The Elephant

20 St Nicholas Street. BS1.  May 1973 – 2006.

Elephant, St Nicholas St, Bristol, 2011

Elephant in 2011

The Elephant has traded under this name since at least 1787. It was rebuilt in 1866-7 with a splendid pub sign of an elephant’s head carved in stone on the first floor.Elephant, St Nicolas St, Bristol

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. Since then it has had further changes in management and name; currently ‘The Boardroom’ (2024).

Berkeley (27.6.2011):

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.

  21 Responses to “Elephant”

  1. There were a few barmen you had to be wary of. Try complaining that the beer was off and you’d probably get a stinging rebuke. “Well she hasn’t complained,” they might reply, pointing to someone else. Terry’s refrain at closing time was: “Let’s have your glasses, not your arses.”

  2. I sure miss jim,my greatest friend whom i met in the elephant,i was utterly devastated when i read of his death..what happened to his house and his cat??

  3. I have fondest memories of The Elephant from the late 70s to early 80s. I remember a guy called Don was manager before Steve and Terry. Such happy days, also remember I met a sweetie there by the name of Richard Baker. I wonder where you are today .

    • There was another barman there called Keith. Wore a medallion everytime I walk I need say hello nice to see the big smile

  4. What ever happened to Ian Stevens – I worked at Club Leo next door.

  5. The Elephant closed down again in very late 2014 or early 2015. Sat vacant for a while and has now become a tapas bar called The Boardroom. I spoke to a potential buyer (eccentric bloke) who said he had plans of turning it back into a gay bar but I’m guessing he decided against it or somebody else bought it. I work at Vodka Revs opposite so have seen this transition.

  6. There was a lovely barman you named Keith with his gold medallion and so friendly so many
    memories of my teenage days there

  7. I worked there in the early 90’s – it was packed at weekends and Sunday lunchtimes we’re heaving!
    Pre internet ?

  8. I was taken here by my older brother.. as a young adult I was welcomed very much so.. fondest memories of how this gay pub took my into there community xxx
    Thank you for the experience.
    Sadly I lost my brother but omg the laughs we had here

  9. I was very much a regular throughout the entire 80’s. I stood in awe of the flamboyancy of Cilla who would come down towards the end of the evening, blouse open to his navel, huge rings, his tight corkscrew perm and the hand gestures of Dusty Springfield. Those downstairs men’s toilets could tell a tale or two ! One barman not mentioned has been the Welsh guy (Robert ?) with jet black hair and clone moustache. Tongue like double sided razor 🙂 Two wonderful lesbians Sue and ‘Bobby Brylcreem’ who on/off love lives kept everyone entertained on the fireplace side. Happy Days !

    • I’m that sue!!!.. gosh good days indeed.. Bob and I lasted just over 2 years…was a riot.. I worked behind the bar for a long long time here. MISS IT SO MUCH!!!

  10. I came back to England and lived in Somerset in the late 70’s having grown up in Australia. Found the Bristol scene (Regency Club on Whiteladies Rd) and loved The Elly – especially on Sunday lunchtimes – usually getting over the previous night’s hangover. Lots of lesbians and all doing butch or fem – we butches in our puffer jackets and checking out the talent … Occasionally going over the to men’s side with someone to talk to their friends was a journey into another world .. all the types and personalities and big characters. Terry was lovely and Cilla had such a huge aura (I was petrified!) When certain songs came on and all the guys sang and postured it was like being in a stage musical .. Great memories!

  11. Does anyone remember a barman c 1996 called Gavin? Early 20’s and lived in Barton Hill. I often wondered what happened to him. Lovely guy

  12. You mentioned a Mr and Mrs Smith. If I’m right his name was Jack. Drank most of the profits but a pleasant fellow non the less. I remember a handsome long haired queen nickname Tracy who I fancied like crazy. If my vision of the pub is correct, There were downstairs toilets at the back left as you faced away from the street. Even in the mid seventies, there was some good food. A friendly crowd as well. I left Bristol in 1976, but I have some great memories of the place, although it was 46 years ago.

  13. I visited the elephant when my best friend stayed in Bristol. Me and my mate Matt had a fabulous time and met many great people in the pub. The atmosphere was fantastic, this was end of 80s start of 90s. Lost contact with some especialy guys Tony and Stuart and a good friend of theirs if u no wat I mean. Was back again in 90s, fabulous. I did meet cilia both time there, wat a tart but lovely xxx

  14. Hi, I am a collectors of matchbox labels and bookmatch folders, checking through I found one of The Elephant ? 20 St Nicholas St Bristol
    with the slogan– DONT LEAVE YOUR FRIENDS BEHIND depicting 2 elephants trunk to tail, very apt I thought, my wife used to visit many years back (around the 70s) Terry

  15. Does anyone have any historical knowledge of ran The Elephant prior to the ’70’s? I believe my great grandmother was the landlady in the 1940’s?

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