Society Café, Bristol

The main entrance to Society Cafe in Bristol, a pair of glass double-doors opening out onto Farr's Lane, with the counter directly ahead.I first came across Society in its home city of Bath, where I managed to visit the two branches in the order that they opened, a rarity for the Coffee Spot, starting with Kingsmead Square before moving onto The Corridor. However, I’ve safely broken that trend by skipping the third Society Café, in Oxford, instead visiting the fourth and most recent branch which opened this summer in Bristol.

You’ll find Society Café down by the harbour, on the corner of Narrow Quay and Farr’s Lane, right next to the youth hostel. It’s a lovely setting, with lots of outdoor seating on the quayside as well as down Farr’s Lane, while there is even more seating inside, spread over two large, spacious areas, one either side of a central counter.

The coffee is always of the highest order, with the house-espresso, which changes monthly, coming from Origin. This is joined by a guest single-origin which changes every couple of weeks. Meanwhile there’s bulk-brew filter and another option on Aeropress, both of which change every week or so. If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s a wide selection of tea, plus a dedicated smoothie-bar, as well as sandwiches and cake if you’re hungry.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Down on the harbourside in Bristol, on the corner of Farr's Lane, you'll find this...
  • ... a new branch of Bath's Society Cafe, located in this splendid old building.
  • You can sit outside on Narrow Quay  if you want a view of the harbour itself...
  • ... plus the shade of some magnificent trees.
  • However, there is another side to Society Cafe.
  • This side, in fact, which runs up Farr's Lane and has its own entrance...
  • ... which is up here, towards the back, though the windows on the left are also Society's.
  • There is, by the way, a helpful sign...
  • ... while the door handily has the opening times. Six o'clock on a Sunday? How civilised!
  • The Farr's Lane entrance is the main one. Let's go in, shall we?
  • A short, wide corridor leads straight ahead to the counter, while the seating's off to the...
  • ... left and to the right. Here, an off-centre corridor leads right from the counter...
  • ... running between the seating to the door opening out onto the Narrow Qauy.
  • Off to the left, in effect at the back of Society Cafe, is a large, open seating area...
  • ... that consists of benches with tables running around three of the walls.
  • There's also a solitary table by the corridor that juts out into the seating area.
  • Meanwhile, on the right, towards the front, is this more eclectic seating area.
  • There's a sofa, with a pair of armchairs, it's back to the corridor...
  • ... with more benches running around the walls.
  • However, these ones are regularly interrupted for windows and window-bars...
  • ... before continuing on around.
  • Here comes another one!
  • A last look at the sofa and its armchairs.
  • This is the view if you are coming in from Narrow Quay and heading for the counter.
  • If you want more seating, just keep on going (or turn left if you came in the front)...
  • ... and you'll find another large seating area, starting with these two sofas on the right.
  • A look at one of the sofas, with more seating beyond.
  • There's a six-seater communal table at the back, with interesting pictures on the walls...
  • ... and a three-person bar against the wall on the right.
  • There's more seating beyond here, with another communal table in the back corner...
  • ... and a pair of armchairs towards the front.
  • Another look at the sofas.
  • However, there's more! Off to the left, at the front, is this magnificent window...
  • ... and it's glorious communal table. It might be the best spot in the house.
  • It has enough seats for ten people.
  • There's also a bar against the wall. It was almost closing time, hence the up-turned stools.
  • Time to head back to the counter, although do stop to admire the huge steel door.
  • Despite plenty of windows, there's lots of lighting too. These cylindrical ones abound.
  • There are more over by the window...
  • ... where the walls are lined with plants...
  • ... adding a nice touch of green.
  • Talking of which, these flowers were on a tabe in the seating area on the other side.
  • This part of the building has these glorious old, exposed timber beams...
  • ... and lots of lights. Plus there's the occasional modern beam as well.
  • However, the old beams were really what caught my eye.
  • A solitary cylindrical light on the wall.
  • A plaque, dedicated to Shape Studio, which designed the cafe and its furniture.
  • A last couple of things. Society Cafe has its own magazine...
  • ... and this branch has an interesting collection of games as well.
  • So, to business. You order at the large counter opposite the Farr's Lane door.
  • Off to your right, as you enter, is a separate juice bar...
  • ... while off to the left is the retail section.
  • There is a variety of coffee to be had, from a range of roasters.
  • If you're interested, there are tasting notes for each of the coffees being served...
  • ... while you can also take a look at the actual bags for the two options on espresso.
  • The menu, meanwhile, is off to the left of the counter...
  • ... where you'll also find a generous selection of cake.
  • The espresso machine & its two grinders are off the right, with filter coffee at the back.
  • I started with the single-origin guest espresso, a Kenyan from Round Hill Roastery.
  • I was with two friends, so we made our own mini-cake selection: flapjack, brownie & loaf.
  • I rounded things off with a rich, creamy San Fermin Colombian decaf flat white. Perfect.
Photo Carousel by v4.6

Society Café occupies two buildings, an older, stone-built one facing onto Narrow Quay, with a slightly more modern building at back, along Farr’s Lane. Despite this, the interior feels very modern, although there are reminders of the past, such as the massive sliding metal door separating the two buildings to the counter’s left. The older building also has magnificent, old, exposed timber beams running across the ceiling.

Although facing onto Narrow Quay, where there’s a separate door, Society Café’s main entrance is around the corner on Farr’s Lane, so I’m calling this the front. This door opens onto a wide corridor which runs to the back of Society Café, the seating off to the right (old building) and left (newer one), splitting Society Café into three distinct areas, each with its own character.

Starting with the counter, there are large retail shelves on the left, with coffee from various roasters bagged up, ready to go, while the counter for the juice bar’s on the right, with coffee, cake, etc, right at the back. Doorways to left and right lead to the seating areas. Place your order, then go get a seat.

Starting on the left, there’s a floor-to-ceiling window at front with a 10-person communal table in centre and a four-person bar on left. At back, two three-person sofas face each other across a coffee table, behind which is a six-person communal table, a three-person bar lining the right-hand wall. Finally, there’s another six-person table in the left-hand back corner, plus two armchairs, facing the back. This area has high ceilings, particularly at the front, giving it a great sense of space, only added to by the white walls and ceilings. The floor, meanwhile, is concrete.

The right-hand seating area has a more unusual layout, a corridor running diagonally from the counter to the other (Narrow Quay) door. This splits the area into two, front and back. At the front, it’s bright, with windows in the right-hand and front walls, while the door is also glass. A bench runs around all three walls, punctuated by the windows, which are occupied by three-person window-bars. The benches, meanwhile, are lined with small, square tables. Finally, there’s a sofa, back to the corridor, facing a couple of armchairs across a small coffee table.

In contrast, the rear part has no windows, just a lovely mural on the back wall (which I couldn’t get a decent photograph of). A padded bench runs around all three walls, with a central four-person table jutting out from the divider which delineates the corridor. Again, the bench is lined with small square tables.

During my visit, the guest espresso was a Kenyan, from Bath’s Round Hill Roastery, which features regularly along with the likes of Bristol’s Triple Co Roast and Berlin’s The Barn, who had a Rwandan on Aeropress. Unusually for a small chain, each café has its own ordering policy, so you may find something different on than you’d find in Bath or Oxford.

I had the guest espresso, a bright, well-balanced shot which I thoroughly enjoyed. My two friends, meanwhile, sampled the tea, which came in pots with cloth tea-bags. We ordered three cakes and made our very own sampling menu. There was an excellent flapjack, packed full of oats and syrup, which was delightfully chewy, plus a very rich chocolate & raspberry brownie. Finally, there was my favourite, the awesome apple, cinnamon & walnut loaf. This was moist and rich, but with wonderfully subtle flavours. I finished my day with a rich, creamy decaf flat white, using Origin’s San Fermin from Colombia.

December 2017: Society Café has won the 2017 Best Physical Space Award.

FARR’S LANE • NARROW QUAY • BRISTOL • BS1 4BB +44 (0) 117 930 4660
Monday 07:30 – 18:00 Roaster Origin + Guests (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:30 – 18:00 Seating Tables, Bars, Tables (outside)
Wednesday 07:30 – 18:00 Food Sandwiches, Cake
Thursday 07:30 – 18:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 07:30 – 18:00 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 07:30 – 18:00 Wifi Coming soon
Sunday 10:00 – 18:00 Power Yes (in seating to the right)
Chain Regional Visits 6th August 2017

If you enjoyed this Coffee Spot, then take a look at the rest of Bristol’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Bristol.

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4 thoughts on “Society Café, Bristol

  1. Pingback: Society Café, The Corridor | Brian's Coffee Spot

  2. Pingback: Society Café, Kingsmead Square | Brian's Coffee Spot

  3. Pingback: Coffee Spot Awards 2018 | Brian's Coffee Spot

  4. Pingback: 2018 Awards – Best Physical Space | Brian's Coffee Spot

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