Bristol is a city full of change: once drab walls become beautiful design projects, empty shops turn into temporary theatres and, occasionally, homeless pianos are left for the public to play. So it seems particularly apt that one of it’s most infamous eyesores is slowly transforming into an arts space, home to a shipping container that now hosts the Bear Pit Social coffee shop.
Much of the rough patina remains, of course – market stalls and ping pong tables mingle with cans of Scrumpy Jack, broken phone boxes and muscly, ankle-height dogs and there’s no getting away from the fact that you’re in the sunken centre of one of the city’s busiest roundabouts. The view to the Premier Inn does little to inspire, and the locals’ welcome is not always one you’d expect… but it’s Bristol to the core.
The Bear Pit opened it’s sides to the public in January this year and has been doing a decent trade ever since. It’s run by a lovely couple who’ve graduated from hastily assembling gazebos in winter to the more solid walls of the container, their professional coffee maker brightly polished whatever the weather. As well it should be, for the coffee is great.
Most coffees comes with 2 shots of espresso – though the faint of heart need only ask for less of a punch – and there are shelves full of loose leaf teas that can be served in proper teapots (fans of the former Lahloo Tea Shop will be well served here). Cakes, meringues and friands add something sweet, while the artistic amongst us can borrow chalks to make the Bear Pit all the brighter. A lovely space indeed.
Price: from £1.50 (filter coffee) to £2.20 (latte).
Zazus has been a Bristol regular for a few years now; for a time, they moved restlessly from area to area, not quite content in their pokier spaces in Stokes Croft or Clifton village. Finally they’ve settled in the northern quarter of Gloucester Road and it seems a perfect match: as couples move towards Horfield in search of a strip of grass and space for a toddler, ZaZus offers a family friendly space around the corner with just the right amount of street cred to keep their friends coming, too.
Toby stays at the helm, moving around the floor like a foodie, moody rock star, but with time to greet familiar faces. The rest of his staff are good looking and efficient, though less warm in the bustle of a busy Saturday service. And they are busy – it doesn’t take long for the wooden tables to be filled, and even in gloomier climes the outdoor area will fill. There’s a distressed, Scandinavian feel to the surroundings with wooden floors and cool tones, there’s modern art on the walls and an electro soundtrack playing in the background. As you’d expect from the crowd, there are crayons, high chairs and stickers books to keep small ones entertained – and noise. Lots and lots of noise.
The food, however, is dependably well-sourced, using quality ingredients from largely local sources. Egg fans are well served: the Egg Poacher’s chorizo and black pudding hash with poached eggs and hollandaise were declared “awesome”, while you can have them served every which way elsewhere on the menu. I was less impressed with the veggie breakfast – the bubble and squeak was slightly bitter, the spinach a little too well-cooked – but in fairness my own ovaphobia had it’s part to play here. Their coffee, however, is excellent.
Zazus’s has a loyal following and it’s serves it’s neighbourhood well. Perhaps in a few years’ time we’ll be back with our own bundle of joy in tow; for now, I’ll leave the colouring-in books for someone else to enjoy.
Price: from £3.50 (bacon bap) to £7.50 (chorizo and black pudding hash).