Restaurant review: Bristol Republic is a BBQ spot. And a sports pub. And a country music bar...
It’s a barbecue restaurant teamed up with a well-chosen mentoring partner — Smoked on High, a strong-performing, local-sourcing Brewery District eatery. But it’s also a country-music venue that offers free live music Thursdays through Sundays.
Calling itself “your college football and NFL viewing headquarters,” it’s additionally a sports pub that serves weekend brunches and an all-you-can-eat Sunday buffet ($20). And it’s a whiskey bar with an impressive selection of corn squeezings that includes its own label — an unusual, single-barrel bourbon produced in collusion with Watershed Distillery.
It’s Bristol Republic in the Short North, a Nashville-inspired, 5,000 square-foot party center so big and ambitious that it’s assumed a title that implies autonomous statehood.
Bristol is an airy, darkly lit and often-cacophonous place that features brick walls — some decorated with framed photos of country-music stars — plus metal tables, a wooden floor, huge TVs, hanging guitars, a stage and chandeliers dangling from a tall ceiling detailed with repurposed doors.
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There’s also a deer head, affixed to blue-painted bricks, opposite shelves of books sporting an intense red color that rhymes with the backlighting of one of Bristol’s two large bars. Yeah, that’s a lot to take in — and I haven’t even mentioned the cored-out beer kegs in the men’s room.
Bristol tends to be rowdy. While entering on one visit, I was nearly trampled by a stampede of revelers hustling to enter in time for the place’s excellent happy-hour deals (from 4 until 7 p.m. weekdays, most drinks are half-priced and several $5 dishes are offered). On another visit, when the place was packed and loud as a madhouse, I had to order by shouting and pointing to the menu.
My heroic server on the madhouse night nailed everything. On an evening when Bristol was maybe half-full, though, a different server totally botched my order and all the food I received was lukewarm. On every occasion, Bristol presented me with good-tasting, generously portioned dishes made with fine ingredients.
The Rodeo Bites ($7) is a fun starter: saltines layered with soft-textured pimento cheese, a pickle chip and zesty sausage disks sourced from The Butcher and Grocer.
Unlike that sausage, the deeply beefy meat in my hefty 18-Hr Brisket Sandwich ($12) was rather dry and not smoky. Like all sandwiches, this comes with faultless house chips and oniony slaw, and its buttery, toasted soft bun arrives embossed — apparently by a branding iron — with Bristol’s logo.
Two other sandwiches hit their marks well: The Republic ($11), a fairly straightforward if satisfying cheeseburger; and The Alabama ($10), a rich, spicy and highly recommended ensemble starring crunchy fried chicken and tender greens.
From inexpensive samples to a humongous, feeds-about-four platter called “Try It All Y’all” ($33), Bristol’s easily navigated menu allows diners to try its barbecue in multiple guises. The indulgent Texas Style Spare Ribs ($8 for three big-and-meaty bones) offer a whiff of singed wood, but the flavorful pulled pork was by far the smokiest meat I tried here. Although I detected no smoke on the Hickory Smoked Wings ($12), I enjoyed their crispness and sweet-and-peppery rub. I also enjoyed the five bold sauces available.
Bristol’s juicy, pork-enhanced Southern Collard Greens ($3) are at the top of the side-dish ladder, but the other sides are pretty good, too. These include the oniony and vinegar-forward slaw ($3), fluffy Cheddar Cornbread muffins ($3), Made-From-Scratch Tots ($4) that recall fried mashed-potato balls and overcooked but beef-laden and zippy-yet-sweet Brisket Baked Beans ($4).
Sure, Bristol can sometimes seem like it’s trying too hard — and sometimes like it’s not trying hard enough. But if you’re looking for a whoop-de-do fueled by country music and solid barbecue, Bristol can punch that boot-kicking ticket.
1124 N. High St., Short North