Bristol has certainly embraced the concept of the knock-to-enter secret bar and on a similar tangent to the increasingly popular pop-up restaurant or 'underground' supper club, (the locations of which are also appropriately unveiled just prior to one's visit) they seem to provide an unashamedly upmarket experience for the discerning foodie, or in this case, drinker....Consequently, when whispers of Milk Thistle, the 'big-brother' of Clifton's hip 'n happening Hyde and Co. began to do the rounds via the City's social-networking presence it became imperative that The Boy, Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I check it out for ourselves...
Date and Time: Wednesday 19th October 2011, 19:45
Name of Establishment: Milk Thistle*
Location: To be discovered for oneself...
Reason for Visit: To share in the exclusivity of Bristol's newest secret bar
Without determining its exact whereabouts nor ruining the intrigue for those who have not yet visited, one could describe this venue as a grand presence in an unmistakably central location. Yet, although Milk Thistle is undoubtedly accustomed to more than the odd passer-by, its content has been expertly concealed and in fact, the bar is only identifiable from its exterior by the blink-and-you'll-miss-it Milk Thistle logo above the door. After pressing the buzzer and being led inside by a smart attired gentleman, our party of three embarked on a little initial exploration. We accepted the offer of a tour which led us beyond the candlelit reception to the floors above – firstly to the working-men's style lounge which, facilitating the member's area, had been tastefully decked out with plush leather furniture and featured its own private bar and above that, the cosy attic room; a light and airy space available for hire. Lastly, we descended to the basement and The Vault which although reminded me of a rather cheesy game-show is actually a future location for secluded wine tastings or for those much-loved pop-ups! Currently being re-furbished though, we observed only the potential behind its insanely heavy cast iron door, (no doubt behind which a great deal of moolah had historically been stashed given the building's former status). And so, in terms of interior, just as Hyde and Co. is intimately old-school (come on, it was inevitable that comparisons would be made), Milk Thistle is spaciously stylish; the quirky décor spanning all four floors in varying degrees.
We opted to sit amidst the Alice in Wonderland style intrigue of the ground-floor parlour which sported a black-and-white checked tile floor, mish-mash of solid antique-effect furniture and a collection of quizzically poised stuffed furries...not to mention the odd framed 'Liminal Being' in their Sunday Best! Fringed lamps cast a hazy glow throughout the space and only just assisted our perusal of the menu which, nestled between the pages of aged hard-backed novels, further heightened our curiosity and provided an excitable buzz which more than made up for the fact that, at this point, we were the bar's entire company, (well...it was Wednesday evening after all!) Iced water and bowls of pretzels were brought to the table – a nice touch but standard given what we had come to expect from our numerous visits to Hyde and Co. Turning to the service for a moment which was faultlessly attentive and courteous, I have to say that our particular server was especially helpful and chatty; guiding the indecisive among us to suitable tipples and sharing in our mutual enthusiasm for the venue overall.
|Pretzels by Candlelight!|
And with several whisks of a cocktail shaker from behind the bar, our drinks were served. As you will see, they proved somewhat difficult to capture due to the atmospheric candlelight flickering from within dainty, vintage tea cups and yet, I hope to do them justice as follows: The BFF opted for the perfume fizz (£7.50) which comprised a delicate combination of Hangar One Mandarin Blossom Vodka, pineapple syrup, Bols Apricot, lemon juice and a Fever Tree ginger ale charge. I chose the Clover Club (£8.00) which our server suggested due to my articulated love-affair with gin! Served in a Martini glass and perfectly pink in colour, this muddled Tanquery Export gin with Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth, lemon juice, raspberry syrup and usually, a little egg white to give the cocktail its distinctive frothy finish. However, I decided against the latter and found my preference to be simply acknowledged with an un-fazed nod, phew! It's fair to say that both the BFF and I were suitably impressed with the quality of our drinks and thus, went on to sample the house special; the Quay Head Punch (£5.00) which, beautifully decanted into cut-crystal teacups, consisted of Somerset Pomona; apple brandy and apple juice with a bitter-sweet and reassuringly alcoholic hit - result! The Boy settled on the Orval Belgium (£5.50); a Trappist beer served in an unusual skittle-shaped bottle which, made by Cistercian monks of the Brasserie D’Orval, reportedly had a dry, herby flavour with a pronounced bitterness that gave way to a bouquet of fresh hops and fruity accents. He also supped at a shot of chartreuse; a spirit which had particularly caught his eye amongst the ingredients of a specific cocktail. Thus, being allowed to sample this pungent poison more than made up for the discrepancy he discovered in terms of the strength of his beer; in that the menu stated 9.2% and the bottle 6.2% - a finding which was, without question, apologetically rectified by our server.
|Quay Head Punch|
|Cocktail O' Clock|
Although cocktails are clearly the champion of this bar, the line-up of wines and sparklers also appeal. Despite the most expensive champagne donning a £300 price tag, the Gobillard Brut Tradition Nv is far more reasonably priced at £45 a bottle so could be easily shared in the event of a special occasion or perhaps even a giggly night-out with the girls if you're feeling especially flush!
In conclusion, Milk Thistle is certainly not a cheap night out and if you’re intent on a proper knees-up, this is probably not the spot for you, (check out the ‘house rules’ on the website which although light-hearted, indicate the venue's anticipated etiquette) Though I suspect that if you’ve read thus far, you’re probably inclined to be seeking an alternative watering-hole to that which allows for the carnage which can constitute a night out in our beloved City! Hence, Milk Thistle comes highly recommended – top-notch service, a fantastically arranged space intended to captivate its clientèle and most importantly, a standard of beverage comparable to the very best that Bristol has to offer; cocktails, for instance proving carefully prepared and beautifully presented by those in the know, not to mention full to the brim with good-quality ingredients. Thus, what you pay for is an exquisite experience rather than merely a cheeky bevvy in a bar and we all deserve this in our lives...well, at least every once in a while.
And now for the male opinion...
The Boy, delighting (as only a health food guru can) in the irony that Milk Thistle is commonly used to support liver function or in other words, to soothe a heavy night on the tiles, gave this venue 9/10 and in three words, summed up Milk Thistle as 'classy retro tipples'.