It might be in Bristol’s suddenly uber-cool Stokes Croft but there’s a refreshing lack of pretension about the Arts House. Effortlessly blending café, bar, gallery, retail therapy and event space elements, its wide appeal brings punters from ages 6-60 to a place where manager Adrian Godfrey is a consummate host.
On the ground floor you’ll find a café/bar area the very definition of ‘light and airy’, with bench-to-ceiling windows perfect for observing the street’s bustle beyond. Plenty catches the eye within, with quirky, mosaic-topped tables, iron chairs and some funky crab/spider ornaments all for sale. Passers-by look in curiously: the feel is of being in Bagpuss’s Emily’s shop.
The artwork extends to the extraordinarily cosy downstairs, bringing a transformation matching that of Mr Benn’s shopkeeper’s changing room. I’m treated to an early Gene Hackman film as the basement wears its cinema hat, but music, DJ, comedy, speed-dating and cocktail-making can also bring classroom and club incarnations, among others.
Adrian delights in serving up his punters’ every wish so if you’re after putting on some life-drawing, fancy a party or feel a ‘Red Dwarf’/‘Dirty Dancing’ night coming on, he can sort you out (and get in the cava if requested). One leisurely, decadent Sunday recently combined ‘Casablanca’, ‘High Fidelity’ and ‘Happy Gilmore’ with bacon sandwiches and bloody marys.
This versatility is evinced wonderfully on the night of my visit. Four women find the place as if fortuitously and smile like Cheshire Cats thanks to Adrian’s cocktail recommendations. Dance therapist Emma identifies a Moroccan feel and uses the wi-fi to work on her website while another chap gets his take-out coffee for the stroll home.
My whisky sour nightcap confirms that while I may not know much about art, I know I like the Arts House. (Words Simon Fry Pics Mark Simmons Photography)
Beer (bottles) Gem, Dark Hare, Wild Hare. From £3.20.
Cider (bottle) Westons Organic. £3.50.
Wine Three white, three red. From £3.50 gls/ £11.95 btl.
Food Served daily 10am-7/9pm. Homemade, Spanish/West Country, mainly vegetarian. Tomato, spinach, basil and mozzarella Spanish tortilla £4.25, cheese & red onion marmalade puff pastry Wellington £4.75, bacon, mushroom, rocket and blue cheese quiche £5.25, meat charcuterie £7.50, tapas from £2.50.
ARTS HOUSE 108A STOKES CROFT, BRISTOL, BS1 3RU. TEL: 0117 923 2858, WEB: WWW.THEARTSHOUSE.ORG. OPEN DAILY 10AM-11PM.
Pics copyright Mark Simmons Photography; text copyright Simon Fry 2010