, as well as in prestigious stores such as Harrods in London.
Although Bristol has a lot of restaurants with plenty of cuisine available to suit all tastes, Pieminister enjoys a mixed crowd of fans, from students and regulars to long-distance visitors.
“The Deputy Prime Minister will come here next week with a party of 30, but they will have to pay,” Romany laughs.
Local producers and great ingredients key
“The secret is in the casserole,” says Romany as we sample ‘Moo,’ the steak and ale pie that has been on the menu since the restaurant opened. The pies are made using good-quality meat and the best ingredients they can afford. Which is why they like to support local producers and farmers, as well as local breweries such as the Bristol Beer Factory. The pies themselves are made only a couple of blocks away.
"Everyone comes back to Bristol."
Although they no longer live in Stokes Croft, they cannot imagine leaving the city.
“It’s a laid back city, like what San Francisco is to New York. It’s more about lifestyle here,” says Tristan. “I love going to London for inspiration, but I love coming back. Everyone comes back to Bristol.”
Text: Anna-Lena Ahlberg
Published: August 23, 2017