20 St Nicholas Street. BS1. May 1973 – 2006.
It became gay in about 1973; the landlords were Mr and Mrs Smith and their flamboyant gay son. Later Ian Stephens bought the premises. The Elephant had a U-shaped bar, and in the 1970s a wood-and-glass partition between the bar and the street wall separated the interior into two bars: men drank to the left (as seen from the street), women to the right. This separation continued long after the partition was removed; only invited men ventured beyond the fireplace on the lesbian side.
From the first time I went there I was told the women gathered on one side of the semi-circular bar, the men on the other. I was never a regular there. (Jane)
Through most of the 1970s and ‘80s the bar was ruled by ‘Cilla’, boyfriend of Terry the manager, whose real name was Stephen. Cilla sported a Brillo perm and an acid tongue; woe betide the drinker who crossed him! In 2006 The Elephant went straight and reopened briefly as The Ivory with an upstairs restaurant. Then it became The Market Place, before reverting to The Elephant.
I was only thinking about the lovely Stephen from the Ellie yesterday, and how he was a real stereotype for me as a young gay man, and how you don’t see queens like that anymore, oh the jewellery and the perm, fantastic!
Chris Matthews (27.6.2011):
….and of course Ian Stevens shouting “splendid” while keeping a close eye on the till. I was away at the time of Cilla’s funeral, apparently it was standing room only, and people outside too!
Chris Leigh (Dec 2011):
The Ellie has a special meaning in my life. In 1975 I was rootless and stopped overnight in Bristol whilst driving from Cornwall to the midlands to job hunt. I bumped into a guy in the Elephant I’d known at work some years earlier, got chatting and introduced to his friends. That evening gave me an instant warm vibe about Bristol and its people. The next day I journeyed on to the midlands, didn’t like it so five days later returned to Bristol, and stayed. 37 years later I’m still here – producing this website! That visit to the Elephant changed the course of my life. I’d found home.