'This place has got the potential to be absolutely anything'Posted on: 14 Nov 2019
The Cloak & Dagger's owner Jenna Graves hopes that a crowdfunding campaign will help her utilise her expansive new space and provide Bristol with a range of accessible events, workshops and classes.
Bought in June, the old Cox & Baloney Tea Room has undergone a drastic transformation in the last few months. The Cloak & Dagger, closed throughout August for a major clean-up and refurb operation, is now fully open for business and ready to make its mark on Cheltenham Road.
You wouldn’t know walking past it, but The Cloak & Dagger is one of the most spacious bar venues in central Bristol. The quaint-looking dining area visible from the street is just the beginning, with a bar area and large function room towards the back of the building, and a stairwell down to two expansive performance spaces in the basement.
Jenna Graves, owner of The Three Tuns on St George’s Road and the new owner of The Cloak & Dagger, was amazed by the potential of the bar when she initially viewed it. “The downstairs area was really run down, and it needed a lot of work,” she says, “ but I thought it was something I could really do something with - I saw so many possibilities so quickly.”
It’s easy to see where she’s coming from as you walk around, too. Bristol is full of weird underground spaces and corridors and old tunnel networks, and the bar’s mysterious basement area is a proper hidden gem. A stark contrast to the cosy first-floor area, the two rooms below ground look almost theatrical, each carrying their own unique charm.
Not quite Stokes Croft and not quite The Arches, Jenna recognises that there’s work to be done to put The Cloak & Dagger on the map. Alongside a small team, though, she’s clearly ambitious and more than prepared to take on such a daunting project. “There’s so much to do,” she tells me, “and everything’s a priority – it’s like ‘what do you do first?’”
In a few short weeks of opening, the team have already got the bar up and running and put together breakfast, brunch, evening and Sunday lunch menus, but it’s the events programme that Jenna is focused on. With so many rooms available and capable of hosting such a wide range of things, whether it’s a creative workshop, a tasting session or live music, planning is already underway to spread the word and get the spaces ready.
Jenna explains that “because of the way it’s laid out, there’s a massive potential for events, even to run several different things at the same time. Whereas a lot of the places around us are able to host different things, they’re ultimately one big space. The appeal here is that you can have your own private thing but don’t have to book out the whole venue if you don’t want to.”
In its early stages, the team want The Cloak & Dagger to host smaller events, with an emphasis on making it available for creative workshops. Ultimately wanting the space to be accessible as possible for people, it’s been made available for use at a cut price for as long as the venue can financially sustain it.
With that in mind, Jenna kicked off a Crowdfunding campaign in October with the aim of raising £5,000 to be able to subsidise creative and therapeutic projects for people in the area. She hopes that the venue can, in time, become a hub for Bristol extensive network of creative people and allow people to make use of the space if they can’t afford to run workshops elsewhere.
“The thought behind the JustGiving thing really is that a lot of people running these classes don’t have the money to put down on a venue or space,” she says. “They’re usually small, not-for-profit organisations, and although this isn’t a charity, we want to be able to provide that venue and allow people to express themselves.
Jenna tells me she’s been inundated with interest and responses to a short post on a Bristol creatives Facebook page, which, to her, “shows that there’s a real need for this sort of thing in the area.”
“People are desperate for opportunities to have those spaces and do their own thing,” she explains. That original Facebook post led to the first few workshops running from The Cloak & Dagger, and the venue has already hosted a full range of events, from weekly life drawing classes to jewellery making, drumming, yoga and more.
With a boost in funding, the team hope to be able to further subsidise things like venue hire and running costs, provide materials, safeguard it for the immediate future and make general improvements like soundproofing, all so that they can continue to host workshops at an accessible rate.
“There are so many creative people here,” Jenna says, “with loads of ideas, and I think it’s true for everyone that’s got their own event, or their own class, or their own venue, that you rely on people to offer up spaces and help out when you’re getting things up and running.
“With that little bit of extra help from the Crowdfunding we can assist with all sorts of things, whether it’s marketing and promotions, design or the business side of things, and hopefully be in a position to say to people ‘it’s ok, we’ve got some money in a pot to allow you to do your thing here.’”
Having been involved in community work throughout her working life and with vast experience working on a long list of community-driven projects, including St Werberghs Community Centre, Trinity Centre and Spike Island among others, Jenna is visibly optimistic and committed to providing an exciting new space for everyone in the area to be able to make use of.
“I’m not in this to become wealthy – I’ve got a passion for the city, and from working in all these community spaces and all these venues I know that there’s so much desire for it,” she says. “As the city’s growing and more people are moving here, you’ve got to keep these places alive.”
The Cloak & Dagger needs a bit of work before it’s a fully capable events space (Jenna tells me that, once we've finished our interview, she’ll be out the front with a belt sander to prepare the exterior for a new coat of paint), but all the signs point to an exciting new venue that’s genuinely available for all.
Cookery workshops, live music, rehearsal sessions, circus workshops, live magic, murder mystery events, improv theatre, theme nights, a therapeutic ‘hospitality hospital’ event and even weddings are just a few of the wealth of ideas Jenna has discussed during our half-hour interview. There really is no limit to The Cloak & Dagger’s potential as an events space, and, provided the funds are there, they’ll be in for a busy year in 2020.
The Cloak & Dagger is not quite a pub, not quite a bar and not quite a live venue, Jenna tells me with a wry smile, but a strange culmination of all three, and that’s what makes it so exciting. “A pub really has always got to remain a pub, whereas this place has got the potential to be absolutely anything.”
To contribute to The Cloak & Dagger’s fundraiser, support the team or find out more, head to their JustGiving page, check out their website, follow them on Facebook or pop in and see it for yourself: 182-184 Cheltenham Road, Bristol BS6 5RB.
For more information on workshops at The Cloak & Dagger or to enquire about running your own, contact Jenna via email.
Editor - 365Bristol.com & LOUD Magazine
Matt is a Journalism graduate and writer, passionate about supporting Bristol music, art and independent business. Get in touch via email at email@example.com.