Setting foot inside Woodes at the bottom of Park Street, the first thing I notice is that it has barely changed since I first went there in the mid-1980s.
The polished brass rails, marble-topped clawfoot tables and brown leather banquettes are still there, as are the Victorian Toulouse-Lautrec prints on the clotted cream-coloured walls and the cosy booths up the wooden staircase where I once tripped and dropped a tray of teapots and cakes.
Woodes opened in 1966, which makes it the longest-running food business in Park Street and one of the oldest in central Bristol. It’s a genuine institution and remarkable that it has survived 57 years unscathed.
I was a teenager when I first visited the cafe, probably for a reviving cuppa in between visits to the many record shops located on Park Street in the 1980s. They’ve all gone, of course, but after several years of ups and downs, it feels like there is some new energy in Park Street with new shops opening and a thriving vintage clothes quarter.
And a quick look at the menu boards at Woodes reveals prices which, if not quite at 1980s levels, are certainly retro and cheaper than many places in central Bristol.
Stop off before 11am and you can still bag one of Woodes’ famous bacon sandwiches for just £3.30 or pancakes with golden syrup for £2.15. At lunch, jacket potatoes start from £3.45, soup is £2.85 and the freshly made sandwiches in the fridge by the door are mostly around the £3 mark, with toasted ciabattas £4.45.
On this occasion, I grabbed one of the clingfilm-wrapped tuna mayo, black olives and red onion sandwiches on granary bread. It was a generously filled sarnie with plenty of the advertised ingredients and a bargain at £3.05.
To drink, a mug of tea for £1.55, although I could have ordered the large filter coffee for just £2.30 or, if I was really pushing the boat out, a bottle of Moretti for a more BS8-like price of £5.75.
My sandwich and tea came to £4.60. There aren’t too many places left where you can stop off for lunch and still get change from a fiver.
Refreshingly, there is no music piped around the cafe and the wi-fi signal is rubbish so it doesn’t attract the laptop crowd. It’s a place where only conversation and the hiss of the coffee machine gets in the way of watching the world by and kicking back from the stresses and strains of daily life for a few minutes.
And that’s probably a large part of this iconic Bristol cafe’s recipe for success over the past 57 years. It’s just a shame there aren’t more places left like it.
Woodes, 18 Park Street, Bristol, BS1 5JA.