“This place hasn’t changed in 30 years,” comments a customer in Woodes Café as she waits at the counter for her double espresso.
Turns out she’s been away from Bristol for some time and, upon returning to this Park Street stalwart, found it pretty much as she remembered it despite the many changes that have taken place around it.
Picking up her coffee, she makes a beeline for one of the stools by the window, saying: “You can watch the whole world go by from here.”
It’s true, this is a quiet perch from which people from all walks of life can be viewed going about their daily lives on the busy street outside – from the man trying to stay dry in his sleeping bag in the doorway of the former café opposite, to the many workers rushing by un-noticing, their umbrellas held low over their heads on this rainy Monday lunchtime.
“I can’t stand the rain,” exclaims one dripping customer, as he hands over a clingfilm-wrapped sandwich from the fridge to be toasted.
“I don’t really mind it – I’m from Poland,” replies the cheerful man behind the counter.
It’s just gone 2pm and the open-fronted fridge by the door that was once filled with sandwiches now only has one chicken and sweetcorn left on the shelf.
“I can make you something fresh,” offers a member of staff, who’s busy tidying around the display, handing over a list of filling options.
A constant on a street prone to change, Woodes has the soothing effect of a hot cup of tea on a rainy day.
Reassuringly familiar, the cosy wood-panelled café offers a simple menu of cooked breakfast options in the morning, sandwiches, toasties or jacket potatoes with a variety of fillings, or soups for lunch and toasted teacakes, cream teas and the like in the afternoons.
The glass-fronted cabinet on the counter displays an array of cakes and flapjacks as homely and unpretentious as this independent café.
Established in 1966, it’s easy to imagine that little has changed over the decades – although a menu offering an assortment of iced, flavoured coffees is one of a few nods to more modern trends.
With no overhead music, the sound of quiet chat fills the air, interspersed with the clink of crockery and hiss of the milk steamer.
Upstairs, a few small groups sit and talk at the tables, while other lone lunchers work at their laptop.
Woodes remains a go-to spot for customers of all ages. From the pensioners chatting in the corner to the students engrossed in their phones and the many workers, popping in for a quick takeaway sandwich before heading back to their desks.
Back at the much-coveted window spot, a customer strikes up a conversation with the age-old question “what do you do then?” It’s the sort of cafe that invites conversation in an increasingly digital world.
The arrival of my freshly-made toastie temporarily halts talk. A combination of molten cheddar and tomato on fresh, seeded bread (£2.95), this is the perfect comfort food on a rainy Monday lunchtime and a moment to be savoured.
A hint of pesto is the only added ingredient to this old favourite, which is just made to be washed down with a hot mug of tea (£1.50).
Sometimes the simple things are the best.
“Nice to meet you, hope you have a wonderful life,” says the woman – an artist – as she gets up to go, calling a cheerful goodbye to the staff on her way out.
Cosy and down-to-earth, Woodes Cafe is a familiar pillar of comfort in a bustling and ever-changing city.
Woodes Café, 18 Park Street, BS1 5JA
0117 926 4041