The pandemic has, among other things, made it clear how rigid a calendar this site works to: there are certain milestones that take place at the same time every year, except for the years when we’re not allowed to do that. Edinburgh in August and London Film Festival in October are the big dates: the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme in February too, to a lesser extent. And then there’s Easter, when The Belated Birthday Girl and I have made it a thing that we spend part of Easter Sunday watching a film made in whichever part of the world we find ourselves in at the time. In recent years, that’s tended to overlap conveniently with our ongoing quest to visit as many BrewDog bars worldwide as we can.
Except, again, for the years when we’re not allowed to do that. So Easter 2020 was spent in London watching 28 Days Later for grim infection-centric yoks, while Easter 2021 – and I don’t think I mentioned this at the time – was also spent in London, this time watching Rocks. (It's alright. End of review.)
Easter 2022? Well, we’re on the move again. We have a trip out of town, a relevant film, a BrewDog bar, and even a bonus city thrown in on top.
The bonus city is Bristol, which we roll into on Good Friday because it’s been a while since we last paid it a visit. We're only there for 24 hours, and we cram quite a bit in. We pay the inevitable courtesy call to the site of BrewDogging #1, but we also revisit Wild Beer, introduce ourselves to the lovely brewpub of Left Handed Giant, and go on a brewery tour at Moor Beer - made all the more fun by a stag party who'd booked to go on it pulling out, meaning we have the whole tour to ourselves. (There are a lot of stag parties in Bristol this weekend, for some reason.) Lunch is at Left Handed Giant (their Cheeses Loves You pizza seems appropriate for the day), dinner is fish and chips at Salt & Malt, breakfast is at Spicer & Cole accompanied by apparently all the dogs in Bristol, and our departing lunchtime snack is a quick bite at The Pasty Emporium accompanied by the owner playing along to jazz records on his sax like Gene Hackman in The Conversation. But the absolute highlight is a return to floating venue Thekla to see a cracking gig by Riot Jazz Brass Band, who have a similar sort of funky vibe to Youngblood Brass Band but with added Mancunian cheekiness and upbeat vibes. “Spread love, not COVID,” says MC Chunky early on, which is about the time that I realise there are six people on stage with large metal funnels blowing their collected flob directly at us. Still, we survive.
Bristol's a city we visit every so often: Bath, less so, even though it's ten minutes or so closer to home. Our most recent trip was a 2016 weekend visit that took in a hygge cooking course at the Bertinet Bakery plus a fireworks display. Predictably, it’s taken the opening of a BrewDog bar to tempt us back there for a bit longer.
So let’s talk about BrewDog Bath. It’s the first bar we’ve seen outside Scotland to be set in what’s basically a shopping centre – you could easily lob a brick through the window of Debenhams from the outside terrace, or at least you could if Debenhams was still open. But once you’re inside, the design is pretty much what you’d expect. It looks surprisingly spacious, and it takes me a while to realise why – the tables at ground level are nicely spaced out, and there’s a balcony on three sides with a decent elevated view. Once we’re up there, it’s total déjà vu, as the upstairs section is a dead ringer for the Cambridge bar, famously the last new one we visited before the pando went down in 2020.
Bath gets allocated 48 hours rather than 24, so we get to see BrewDog in a few different states. On Saturday afternoon, a bit like the case was in Cambridge, the bar is ticking over with what The BBG still refers to as ‘gen pop’, with non-craft-beer-wankers popping in for the odd drink or two on their way to somewhere else. A post-gig drink on the Saturday night is a bit more like the way we expect these bars to go down, with a decent buzz to it. And on Easter Monday, we settle in for a relaxed lunch taking advantage of their food special for the month, a veggie version of the Jackpot burger that tends to be my choice where we’re eating at BrewDog. Considering it’s a mix of fake beef, fake black pudding and fake chorizo, it goes down incredibly well – it’s not an exact match for the Jackpot, but what it does it does impressively.
Other bars are available, and we can recommend two in particular. The Bath Brew House is just down the road from our Premier Inn, and does a reasonable selection of its own brews, in a large-scale, very studenty environment (the 'wheel of fortune' offering you a randomly selected drinks deal is a dead giveaway). Meanwhile, Beercraft is a magnificent find – a bottle shop with a wide range of local, British and international craft brews to take out, and a decent collection of taps for drinking in. If it wasn’t for them closing the kitchen early on Easter Sunday and thus messing up our food plans for the evening, it would be perfect – as it is, they’re such a nice bunch we forgive them anyway, and resign ourselves to our dinner that evening being a theatre interval icecream. (Don’t worry, decent meals are had at other times in our stay – sit-down breakfast at Boston Tea Party, grab-and-go breakfast at Mokoko, Sunday lunch at Raphael, curry dinner at Grand Eastern, and Easter Sunday chocs courtesy of Charlotte Brunswick Chocolates.)
We catch a bit of local entertainment on both nights we're in town, although it hardly counts as local – two comedy acts passing through the city as part of their national tours. On Saturday it’s Ed Gamble at the Bath Forum, a man who's become ridiculously omnipresent of late at Château Belated-Monkey thanks to his hosting of both the Taskmaster and Off Menu podcasts. He’s a perfectly acceptable night out: he doesn’t quite hit the bland conformity of the ubiquitous Russell comedians, but the touchstones of his routine - listening to heavy metal, eating food, getting married (‘I own a woman now’) – sometimes feel a little too much like components of a self-assembly comic personality. Gamble's audience is a relatively young one, which contrasts wildly with Barry Humphries at the Theatre Royal the following night. Humphries technically retired 8 years ago at the age of 80, so this is less epic than his previous theatre shows, and more of a sit-in-a-comfy-armchair-and-tell-stories sort of affair. There’s the odd bit of rambling, and a few too many video clips in the second half, but he’s still very much in control. When he casually throws out the line ‘you don’t have to be funny to be a comedian nowadays, you just have to identify as funny,’ it’s possible to simultaneously tut at his flippant attitude to modern identity politics and appreciate it as a bloody good joke.
As for our Easter Sunday film – well, after lots of research (including this handy booklet), the best bet seemed to be The Duchess. (The currently trendy thing filmed in Bath is Bridgerton, but that's Not A Movie and so doesn't count.) Best known these days as a film re-evaluated by the BBFC in 2019 as Probably A Bit Too Rapey For A 12A Sorry About That, it's the one about a woman (Keira Knightley) trapped in a loveless marriage with a duke (Ralph Fiennes) whose desire to produce a male heir leads to complications. As the Duchess is established quite early on as being part of the Spencer family, the parallels with the more recent history of the Spencers are carefully teased without being pushed too hard. Co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen makes his presence felt in drawing out the creepy perversity of the central relationships, but the movie as a whole is a bit too chocolate boxey to hit home fully. Still, the Bath locations used are clearly visible and well documented, so we even stroll out to see a couple of them personally during our weekend.
All in all, that's a good Easter weekend - our first one away from London in three years, and it's nice to be doing that again. I guess the next thing we should try to start doing again is visiting new BrewDog bars that aren't in the UK. (Yes, you should probably consider that foreshadowing.)
[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds†, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern†, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, Dog Eat Dog/Angel†, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome†, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku†, Helsinki†, Gray's Inn Road†, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton†, Berlin, Warsaw†, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong†, Oxford, Seven Dials, Reading, Malmo, Tallinn, Overworks, Tower Hill, Edinburgh Lothian Road, Milton Keynes, Canary Wharf, Brixton, Paddington, Dalston, Aberdeen Union Square, Peterhead, Itaewon, Le Marais, Outpost Manchester, Perth, Edinburgh Airport, Carlisle, St Pauli, Old Street, Cambridge, Ealing, St Andrews, Chancery Lane, DogHouse Manchester]