Big Chill

Our rating 

User rating 

5 reviews
15 Small Street,

(0117) 930 4217

The ViewBristol Review

StarStarStarStarNo Star
Review byZoe Hardie09/10/2009
The Big Chill Festival has spawned again. This time it’s created a cosy, colourful bar in the heart of old Bristol. It's got an artistic twist complemented by its showcase of the best of the music scene.

The Venue
Old fans of Native, the nightclub which previously laid claim to this spot, will barely recognise the haunt it has become. Gone is the grimy side-entrance and the dingy interior. The Big Chill Bar has renovated and revamped this tired venue and now it's all about light, colour and exciting, artistic additions.

The bar is in old Bristol, dominated by sandy coloured official buildings which hark back to its trading past. From outside, the bar stands out from its neighbours with a slick, shiny black exterior stamped by an orange Big Chill logo giving a bold contrast.

The street-facing entrance lets you into a fair-sized room which links onto the bar area opposite. Dark blue paintwork pairs successfully with a pale wooden theme of the floor and tables, giving a simple but elegant feel to the decor.

The simplicity is challenged by all sorts of quirky elements - the left hand wall is covered from floor to ceiling with imaginative recordsleeve-style imagery which gives a bit of creative fun to the room. And to the right you'll see large comfortable seating with striped patterns set in front of a wall that is dominated by the festival's logo in enormous white bubble writing. But this isn’t just for show – look closer and you'll see marker pens hanging down, just in case you’ve ever wanted to indulge in that fantasy of scribbling your tag on the walls of bar – a closet vandal’s dream.

Extra quirky bits include bulbous lamps which hang over the seating like heavy flowers and branch decorations which adorn the doorways – hints of the festival are there for those looking hard enough. If you’re lucky you might even get to nab a spot in the intimate booth area which is slotted in on the right and lets you hide with your mates.

The next room is dominated by a large bar area which is impressively vast but this is really just for accommodating the crowds waiting to get drinks. Keep walking through and there’s a window to the kitchen on the right, followed by decent toilets decorated with graffiti-style artwork and a rather underwhelming garden area which consists of a few stools in a cramped outside space.

The People
As you'd expect, this place aims to attract the eclectic, bohemian crowd which frequents the festival of its namesake. This is certainly true, but its central location also makes it a drinking hole for after-work revellers, helped by the fact that there's no entrance fee.

In this sense the atmosphere is remarkably similar to nearby competitor Start the Bus which also combines a crowd of edgy youngsters with suit-clad office workers. The similarities with Start the Bus, however, do not end there. The clientele, feel, ethos, menu, artistic emphasis and opening hours are all reminiscent of this rival bar.

Naturally, the ambience here alters from day to night, with lunchtime and afternoon punters chilling with a coffee or some grub, and evening/night partiers kicking up dust on the (pretty meager) dancefloor. But whatever the time, expect a persistent laidback feel and none of the rowdiness, or even agro, that you might encounter in other centrally located bars and clubs.

Still, the festival inspiration and the general layout makes this a particularly sociable place to hang out whatever day it is. And the music – featuring truly eclectic DJs and artists playing tunes from across the boards in line with the diversity of the festival – is sure to make this bar a staple on the Bristol scene.

The Food
The festival spirit is once again a big influence on the menu, which largely consists of tapas-style dishes. And just as you should expect from festival vendors, the buzz words fresh, seasonal, free range and fair trade gives the menu an ethical bolster. The emphasis on global dishes (each item has country of origin listed next to it) also replicates that exotic, experimental feel you get when it’s munch time on festival turf.

If you want to something to pick at without ordering a proper meal, there’s a few side dishes to fill the gap. The organic farmhouse bread with olive oil is far more than a bit of old crust and comes at a very reasonable £1.50, as do the olives at £1.75, and these are large, juicy wonders. Otherwise you can tuck into the amazingly comforting Spanish ommelette (£2.75) or the oily but sumptuous stuffed Greek vine leaves (£3.50).

Meat eaters with an adventurous palate will relish the menu – those who venture further from the comforts of chicken and chips may well recoil. There’s a great range on offer but of particular note are the pork skewers marinated in a tongue-tangalising Ecuadorian brew and rubbed with marjoram and cumin (£5.25). Also standing out, if not for sheer simplicity against the other dishes, is the grilled merquez sausages – good quality sausage meat complemented by a spicy harissa dressing (£4.50).

The fish menu is just as exciting, globally influenced, and dominated by herbs and spices. The goan fish curry is a delight, served with basmati rice (£5.75). But for those who prefer the flavour of fish without extras, go for the crisp fried baby calamari with alioli (£5) which is full of taste and has none of the rubberiness which too often comes hand in hand with it.

Vegetarians will not be disappointed, in fact it's fair to say they will be pleasantly surprised. Grilled halloumi skewers (£4.50), flatbread with hummus, aubergine and goats cheese dip (£3.75) and jalapenos stuffed with cheddar (££4.50) are all indicative of good quality, interesting global food. Yet it gets even more delightful as the dishes get increasingly exotic, unusual and playful, such as the deliciously soft and tasty empanadas, pastries filled with butternut squash and spinach, and the papaya, grapefruit and avocado salad, which is almost too good to be smeared with the title of salad.

Platters are also an option if you’re with a few mates and you can’t bear to confine yourself to a single dish. They offer a selection from the menu and come as meaty, mixed or veggie, all for £12. And for the sweet of tooth, a small selection of simple desserts are on offer, with three scoops of ice cream for £4.50, or a molten chocolate cake for £5. However, they have nothing of the rich variation and choice found on the rest of the menu.

The Drink
The bar here is a sight to behold, long enough to accommodate a decent amount of staff and to display more bottles of spirits than you could even count. This is probably why the cocktail list is so excellent. Expect a few classics, with a perfectly fresh and sharp mojito at £6.75 and the appropriately tart whisky sour at £6.50.

And don’t expect to be lumped with the house spirits. This place makes it very clear that they do a lot of research to provide you with good quality spirits sourced from all over the world. Jamaican mule (£6 or £18 for a pitcher) is particularly good and consists of Appletons rum, lime juice, sugar syrup, Angostura bitters and ginger beer. It's like a party in your mouth with hot, sweet, and sour.

The wine menu has had just as much time, care and attention paid to it and is pretty long. For the white, the cheapest option is the Castillo de la Gloria at £2.95, which is fresh and inoffensive, but there are all sorts from the likes of Italy, Argentina, France and more, with prices going up to £24.50 a bottle.

There is a similar story with red, though the upper limit is slightly higher at £28.50. However, there’s loads on the lower end that are worth a try, particularly the merlot which has the rich ring of dark fruits and a powerful velvety texture (£4.75). A couple of good enough roses are also available (£15.50 and £18.75 a bottle) and there are a few sparkling wines and champagnes for the heavy of pocket.

For beer drinkers there’s a fabulous selection of bottled and draught beer including Amstel (£2.90), Budvar (£3.20), and Bath Gem (£3) and bottles of Heineken, (£3) Edelweiss (£3.75) and more. Draught ciders are Thatchers Gold and Symonds (both £3.20) depending on how farmy you like your brew to be.

If booze isn’t the drink of choice for you expect all the classic soft drinks, or maybe opt for their splendidly individual organic teas, including the Big Chill, rooibos, pear and cinnamon, mint and chilli, and Look Lively, lemongrass and mint.

The Last Word
This fabulously laidback bar takes the best bits from its namesake festival and plonks them in Bristol, from the eclectic music down to the globally inspired food and hippy teas. A great place to chill or dance and a key addition to the Bristol scene.
Big Chill has been reviewed by 5 users

Most Read Today

01 Colston Hall

There are 91 events listed for this venue

02 Thekla

There are 63 events listed for this venue

03 Big Chill

There are 8 events listed for this venue

04 Bristol Hippodrome

There are 28 events listed for this venue

05 Bristol Folk House

There are 9 events listed for this venue

Content updated: 23/09/2013 04:49


Robin Hoods

Robin Hoods Retreat is a cosy pub with a great reputation for their food and drink.

Latest Pubs & Bars User Reviews

  • Treble Chance
    I went into this pub today to watch the football, I bought a cok...

    LDS88 on 22/09/2013 @ 19:01
  • Assembly
    We came her as a family with our young child. We recieved our mea...

    Slp on 15/09/2013 @ 15:52
  • The Elbow Room
    OMG went to try the new food here today!! literally the nicest t...

    bubblyboop44 on 13/09/2013 @ 17:05
  • The Famous Royal Naval Volunteer
    Stumbled across this pub on a Sunday lunch time looking for a goo...

    Karenrhoades on 08/09/2013 @ 18:37
  • Scallys
    best pub in w-s-m always go there every chance we get, just wish ...

    rayandjane on 04/09/2013 @ 20:37