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.
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|
|www.society-cafe.com||+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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