On the first day we got the keys to our new house in Bristol, me and Tibbs sat in the empty space of it, taking it in. After three hours of this, we were both hungry and set off for the nearest cafe. After ordering, I realised that not only did I not have any cash, I didn’t have a purse in Bristol either. Mortified. “No problem”, said Dina, one of the owners, when I explained I didn’t even live in Bristol yet. “Just bring it next time you’re in town.” I posted the money to the cafe, with a thank you note, and once we moved down, went in to check if they had received it. At which point, Leo, the other owner, tried to give me my change. “We’ve been waiting for you to come by!”.
This is The Duchess of Totterdown, and that experience pretty much defines its incredibly warm vibe.
The Duchess of Totterdown is at the top end of Totters, on the Wells Road, in a former grocer’s shop. It’s not a big cafe, with maybe six or seven square tables. The front window gets all steamy, which is so cosy when you’re in there. And if you like your coffee with a dog, or a fag, or a side order of moderate traffic, you can sit on the bench outside.
Leo and Dina are like the spirit of Bristol in two women’s bodies. Both of them are mega friendly and welcoming, and stupendously good cafe cooks. Almost everything is made on site, from the bagels to the cakes. Products are locally sourced. Prices are horribly reasonable, especially if you’re used to London fivers for a coffee and biscuit.
Aside from the delicious food (check out my breakfast and Tibbs’ home made bagel spread with home made hummous!), what I love about the Duchess of Totterdown is that it’s a proper community cafe. There’s no hoardes of Mac-toting singles or space-hogging buggies. There’s women of all ages meeting and talking, students getting warm and fed, workers getting their regular specials. There’s old folks, young folks, and just normal folks. Everyone’s drinking hot drinks from real china and individual teapots, sitting close together and there’s loads of laughter.
I was most recently there with Tibbs, just me and my daughter, having some food and enjoying making each other laugh. The Duchess of Totterdown is somewhere I could imagine us doing that whatever age we both are. It’s a pretty timeless experience, just sitting in there, listening to music such as Peggy Lee or Doris Day, and the hiss of the coffee machine, and the snatches of other folks’ conversations.
It’s not perfect for a big mums’ meetup, because there’s no space for large pushchairs inside (try Boca Bar or Banco Lounge in the area if that’s what you’re after), but for you and your special one, or special few, old and young, it’s just great.