By Flossie Palmer, Features Editor
We are now a week into UCU strike action at the University, and students are desperately in search of off-campus study spaces to avoid crossing the picket lines when doing the daily library commute. While Bristol boasts an impressive plethora of coffee shops and cafes to choose from, the art of finding the right one with the perfect atmosphere for concentration can often be a difficult task.
Luckily, Vaulted Chambers Café, located in Castle Park, presents a tempting solution. The café, owned by Bristol City Council and opened in September 2021 as part of the Council’s Bristol Park Cafés range, offers a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. It resides inside the remains of the 11thcentury Bristol Castle, specifically its reception which once lead into the ancient dining hall, as Jayne Grocock, the café’s Catering Manager, told Epigram.
The remains are one of the oldest architectural structures in the city, and survived the rule of Oliver Cromwell, who demolished most of England’s castles out of anti-royalist sentiment during the Commonwealth between 1653-1658. Bristol Castle was then converted into a house and was later transformed into a sweet shop during the 19th century, in which Castle Park was an established central hub of Victorian life in Bristol.
The café has taken on many forms, from a Boots chemist in the 1930s, to a supposedly unpopular Italian restaurant in the 1970s. Now, the remains have been reclaimed as part of the Bristol hospitality scene in its return as a local café, conveniently located close to the office blocks of Temple Quarter and city centre University accommodation, such as Riverside and New Bridewell.
Opening of a new cafe at the Vaulted Chambers in Castle Park, Bristol. It’s the only remaining, above-ground structure of the castle, which was demolished in the 1600s on Cromwell’s orders. The chambers are thought to have been the entrance to the great hall. pic.twitter.com/wLkeelZXLC— Anthony Ward (@Anth0ny_Ward) September 3, 2021
It presents an exciting opportunity for Bristol’s inhabitants to learn more about the history behind their everyday cup of coffee, and has established itself as an enchanting, unique venue to grab lunch in. As Jayne Grocock stated, ‘It’s nice to put the castle back into the hands of the public. It’s part of the city’s history!’
Albeit small and quaint, the café’s seating is arranged before a beautiful arched window and is lit atmospherically with dim lighting, turning the mundane task of grab-and-go coffee into an immersive experience. The lighting, however, is not just an aesthetic choice. When converting the premise, Jayne Grocock and all builders and electricians who stepped into the building faced the immediate challenge of not being able to attach anything to the walls and flooring.
This is in abidance with the Grade II listing of the remains of Bristol Castle, meaning that all efforts must be taken to ensure that the historical significance and physical features of the building must be preserved. To ensure that this was respected to the utmost, large external spotlights have been plugged in and placed along the floor lining the walls of the café, creating a mood evocative of the building’s historical prominence.
However, if you’re not too fussed about the historical significance of your study space, Vaulted Chambers Café provides the absolute necessities for a productive study session. The café has the essentials - free Wi-fi and high-quality coffee; Grocock also added that all baristas are trained fully at the busy Ashton Court café which shares the same menu, and all coffee beans are roasted locally in Bristol to reduce the café’s carbon footprint.
A tantalising lunch menu is also on offer at the café, perfect for a mid-study break snack. For something small, Cakesmiths provides the sweet treats, while an on-site chef curates his own recipes, ranging from warming soups to freshly baked bread. Although the café has a rotating seasonal menu, you can still find your favourite bites, such as the classic avocado on toast (topped with a little watercress and roasted tomatoes for added indulgence), and bean chilli with tortilla chips.
A huge bonus of Vaulted Chambers Café’s menu is its consideration for those with allergies – both gluten free and vegan options are on offer. Jayne Grocock was more than happy to tell Epigram about the Café’s five-star food safety rating, as well as stressing that it is working towards the Bristol Eating Better Award in the coming months. This award has already been achieved by cafés affiliated with the Bristol Park Cafes group, such as Ashton Court’s Courtyard Café which achieved a gold standard, meaning that sustainability and healthy eating values are upheld by the venue.
While studying in cafes is inevitably a more expensive alternative to universities libraries, a coffee and a snack doesn’t have to completely drain your weekly budget. Vaulted Chambers Café, alongside others associated with the Bristol Park Cafes group, offer a 10% student discount as well as a loyalty card which allows you to get your ninth coffee free! Plus, all money spent in a Bristol Park Café is plugged straight back into the Park service, and therefore the local community, meaning you can feel less guilty about resisting making coffee at home.
So, what’s not to love? Whether you’re a coffee enthusiast, have a fancy for the historical aesthetic, or just like everyone else, have been struggling to find a study space without crossing the picket line, Vaulted Chambers Café may be the alternative you have been searching for.
Featured Image: Flossie Palmer / Epigram
Have you visited Vaulted Chambers Cafe yet?