Getting to Know The King's Head with Colin DawkinsPosted on: 29 Nov 2022
This week, we headed to the King's Head in Victoria St - a historic pub recently opened by the goodwill and financial backing of Good Chemistry Brewing. We spoke with the pub's manager, Colin Dawkins, on the history of the pub, his favourite beers, and why Bristol needs a monorail.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Colin Dawkins, I’ve been running pubs for seven or eight years – it’s not something I used to do, sort of fell in to it really. But I’ve really enjoyed it, and I’ve worked in good places.
I was primarily working at the Good Measure, so I was running the other pub for Kelly & Bob (owners and head brewers at Good Chemistry Brewing, who now own the King’s Head). When this came about I, rather stupidly, agreed to run both at the same time.
So now I’m running both, and I’m also living up here (he motions to the ceiling) – which is great, there’s a beautiful flat upstairs.
So yeah, I’m effectively the pub manager, I spent a lot of time on the bar at Good Measure, and I’ve spent a lot of time, so far, here. I guess mostly what I do is behind the scenes – but I think it’s quite important to set the tone, so I like to be around.
How do you mean – set the tone?
Well, in two ways: in terms of the expectations of the staff, how they should be on the bar, how they should be with customers...but also setting the tone of the behaviour of the customers, and being a familiar face. A face of authority, I think it’s quite important in a pub to have that. If you don’t have it, it can lead to the punters basically taking charge of the bar.
Do you know much about the history of the King’s Head?
Yeah, I was a customer, I knew stuff from that, and I’ve learned a lot from customers coming in for the last week.
The original part of the pub is the back – so this is from the mid 1600s. You look out the window and it’s strange because we look like we’re on Victoria St, but we’re actually not. We’re actually on the old Temple St. That’s a cobbled street here behind us, and that runs to the Cornubia – which is a pub about 50 yards away. That would have been the old main street.
The last work was done in the early-to-mid 1800s. It’s always been a pub. It’s one of the pubs in Bristol that claims to be the oldest but, y’know...they all claim to be.
Internally, it’s one of the most significant pubs in the country. The tramcar (referring to the Tramcar Bar, a cosy area in the style of an old tramcar) is new...new-ish. The backbar would have been the entire length of the building – this is the second oldest complete backbar in the country, there’s one pub in London that’s got one older. As a result, it’s heavily, heavily protected.
It’s still got the original marble worksurface. Got all this beautiful signage here – it’s got an incredible advertising sign here that was done by a Bedminster signwriter who at the time was the premier signwriter in the country,
At it’s time, it was a very, very beautiful place. I’ll go on slightly about this because I love all this.
Back in the day, pre-war, pubs were an escape for… admittedly men mostly – but for adults to get away from the drudgery of their life. It was quite bleak – hard work, they were all doing very manual jobs, poor sanitation, poor everything. No warmth in the house, outdoor toilets.
So they spent a lot of money on pubs. There’s a lot of good examples of those – London’s got lots, Liverpool’s got lots – of how they were. Which to some people was a bit...over-the-top, I suppose? But I think it’s beautiful.
Loads of wood, loads of gold, loads of brass. It was meant to be that even though you were just going for a couple of fags, and a couple of pints of weak bitter, you could feel like your money was well spent, and it would be an escape from your life.
We’re really lucky to have it – we being us, and the brewery, but also ‘we’ being the people of Bristol.
You mentioned the Tramcar Bar being a bit newer – do you know what the story behind that is?
So the bar would have run all the way through – at some point they cut the bar in half, got rid of the pillars, added a wall...and then this tramcar appeared.
When I used to come, it was the tramcar you came for. Friday & Saturday, we’ve had people queuing up, almost like an amusement arcade, or a funfair.
It’s later, but it’s still old, it’s still listed and it’s really really important, in terms of a sort of “pub artifact”. But I don’t really know whether it’s from a tram, maybe it isn’t, maybe it just looks like a tram.
It’s small, but it works really well – the way it makes it seem a bit snugger and a bit cosier in here. It really adds a bit of character and warmth to being here. It’s quirky.
Going back to the back bar – during the post-war period, people wanted to modernise, and forget. So they painted it all green. All of the wood, all of the beautiful signage, was all green.
At some point, it kind of got forgotten about, and it wasn’t until the 80s, that the owners found what was going on underneath – and they restored it to what it is now.
What’s it like working with Good Chemistry – do you have much contact with the brewery itself?
Yeah, we’ve got a really close relationship. The two owners and Kelly & Bob, who are a couple. Bristol-born, and lovely. They’ve been doing the brewery for seven years.
We speak all the time, they come in all the time, they come to the pubs. They’re very trusting in what I do, but they like to know what’s going on.
They’ve actually expanded recently, so they’ve got a bigger team – but they’re all lovely. There’s a real emphasis on inclusion. It’s the kind of thing that leads them.
They’ve been really really supportive. I didn’t see any of the process for the Good Measure because I’ve only been there about 18 months, but I’ve seen the work they were doing here. Painting things, nailing things, sanding things…Considering they’ve got another pub and they’ve also got a brewery, it was really impressive.
They put complete trust in me, which is great, because there’s a difference between being a pub manager and a landlord. If you’re a landlord, you make every single decision, for good or bad. But if you’re a pub manager, there’s always someone else to go to before you make a decision.
But they just kind of let me do what I think’s right. So it’s great from that point of view, I feel really supported.
The nature of the setup here is I don’t have a contractual obligation to buy beer off them...but obviously we buy beer off them. We get all their beers first, and it’s probably about 50% at all times. The beer’s really really good, so it’s just easy to sell it.
It makes the job really easy. Sometimes, when you’re working in other pubs, and what you’re selling is dictated to you, it’s difficult. If you’re charging £6 for a pint of crap continental lager that’s made in England and tastes awful...it’s hard to sell that and feel good about it.
I know you said you don’t drink anymore – but from this side of the bar, are there any Good Chemistry beers that stand out to you?
I have drunk a lot of their beers. I haven’t drank for eighteen months but I do taste all the beers, which is essential, and I know a good beer still.
There are two that stand out that are ‘OGs’ in a way. There’s Extra Special, it’s an ESB. So, a strong bitter that has a real sweetness, a real richness to it – it’s on cask. One of the best examples of that kind of beer I’ve ever had. We’ve had people who clearly wouldn’t go anywhere near that kind of thing before, who really like it.
Then we’ve got Kokomo Weekend, which is..not even the big brother, it’s the mum or dad of Kokomo Weekday, which is our biggest seller. It’s the thing we launched before that, it’s a very, very fruity 7% IPA, which we had to reduce the ABV on because people were getting so wasted on it – and that’s how Kokomo Weekday came out.
Any guest beers you’re looking forward to?
We’re getting a collab from Yonder, from Somerset, who do a thing where they piggyback off a larger brewery who do sessionable pales – so we’ve got one between them and a northern brewery.
The other one that stands out is a brewery that I really really like, and I was selling almost weekly at the Good Measure – but at that point they were only doing key kegs. So I stopped selling them – but they’re doing a cask. Burnt Mill, they’re incredible, they’re from Suffolk. Their pales are incredible, all gorgeous. They’re one of those breweries that...they pretty much just make pales. All incredible, really hazy, not soupy but quite heavy…
We’ve also got a cherry sour coming in from North, North are massive, but they just make amazing beer – and they’re really nice. We’re a very small pub at The Good Measure, but every time I buy beer they Instagram me saying ‘Thank you very much for buying our beer, your pub looks great…’
If you were mayor of Bristol for the day – what would you do?
I would ban cars. Without question.
The situation with cars in the city, particularly with places like up round the Bearpit, at certain times, is just ridiculous. It’s not safe for anyone. People like taxis and delivery drivers – I’m sympathetic to them because they’re just trying to do their job, but they have to drive like maniacs because there’s so many other people on the road, if they don’t they’ll just get stuck.
I’d shut the city down for anyone who isn’t working, and on every street I’d have a cycle and scooter path, decent-sized pedestrian path – and then an access road for emergency services, delivery drivers, stuff like that, that’d be my main one.
Bristol’s an amazing city, but it’s gotten so busy over the last five years. It’s really gotten out of control Maybe I’m just getting old. Currently I walk, cycle, Voi, and I do drive – I have to drive because I’ve got the two pubs. I’ve always done at least walking and cycling and I’ve never noticed it being this dangerous – even in the car it’s dangerous.
Bristol should be a leader in things like that, in the country, we’re a progressive city – and we’re quite good at publicising that but not really seemingly doing much about it, which is really frustrating.
Can I do anything? Yeah? Okay, I’d build a monorail.
I’d have a monorail, high, for all foot passengers. It’s a really really scenic, beautiful city, and no matter where you are there are so many hills and vistas. So that’s the infrastructure.
I’d ban all student blocks in the city centre. I’d ban the new builds. I wouldn’t allow any more student highrises to be built in the city centre – and I’d propose to universities that they invest in villages in the outskirts of the city. Or they do what students used to do, which is live in terraced houses on the outskirts of the city.
I don’t think it’s good for the city at all, I think it’s really flavoured the whole city...the city centre especially has been flavoured by that – it’s very transient, it’s too transient.
I’d also reinstate every public swimming pool that’s been closed over the last 50 years – that’s a big thing for me. Including the old lido at Eastville Park...and I’d also like to build the world’s biggest lido in about a five mile radius of the city.
When you go to somewhere like the Salt Lake at Clevedon, you see how busy it is, it’s people coming from Bristol to go there. We are ruining Clevedon, the water has to be changed constantly because there’s so much piss in it. You can’t park there.
It’s because the people of Bristol live in an urban city that’s becoming more and more high-rise – remember, up until a few years ago, there weren’t that many highrises being built. Every year, something else is allowed to be built – like the new one being built on Castle Park – that becomes the new highest building in Bristol.
So we feel suffocated by grey and buildings. We need to get out of the city, we need to do active, fun things. So we go to places like Clevedon Salt Lake. Something like that could easily be sustainable, if people had to pay a subscription or whatever it is.
It’s good for people. If you’ve got teenagers with nothing to do going to the lido, then A. They’re keeping out of trouble and B. They’re keeping fit and healthy.
Its mad. It’s a countrywide thing. You go to other countries – people go on about Berlin, it’s one of the few places where no matter who goes there, they’re like “Yeah, it is really cool.”
From spring onwards their attitude to outdoor life there is entirely different. Their entire infrastructure is set up there for people on foot to enjoy themselves. Going to bars, going for walks, going swimming. They’ve got the swimming pool in the river, the lakes just outside of the city that you can get to by train from the city centre very easily. It’s all about ‘how can we give the local people as positive an experience of living in the city as possible’.
As I said before; if we are a city that’s progressive and great as we think it is, and I do think on the whole it’s an amazing city, we could really start to lead in things like that – if we could find a few billion pounds.
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Patrick is a filmmaker with so much Bristol in his blood the white blood cells are graffiti'd. Educated at the Northern Film School in Leeds, he’s returned home to be a Videographer and Reviewer for 365Bristol and BARBI. When he’s not messing about with cameras, he enjoys playing guitar, spending far too much time on tabletop RPGs, and being an awful snob about cider. Have a look at his work here, or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.