These are unusual times, and the state of affairs can change quickly. Please check the latest travel guidance before making your journey. Note that our writer visited pre-pandemic.
Despite being fairly rural, Somerset has some great, characterful cocktail bars as well as traditional inns. Its country pubs are brimming with history and individuality. Some don’t have a bar but serve beer from kegs in a central room, or out of hatches. Many still have skittle alleys or corners set aside for table skittles. Expect lots of local cider, though the craft beer revolution has caught on, so many pubs also offer independently brewed beer. Lately a new movement has seen natural and biodynamic wines featuring on wine lists. In the county’s arty pockets you can find talented mixologists too, who incorporate local produce into botanical cocktails.
The Litton, Litton
This sprawling, stylishly decorated pub plays feelgood hits and fosters a party atmosphere at weekends. In summer, its wraparound gardens are a sociable spot, when a bar in a vintage horsebox opens and garden games are available. In winter, expect fire pits beside the stream and blankets. The inn is a boutique hotel, so its interiors are furnished in loving detail, with vintage-style lights, nooks beside fireplaces, sheepskins and beautiful bars, including a copper-topped whiskey bar. A beer flight sampling local brews is recommended for those who can’t make up their minds, as well as a menu of classic cocktails, wine and natural wine.
Contact: 01 761 24 15 54; thelitton.co.uk
Ring O’ Bells, Compton Martin
In Chew Valley, an attractive part of the Mendips, this village pub’s owner has music industry connections and so the odd rock star (Kylie, Chris Martin) has dropped in to play. On a regular day however, visitors will find inglenook fireplaces, a homely, vintage feel and a piano. A mix of indie music and classics can be heard on the speakers while, outdoors, the lawned beer garden has a lovely outlook, sitting beneath the surrounding hills. Whiskies are a speciality so it is perfectly acceptable to sit nursing a Dalwhinnie single malt in the pub’s dark and cosy corners.
Contact: 01 761 22 12 84; ringobellscomptonmartin.co.uk
The Pig near Bath, Hunstrete
Though a hotel, the bar at The Pig is a reliable bet for a night out, much-loved as it is by weekenders from Bath and Bristol. Drinking happens in earnest, the atmosphere is jolly and the setting resembles a colourful apothecary. Ordering a cocktail is a bit like visiting a friendly local botanist, with ingredients sourced from the kitchen garden and local spirits used where possible – try the Rosehip, Lemon Verbena and Boozy Apricot Tea. Amid the wood panelling, glass shelves are stocked with homemade infused vodkas and leather armchairs are pulled up beside windows overlooking the grounds.
Contact: 01 227 83 02 08; thepighotel.com/near-bath
At the Chapel, Bruton
At the bottom of an attractive spiral staircase lies a clubroom with exposed brickwork and plenty of space for evening libations. A long bar offers a high-quality range of spirits, while grass-green leather banquets and big tables are perfect for groups. Just outside, a discreet, jasmine-fringed walled terrace affords a view over the rooftops of Bruton and is where the most sought-after tables are in summer. The bar closes at around 11pmish or when the last overnight guest turns in. The superior wine list (there is a wine shop here too) includes organic and biodynamic bottles, or try a classic cocktail, such as a Somerset Bramble.
The Sheppey Inn, Lower Godney
Finding The Sheppey involves taking numerous bumpy lanes across a patchwork of fields. It is a relief, then, to open the door and find a tardis-like, hospitable pub. It is quirky too, so you might stay a while. Music-inspired art hangs from the walls and vintage toys are dotted about. The food is creative and the tunes, a winning mix of new indie and all-time greats. Decking overlooks the river and is perfect for a sundowner. Choose from a selection of 16 ales on tap, a Sheppey Cosmo cocktail, natural wine or something from the ten casks of local cider.
Contact: 01 458 83 15 94; thesheppey.co.uk
Eight Stony Street, Frome
Sat in a prime location beside Frome’s boutique shops, this bar, restaurant and wine shop has wonderful floor-to-ceiling windows that frame a curve of Catherine Hill. The industrial-style bar has high-ceilings dripping with planters, a soundtrack of experimental beats and plenty of space for lounging. The wine shop stocks more than 350 wines and any of the bottles can be drunk in the bar for a corkage fee. The Chateau d’Ollieres Coteaux Varois rose is perfect for a drink with friends, while cocktails include Chip Chip, a white port and tonic that is an alternative to a G&T.
Cheese and Grain, Frome
This music venue, operated as a not-for-profit social enterprise, made national headlines when it hosted a secret Foo Fighters gig in 2017. The 850-person capacity main room feels intimate and hosts live concerts or DJ nights at weekends. The rosta typically features mid-billing festival favourites alongside covers bands, ska bands, nostalgia nights and slots from BBC Radio DJs, like Jo Whiley. Daytime food and craft markets take place monthly and there is a cafe serving food, including Cornish roasted coffee and pasties.
Contact: 01 373 45 54 20; cheeseandgrain.com
Prices: Gigs from £12.50
Getting in: Tickets for non-sold out events available on the door
Bar Lotte, Frome
Bringing a little Parisian style to Frome, Bar Lotte is run by the popular Bistro Lotte, a couple of doors away. It is thoughtfully decorated, with vintage French posters, wood panelling and copper Singer shelf brackets. The wine is affordable and highly quaffable but it is the cocktails that stand out. Sip a Rhubarb and Vanilla Martini or – if you are recovering from a heavy night – a Corpse Reviver No. 6A, to a soundtrack of easy listening soul and jazz. Expect Vedett and Moretti on tap plus French bottled cider alongside traditional Worleys, from Somerset.
Contact: 01 373 30 10 68; bistrolottefrome.co.uk/bar-lotte
The Talbot, Mells
The Talbot is a handsome 15th-century inn, one of the Beckford group of revamped pubs that offer fashionable rooms in quaint villages. It still feels like a traditional coaching inn from the front, with a passage of flagstones leading to a central courtyard and a walled garden out the back. Inside there is a small, leather-upholstered bar and a sequence of cosy rooms with blazing fireplaces. It is the ideal spot for a drink followed by a country walk around unspoilt, historic Mells. There is a serious wine list, plus the cocktails (they make a powerful Negroni) and food are spot on.
Contact: 01 373 81 22 54; talbotinn.com
Woods at Dulverton
This dog-friendly, individual pub is often hailed one of the country’s best thanks to its convivial atmosphere. Once a bakery, the landlord himself built the stable-like partitions which make the interior cosy. Witty knick-knacks and hunting trophies adorn the dusky salmon walls above an old stone fireplace. The pub is renowned for its impressive range of wine – sip a Chateau Chantalouette Pomerol beside the log-burner – as well as real ales. The upmarket food is definitely worth a look too, making good use of local produce.