Playground Coffee

The front of Playground Coffee, with the door to the right, window to the left and with a table and two chairs in front of the windowThere are a few games cafés dotted around the country, but Bristol’s Playground Coffee is the only one I know of that serves speciality coffee. Similarly, while Bristol has some excellent speciality coffee shops, this is the only one doubling as a games café. And it has swings. You really can’t go wrong when there are swings involved.

With a house espresso blend from local Roasted Rituals and  a regularly-rotating guest, Playground has the speciality side of things nailed. There’s also filter through V60, Aeropress, Chemex and Syphon, with beans from various guest roasters (the clothes line strung above the counter provides a who’s who of roasters which have graced Playground’s grinders). There’s also tea, hot chocolate and a small selection of cake.

I can’t comment on the games, save to say that there seemed to be a good selection on offer to borrow/play. Overall, Playground’s a small, cosy spot with a friendly, quirky atmosphere. This was aided by the lovely Francesca, who’d previously worked for Playground and the likes of Brighton’s Café Coho. She was minding the store for a week while the owners were on holiday in Berlin and it’s clear that they left things in good hands…

December 2016: I popped back to say hello and discovered that Playground now has a drinks licence and stays open until late each evening, serving wine, spirits and its very own coffee-infused gin! It’s also moved over to be a full multi-roaster, with two single-origins on espresso, usually chosen to offer contrasting tastes, from a rotating cast of roasters.

You can find out why I say that after the gallery.

  • Playground Coffee, right in the heart of Bristol on St Nicholas Street.
  • There's a handy sign, so you can see it from down (or up) the street.
  • Clever A-baord (FREE takeaway COFFEE cup).
  • The writing in the window is probably more helpful!
  • There's also a table outside.
  • The view from just inside the door, with the famous swing seats between counter & window.
  • Talking of which, here's the counter itself.
  • The rest of the seating is at the back, beyond the counter (the upstairs is no more).
  • To start at the beginning, you can sit in the window if you like.
  • Playground Coffee is well known for the swing seats and suspended table in the window.
  • However, the window-seat itself is probably much more comfortable!
  • There was more seating upstairs, but that's no more. Now the remaining seating's at the back.
  • It's starts with this very comfortable-looking sofa on the right...
  • ... and continues with this long, thin table in the centre.
  • The rest of the seating is around the edges. There's this small table...
  • ... and the three-person bar in the corner.
  • Right at the back, there's another window and a pair of swing seats.
  • Finally, there's a narrow two-person bar over the fireplace.
  • There's an interesting range of decor on the walls, including this Bristol Coffee Map...
  • ... while a copy of the South West Independent Coffee Guide is on one of the tables.
  • You can also buy copies for yourself. And Keep Cups.
  • Interesting. Makes a change from a puppy I suppose.
  • The lighting is interesting. Now you see them...
  • ... now you don't. The joy of photographing flashing lights.
  • The counter dominates the middle section of Playground Coffee.
  • (although this being a games cafe, there are plenty of games available to be borrowed)
  • Unusually for me, I started with cake, seen here sheltering under a plastic cover.
  • There was a small, but interesting range of cake.
  • Let's set them free, shalll we? Millionaires' shortbread (left), banana bread (right).
  • In the end, I went for a slice of the homemade banana bread.
  • However, I was soon back for coffee.
  • The menu is written on brown paper on the wall behind the counter, drinks this side...
  • ... and beans this. Nice use of Scrabble letters.
  • Playground has a range of guest coffees. Here are just some that it's had over the years!
  • There's a house-blend and guest on espresso (left) and several options on filter (right).
  • The espresso machine is very prominent when you enter.
  • There's also a water tap at this end of the counter.
  • The espresso machine is positioned so you can watch your shot being pulled if you want.
  • However, I fancied some filter. A syphon, maybe? Perhaps not.
  • Instead, I settled for a V60 pour-over, expertly made by the lovely Francesca
  • Step one, rinse the filter paper.
  • Step 2, in goes the ground coffee.
  • Step 3, the first pour and bloom.
  • It's important during the first pour to ensure that all the grounds are wet.
  • Leave the coffee to bloom...
  • ... then top up for the main pour.
  • Now we let it filter through...
  • ... et voila! Served, as it should be, in a carafe with the cup on the side.
  • Here it is, in the cup.
  • I paired this with a slice of the millionaires’ shortbread. The perfect end to a great day!
  • I popped back in December and discovered that Playground now has a drinks licence!
  • I tried Playground's very own coffee-infused gin and it was very fine indeed!
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Playground Coffee opened in 2014, but it took me until the start of 2016 to visit, although I did try, unsuccessfully, on three prior occasions (all my own fault!) to pop in for coffee. If you made it to Playground before I did, you might notice something different when you return: the upstairs, which used to be part of Playground, is no more. Accessed via a flight of stairs to the right of the door, this is now boxed off, upstairs being converted to flats. Of course, not knowing any better, I just thought Playground was a cosy, little place (which it is).

The current layout’s very much a product of the space: long and thin, with windows front and back. The door’s on the right, while in front of the large window on the left, a single table sits on the pavement of the narrow St Nicholas Street, an impressive feat in itself. Inside, the counter’s on the left, but, opposite a comfy-looking window-seat, there’s enough space to squeeze in a narrow table and a pair of swings, which act as seats.

The counter stretches ahead of you on the left-hand side, while to the right a wall hides the stairs. There’s just enough space to get to the back of Playground, where, after it widens out a smidge, you’ll find the remaining seating, focused on a long, thin table in the centre of the room. On the right, opposite the end of the counter, is a small, two-seat sofa with a coffee table. Next comes a small table, then a three-seat bar. Right at the back, flanking a small window, are a pair of swings around another small table, while on the left, a two-person bar sits over the fireplace.

I had a somewhat cake-heavy visit, starting the homemade banana bread. A dense, slab-like beast, liberally shot through with chocolate chips, it’s served cold. I know I’m not making it sound very appetising, but it was lovely and exactly what I needed.

I then moved to coffee. Having spent most of the afternoon drinking flat whites and espressos at Extract Coffee Roasters, I needed filter coffee. Unfortunately, this was not as straight-forward as it sounds…

It’s difficult enough running a coffee shop when all’s going well, but the real test is when things aren’t running so smoothly. Unfortunately for Playground, there’d been a mix up with the courier and that week’s filter coffee hadn’t arrived. What’s more, the guest filter, from Maude Coffee (which I’d have loved to have tried) had just run out.

Others may have given up at this point, steering me towards espresso, but Francesca is not the sort to be daunted by something as trivial as running out of coffee. Instead, she found me a single-origin Ethiopian from (wait for it…) Extract. Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers!

A few minutes’ later, I had a lovely, delicate, floral brew through the V60, served in a carafe, cup on the side. To make up for the confusion, a slice of millionaires’ shortbread appeared on the house. Long and thin (in contrast to the more typical squares), this was not as sweet as some, the thick, chocolate topping and rich biscuit base blending wonderfully with the caramel filling, making it the perfect accompaniment to my coffee.

December 2016: I tried Playground own coffee-infused gin, made in conjunction with the Pyschopomp micro-distillery. The gin is infused with lightly-roasted coffee beans before distilling and I tried it more in hope than expectation, not being a great fan of anything alcoholic. However, I was very pleasantly surprised, particularly enjoying it with tonic which took the edge off the gin.

45 ST NICHOLAS STREET • BRISTOL • BS1 1TP +44 (0) 117 329 0720
Monday 08:00 – 22:45 Roaster Guests (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 08:00 – 22:45 Seating Tables, Armchair, Bars, Swings(!)
Wednesday 08:00 – 22:45 Food Cake
Thursday 08:00 – 22:45 Service Order at Counter
Friday 08:00 – 22:45 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 10:30 – 22:45 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 11:30 – 20:30 Power No
Chain No Visits 14th January, 8th December 2016

Liked this? Then don’t forget to check out the Coffee Spot Guide to Bristol for more great Coffee Spots.

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