When I handed the manuscript of my Cardiff guide book to the publisher 20 months ago (aaarrgghh!!), the pub chapter had 215 entries. Since then, Cardiff’s pubs have been tumbling like the skittles once did in their obliterated alleys. The vital, sociable and exotic pub culture of the city is dying a slow death, strangled by the market forces that rule every aspect of life in the UK. When the price of a pint is at least 600% higher in a pub than you can get in a supermarket, there can be only one winner: Tesco. Pub buy-out specialists pounce on the weakened survivors to boost their property portfolios with the aim of turning them into speculative flats or just leaving them to rot until planning permission is bullied out of the Council. The only pubs making a profit are the ones surrendered to students and binge-drinkers or ring-fenced for those rich enough to be oblivious to prices. The remainder are unsustainable so long as we are subject to the UK’s wicked and stupid economic model. The pub cull is only just warming up: at least 50 Cardiff pubs hang by a fraying thread and will probably be gone before that bloody book sees the light of day. Meanwhile, as some kind of memorial, here in alphabetical order are the pubs I have already had to delete:
Any discussion of Cardiff and its pubs must commence with SA Brain & Co Ltd. There are few places so inextricably linked to a single brewer as Cardiff. In fact, if one company can be said to epitomise Cardiff it is not the long-gone leviathans of shipping, coal, iron and steel once known around the world, but this small family firm. Through shrewd dealings, realistic expectations, superb beers and sheer happenstance, Brains outlasted them all to become central to Cardiff’s identity. Three iconic drinks, Bitter, SA and Dark, wash through the city’s veins and Brains’ pubs, far and away the best in Cardiff, define the city’s culture. The company name hangs from bridges and pub signs everywhere you look and, although they moved from the Old Brewery in St Mary Street in 1999, they are still brewing in the heart of Cardiff at the Crawshay Street site where, between 1894 and 1968, their great rival Hancocks had been based. Hancocks, the biggest brewer in Wales at the time, were sadly swallowed up by English giant Bass Charrington in 1968. Brewing continued at Crawshay Street under the trading name Welsh Brewers, a mere sop to give the impression of local control, as proved when Bass “rationalised” operations and closed the plant in 1997. Brains pounced on the chance to move out of the cramped Old Brewery that they had occupied ever since Samuel Arthur Brain (1850-1903), a trained brewer from Gloucestershire, took it over in 1882. That’s why it’s the Brains name on the chimneystack by the Taff and, when the wind is in the right direction, that old familiar Cardiff smell of caramelising malt and hops still drifts across the city centre, curling into the nostrils, part of the very air that we breathe. As the last brewer/pub owner in Cardiff (the rest are owned by pub management chains, little more than property companies with no interest in brewing) Brains has a huge responsibility. Over the decades this is a responsibility they have generally discharged well, but there are alarming signs that the company is falling into the contemporary trap of believing that running a business is simply about making money. It is not: it is far more important than that. Too many Brains pubs are closing down, leaving gaping holes in Cardiff’s social fabric. The Baroness is a case in point. Established in 1866, and in the Brains stable since the 1920s, this was a lovely watering-hole for a quirky cast of Grangetown characters, nothing to write home about, no airs and graces, congruent, unvarnished and true. It was never meant to be a cash cow; a routine public space is achievement enough. But Brains pulled the plug in 2009 and the building’s still empty two years later, plans for conversion into flats gathering dust in the pending tray. So Brains has done itself no favours and the Baroness (full name the Baroness of Windsor) has joined the ranks of disappeared Grangetown pubs. Gone are the London Style (Lucknow Street), the Forge (Oakley Street), the Penarth Dock (Thomas Street), the Royal Princess (Hewell Street), the Lord Windsor (Holmesdale Street), the Bird in Hand (Bromsgrove Street), the Plymouth (Clive Street, Grangetown’s first pub dating to 1847), the Red House (Ferry Road) and the Inn on the River (Taff Embankment). There are now just three pubs left for the 20,000 people of Grangetown: the Grange, the Cornwall and the Neville – and the last mentioned looks doomed having been bought by a property developer. If the others should fall it doesn’t bear thinking about. You’ve heard of the pub with no beer? Grangetown would be the beer with no pub.
THE BUTE DOCK
West Bute Street
Opened in 1839 at the same time as the Bute West Dock, the first of Cardiff’s five docks, this was thus the very first Tiger Bay pub (discounting the Sea Lock Hotel of 1807, built at the entrance to the Glamorganshire Canal). It was originally much larger with a frontage on Bute Street (which survives as an estate agents today) and kitchens and stables to the rear on West Bute Street (then Dumfries Avenue). The West Dock itself only made it to 1970 (Lloyd George Avenue covers it now), but the Bute Dock sailed on, its back portion becoming the main pub. It rode out the annihilation of Tiger Bay and the imposition of Cardiff Bay, standing out as an antidote to the crass, purposeless consumerism all around, but ultimately couldn’t withstand becoming a component in the Punch Taverns empire and was summarily closed without a murmur of dissent in 2010. Cardiff’s 9th oldest inner-city pub has gone; meanwhile a few hundred metres away at Mermaid Quay, no effort is spared attempting to relieve customers of their money by creating pale pastiches of the Bute Dock’s authenticity with tidal waves of mock-nautical nomenclature and yo-ho-ho artifice.
Opened in 2009 in a former RAFA club along Cathedral Road’s grand High Victorian array by Llandeilo brewers Evan-Evans, this was a foxy addition to Pontcanna’s many amenities. They made the minor mistake of actually using the phrase “gastro pub” on the sign outside, apparently completely unaware that this is a term of abuse, plus the major blunder of setting up shop just as global capitalism imploded – and even Pontcanna was not immune. Y Cadno was shut within a year. Mind you, I’m the last person to criticise the lack of foresight: I completed a book just in time to witness the abolition of the book trade!
THE CARDIFF ARMS
There is no more evocative pub name in Cardiff. From it, the three words that can still make rugby fans around the world weak-kneed and dewy-eyed were derived: Cardiff Arms Park. But the original Cardiff Arms that gave its name to the rugby ground has nothing to do with this pub a mile to the east. In fact the original didn’t last as long, just 86 years from construction on Broad Street in 1792 to demolition in 1878 when Broad Street was erased to ease congestion in front of the Castle (the site became part of Castle Street and its gardens became the park that would evolve into the home of Welsh rugby by 1884). Local brewers Brains were canny enough to revive the name when they opened this stern edifice in Splott in 1896. It got through 114 years before accountants informed Brains that it made more economic sense to liquidate the asset than to continue providing a grimy sitting room for the dwindling band of locals who bothered with what had become a gloomy, passive-aggressive sump of misery. Its long years as a rollicking, embroiling community asset couldn’t survive the closure of docks, steelworks and railways that were Splott’s raison d’être, let alone the crush-all-opposition, loss-leading pricing policies of the supermarkets. The building stands boarded-up, being dismantled by buddleia growing out of its mortar, awaiting an improbable upturn in property prices. It adds to the casualty list of pubs in the area – the Moorland, the Tredegar, the Ruperra, the Lord Wimborne, the Grosvenor, the Old Airport – that has left Splott with a solitary pub, the Cottage on Sanquahar Street (I refuse to count the Ocean Park, a woebegone Brewers Fayre clone on Keen Road). Defeated, atomised Splotties now sit at home with a copy of TV Quick in front of their wall-mounted, high-definition tellies, draining cans of cheap lager and in charge of no aspect of their lives bar the remote control and the Facebook profile. Mind you, Cardiff has not been so stupid as to totally dispense with the resonant Cardiff Arms name: in 2009, after the closure of chain drinking factory Yates, the WRU opened the ‘Cardiff Arms Café-Bar’ outside the main entrance to the Millennium Stadium in the polychrome-brick curiosity that had begun life in 1878 as the Jackson Hall racquets court. By no stretch of the imagination is this a pub, just another way to fleece the gullible and clear the WRU’s overdraft. Cardiff’s long been legless; now it’s armless too.
THE CARPENTERS ARMS
Locals fought to keep this historic venue at the top of Rumney Hill alive, but the developers rode roughshod over the many objections and the 1872 building was demolished this year, to be replaced by a contemptuously ugly branch of Sainsbury’s – exactly what nobody in Rumney wanted or needed (there’s a nearby Sainsbury’s already, just ¾ mile away on Colchester Avenue). The story of the pub goes back to the 18th century when it was a blacksmiths and refreshment stop on the main highway and stagecoach route across south Wales. It became part of Cardiff’s rich drinking tradition after the passing of the Sunday Closing (Wales) Act in 1881. This was the first piece of legislation pertaining solely to Wales since the 16th century, and it is revealing that of all the policies the starch-collared nonconformist bible-bashers of William Gladstone’s Liberal government could have implemented to benefit Wales, this non-issue was the only one that motivated them (the Act would not be repealed until 1961). At the time Gwent (Monmouthshire) was treated for legal purposes as distinct from the rest of Wales, so the Act didn’t apply there. And, until it was absorbed by Cardiff in 1938, Rumney was part of Gwent, the boundary with Glamorgan being the river Rhymni. The Carpenters Arms was therefore the nearest pub to Cardiff where you could legally get a drink on Sunday. In no time it was notorious for its sloshed Sabbaths; the entire route back to town strewn with collapsed drunks every Sunday night, sleeping it off in hedges and ditches on Rumney Common. In later years the pub settled down as a ruminating alehouse and it was still at the heart of Rumney life when the merciless pub-management chain Spirit called last orders in 2009.
Mount Stuart Square
All attempts to extend the Bay “boom” a little beyond the waters’ edge to wider Butetown have failed, as the closure of this chummy bar located in one of Mount Stuart Square’s 10 surviving original 1850s townhouses illustrates. After the huge Coal Exchange was built in the central gardens in 1886, Mount Stuart Square’s residential function disappeared and it was reconfigured as the commercial centre of Cardiff Docks. This beautiful three-storey building of graceful simplicity became the offices of the Mercantile Marine Outfitting Company, and so it would remain until Cardiff’s one-trick coal economy perished after WW2. Occupiers came and went until it was rebooted as Buffs wine bar in the 1990s. When that didn’t work it tried “going gay”, first as the painfully-named and ridiculously-coloned X:It, then as Company. But even the pink pound couldn’t save it, not when the catchment population is an uneasy mix of the most deprived people in Wales and barricaded yuppies in gated compounds. Oh well, it will have to settle for figuring as a quaint backdrop in Doctor Who establishing shots.
THE COW & SNUFFERS
Originally called the Red Cow when built in 1812 by the minor local gentry Lynche-Blosse family to service the Glamorganshire Canal running right alongside, the pub acquired its distinctive name in 1832. There is no mystery about the name: it simply combined the ‘cow’ from the previous name with the workaday job description of some of its core customers: the snuffing out during daylight of the twinkling necklace of gas lamps that lit the night-time Canal from sea to mountain. Here, where the road north crossed the Canal, was lock number 45 (Llandaff Lock) of the 51 between the Canal Head at Cyfarthfa and the Sea Lock in Butetown, as well as coal yards, warehouses and wharfs to service the hungry iron towns of the hills with farm produce from the fertile lowlands. This was Llandaff Yard, a bustling Glamorgan hub, and the Cow & Snuffers was the quintessential canal pub at its heart. A huge, half-timbered Tudorbethan extension was added in 1905, dwarfing the original beerhouse which was eventually demolished in the 1970s, and the thriving pub coped with the Canal’s long decline (filled in here in 1943, not a vestige remains), coped with the transformation of bustling Llandaff Yard into suburban Llandaff North after WW1 (the first of many rebrandings designed to airbrush out Cardiff’s blue-collar bedrock and pander to snobbery), and coped with the 30-year onslaught on the social sphere ushered in by Thatcher. When I swung by in 2009 it seemed a happy-go-lucky, inclusive community centre with a future, but I hadn’t calculated on the bottom-line mentality of owners Enterprise Inns who closed it in 2010 because it was “too expensive to keep open” (ie: the elderly building needed a bit of spending). It was sold at auction and is now empty and rotting awaiting conversion into “affordable” flats that nobody can afford.
City Road is that rarity in Cardiff: a thoroughfare that has changed for the better. Fifty years ago it was an unappealing promenade of used car dealers and oily garages. Now it is one of the few Cardiff streets with a genuine sense of urban urgency and cosmopolitan clout, a multiracial, polymorphous strip where anything can, and frequently does, happen; a mad metropolitan mess, tracking the line of the medieval borough’s eastern boundary, delivering real diversity and integration across race, class, age and gender. Of course City Road is far from perfect, having all the problems familiar throughout Cardiff: epic quantities of litter, artery-clogging levels of traffic, a complete absence of greenery, crumbling buildings, creeping Tescofication, overt poverty at every corner, and the dismal cogs of Cardiff’s real economy – takeaway food, loan sharks, nail salons, tattoo parlours, hairdressers, computer repairs and sun-beds. But all that is trumped by the scintillating social possibilities, mostly based around the road’s ever-evolving line-up of drinking establishments. The loss of Dirty Sue’s can be weathered, I suppose. It started as the Clyde in 1868, became the Co-operative Club in 1927, the Coronation Working Men’s Club in 1955 and then seriously got into the name-game, going from Le Mans in 1966, through Scaramouche, the Exchange and Cornerstone to finally reach Dirty Sue’s in 2007, a name that smacked of desperation if ever one did. Pub signmakers were kept busy, but no re-brand seemed to make much difference to the overall crappiness. Now liquid anaesthetic is off the menu and it’s a kebab house.
THE FUNKY BUDDHA LOUNGE
Each word inadvertently revealed all: Funky = Constipated; Buddha = Shallow; Lounge = Uptight. There were two in Cardiff, this one plus another in Woodville Road. Both have gone the way of all flesh. A restaurant has taken over in Charles Street while the Woodville Road premises became Buffalo Lounge, run by those nice nouveaux hippies who gave us Buffalo Bar and 10 Feet Tall. But that too has closed, student debt being so crippling. Fucking hell, this is like painting the Severn Bridge!
THE GOOD COMPANIONS
The Cardiffians who moved out of the crowded, dirty inner city to the brand-new Llanrumney estate in the 1950s thought they had arrived in paradise. The state-of-the-art, all-mod-cons houses with front and back gardens; the wide, tree-lined roads; the generous open spaces and parkland; the swooning vistas across the Rhymni valley to the billowing hills; the micro-planned provision of handy schools, doctors, shops, churches and civic amenities; and above all the palpable sense of collective purpose, social cohesion and optimism. “Council Estate” was not a pejorative phrase in those days, yet to be relentlessly devalued, privatised and pauperised by decades of free-market extremism at Westminster. On the contrary, it was a source of pride. Llanrumney was allowed a couple of golden decades as a marvellous place to live, especially for kids able to run free in the magical countryside across the river footbridges at Ball Lane and Mill Lane, and became one of the iconic working-class parts of Cardiff, taking the tradition of informal mateyness forged on dockside and backstreet out onto the green hills of Gwent. The Good Companions, the only purpose-built estate pub, was integral to the project. Within its walls everyone knew everyone else and a stranger was soon, like it or not, drawn into the soap opera. But the anarchy unleashed by right-wing ideologues in London delivered blow after blow until Llanrumney could take no more. The selling off of council houses in order to create the delusional property-owning debtor economy in which the UK now putrefies resulted in more than half the housing-stock being privatised, the end of social solidarity and a calamitous loss of assets for which Cardiff’s present generation of young sofa-surfers who can’t find a home in their home town are forced to pay the price, while the dumbed-down, anti-intellectual tabloid culture on which no-brain consumerism relies was introduced by education cuts designed to make the UK population the thickest, and thus the most compliant, in Europe. Llanrumney’s schools struggled; the next generation was rendered impotent, depoliticised and belittled, reduced to scrabbling for status in tawdry possessions. People of goodwill and good hearts were sidelined, replaced by hyper-individualised wannabes defined by their biceps, tattoos, attack-dogs and car exhaust systems – and that’s just the women! Bad vibes came to the Goodie, and when pub management group Admiral took over it was run into the ground, closed for good in 2010 and then bulldozed this year. The site is empty and surrounded by fencing; but not to worry, there’s a branch of Bargain Booze next door.
HARD ROCK CAFÉ
St Mary Street
The American chain arrived in the slimy ‘Brewery Quarter’ in 2003 to whoops of triumph from the city’s spin doctors. Cardiff surely now counted as a world-class destination: we’ve got a Hard Rock Café like everywhere else! Really rather embarrassing then that it so quickly went flaccid; the haunt of befuddled out-of-town couples in mid-life crisis struggling with their gross cheeseburgers underneath Rick Parfitt’s plectrum. It took just seven years for the outfit to depart Cardiff, to deafening silence from those spin doctors. The vacant building is being fitted out for new tenants called Polynesia. I can see it now: swirly patterns, drinks served in hollowed-out pineapples, steel guitars, grass skirts…
THE KINGS CROSS
Built in 1872 in a prime position on Cardiff’s centrifugal six-way junction where The Hayes, Bridge Street, Hayes Bridge Road, Mill Lane, Caroline Street and the Glamorganshire Canal converged at Hayes Bridge, this loud, lairy, louche gay bar came alive as soon as the sun was over the yardarm, a sozzled haven for lipstick lesbians, nancy boys, predatory punters, drag queens, diesel dykes, muscle marys and gimlet-eyed cruisers, all spilling out onto the pavement outside. Having been gay since 1974, it was Cardiff’s oldest surviving gay pub – but never fell into the usual traps of exclusivity or preciousness or childishness or stereotyping. Essentially it was just an old-fashioned boozer, welcoming to anyone with an open mind. And now it is no more. Owners Mitchells & Butlers made the unilateral decision this year to abandon their customers and convert the pub into the Corner House, a super-straight pit-stop for Daily Mail readers taking the weight of their feet between retail transactions. This dumb strategy, slowly draining the variety and spark out of the city centre, has been going on in Cardiff for years. It is all about clearing the town of “undesirables” to make it safe for the “respectable” middle classes to wield their credit cards undisturbed by anything that might require them to remove their blinkers. With the marble ziggurats of the St David’s Centre extension opposite stating loud and clear that The Hayes is now the preserve of Cyncoed dowagers and Cowbridge kept-women, strictly off-limits for ordinary, low-wage Cardiffians uninterested in status-symbol spending, the ever-flexible LGBT scene has shifted its axis to Churchill Way/Charles Street. Scuzzy bar Foreplay, opened in Churchill Way in 2010, has already cheekily pinched the Kings name to imply continuity and snaffle disorientated queens looking for a new refuge.
The landlords of this 1898 neo-gothic showpiece by Fred Veall (1847-1925), who also designed Lansdowne School nearby, tried everything to boost takings: live music, art exhibitions, poker nights, quiz nights, the works. In the face of noise abatement orders, Council officiousness and the handicap of having fallen into the clutches of Admiral Taverns, the Lansdowne kept on trucking, defiantly delivering unconventional Canton nights until Admiral pulled the plug in 2010. It was immediately snapped up by Cardiff “entrepreneur” Jahan Abedi. Multi-millionaire Abedi has swooped on a number of weakened venues, rebranded them and overhauled them to his liking (that is, straight from the Pub Refit Handbook, circa 1995 – you know, pastel colours, comfy sofas, distressed furniture, “art” on the walls, cranked-up prices to deter the hoi-polloi, etc). The Maindy became the North Star, the End became the Vulcan Lounge, the Red Rooms became the Mocka Lounge and Soda Bar became Crystal. All have certain defining features in common: ageism and sexism, snobbery and oneupmanship, and a gormless fixation with Cardiff’s Z-list “celebrities” (ie: Jamie Baulch). Abedi has planning permission from the Council to convert the Lansdowne into 13 apartments plus a ground-floor bar. Who will be ready, willing or able to fork out £120,000 for the lease on a boxroom at the arse-end of Canton is a puzzle. But I can tell you exactly what that bar will be like: another generic ghetto for the botoxed and the vajazzled – and that’s just the men…
Cowbridge Road East
This was their patch; no-one was taking it off them. But the wild boys of Canton have at last had to throw in the towel at the Maltings. The 1971 pub built on the site of brewers Ind Coope’s old offices and stores on Radnor Road was shut first by the police in 2007 for being “a haven of crime and disorder”, reopened by Enterprise Inns in 2008 with squeaky-clean new managers at the helm, then shut again for good last year after having quickly reverted to type. It’s another loss on the ‘Canton Mile’, Cardiff’s seminal pub-crawl (actually nearer 2 miles, between the Victoria Park and the Westgate). Chisel its name on the headstone alongside the Ty Pwll Coch, the Cross, the Albion, the Cross Keys, the Barley Mow, the Royal Oak, the Lamb & Flag, the Royal Exchange and the Wyndham. That still leaves 13: a quick pint in each, and to hell with government guidelines! Meanwhile, the centuries-old clash between authoritarian Cardiff and anarchic Cardiff moves on to pastures new.
St Mary Street
Once upon a time there were four big brewers in Cardiff: Brains in the Old Brewery, St Mary Street; Hancocks in Crawshay Street; Ely at Ely Bridge; and Crosswells at the New Brewery, also at Ely Bridge. In 1936 the Rhymney Brewery from the heads of the valleys iron town took over Crosswells and then in 1959 they absorbed the Ely Brewery too and amalgamated the two cheek-by-jowl operations into a completely rebuilt New Brewery, so reducing the number of Cardiff brewers to three. That number was cut to two in 1966 when London brewing giant Whitbread bought out Rhymney, quickly eliminated all their beers and disposed of hundreds of Rhymney pubs (the New Brewery was demolished in 1982 when Whitbread moved its Welsh operation to Magor alongside the M4 – Whitbread in turn sold out to Interbrew in 2000). Among the many Cardiff pubs lost in this process was the Blue Anchor on St Mary Street, where canal boatmen and dockers had been drinking since 1849, as well as its neighbours on both sides, the Royal Oak and Elliott’s Hotel. The three adjacent buildings eventually came into the hands of the Le Monde group of restaurants, a home-grown concern popular with continuity announcers from the Vale and self-made men with a view of the Lake (Roath Park Lake, not the Bay idiot!). The Blue Anchor became Champers, the Royal Oak became La Brasserie and imposing Elliott’s became company HQ Le Monde. Decades passed, many overdone steaks and sickly cocktails were consumed – and then the UK economy went and collapsed. Le Monde was forced to retrench, Champers was sold and Bristol-based bar-cum-club outfit Mbargo moved in. Suddenly, they were getting out of it within the old Blue Anchor’s walls again after a 40-year hiatus. I was encouraged. But I hadn’t reckoned on the sheer depth and breadth of the UK’s economic malaise: Mbargo lasted just two years and the Blue Anchor sank again.
Southern Canton/Riverside has lost so many pubs: the Royal Tudor (Tudor Street), the Duke of York, the Greyhound, the Red Cow, the Rover Vaults (all Wellington Street), the Wells (Craddock Street), the Craddock (Ninian Park Road), the Inn on the River (Taff Embankment), the Coldstream/Millers Tavern (Brook Street) and now this wonderfully relaxing little rough diamond on the Wyndham Street/Heath Street corner, a pub since 1933. Brains have pronounced: “it’s not a viable business” – meaning sensible, civilised drinkers with small incomes don’t generate enough profit. The company should beware lest it composes its own epitaph; loyalty, after all, is a two-way process. While Brains plot equity release the vandalised building goes to rack and ruin. Cheers.
THE MODEL INN
When Brains shut this one on Christmas Eve 2010, they illustrated how unfit they are becoming to be the main guardians of Cardiff’s pub heritage. It was the 4th oldest pub in the city centre and one of only eight survivors from pre-docks Cardiff having opened as the Ship on Launch in 1770 when Cardiff was a tiny fishing port. The river Taff and the town quay were then metres from its door and the ground floor would be regularly swamped at high tides. After the river was diverted in 1853 into a new cut 300m east, the pub was rebuilt and defiantly renamed the Ship on Land, but the core clientele of fishermen, sea captains and roving mariners dissolved into the ether. Renamed again, for much of the 20th century it was Cardiff’s best known ‘chop-house’, run by wine merchants Greenwood & Brown before Brains took over in the 1960s and the Model Inn entrenched itself deeper into the Cardiff fibre, a loud, beery, boisterous Cardiff classic especially on rugby international days. But Brains started to get ideas above their station in the 1990s, no longer content to be a respected local brewer knitted into the city’s fabric. They started to chase quick profits, spread themselves too thin, follow fickle fashions and lose sight of their core brewing function. It was decided that the pub would be aimed at the “pre-club market”, a sure-fire recipe for diminishing returns, and the poor old place was soon quaking to clod-hopping garage and house music and driving regulars away. As Cardiff’s fly-by-night club scene imploded with the credit crunch, the Model Inn was high and dry. It was left to wither on the vine, becoming a by-word for end-of-barrel beer, filthy toilets and all-round noxiousness. Voila! It could be closed without a whimper of protest.
THE NEW DOCK TAVERN
Named after Roath Dock, Cardiff’s 4th dock opened in 1887 the same year as the pub, this creaky sanctum on battered Broadway was one of those unremarkable little workers’ pubs that used to be two a penny in Cardiff but now, with hindsight, seem like cultural pearls. Spontaneous, face-to-face human interaction? The free exchange of ideas? The passing on of experience and knowledge down the generations? Nah…this is modern Britain, run for the further enrichment of a miniscule minority – unregulated communication threatens their interests so must be discouraged and stamped out at all costs. The Old Etonians in control want you to stay at home tweeting inconsequential tittle-tattle into the internet void, their agents monitoring your every keyboard stroke in case the word “riot” ever crops up…hang on a minute, must break off, there’s someone hammering at my front door…
THE PARK VAULTS
When the Park Vaults closed in 2009, to be replaced by a bookies, it was the last pub on Queen Street (Park Lane to be precise, it used to extend to the Queen Street corner). So the most famous street in Wales hasn’t got a single pub, an extraordinary absence that has rendered it monochrome and monotonous without any compensatory gains. The shopping utopia that successive Councils have pursued since pedestrianisation in 1975 has been ruined by capitalism’s abiding tendency to cannibalise itself, not to mention the rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul ineptitude of city planners – leaving Queen Street with more and more empty units and a humiliating reliance on pound shops, fast food and convenience stores. No more are the Red Lion, the Three Cranes, the Unicorn, the Tivoli, Carey’s, the Masons Arms, the Victoria, the Thatched House, the Taff Vale and the Alexandra, and now too the fabulous 1884 Park Vaults, a soothing, mahogany-panelled oasis of fine ales, low-key sophistication and seen-it-all-before Cardiff knowingness for grown-ups. It was built as part of the monumental Park Hotel, a French Renaissance-style mass with grandstanding stonework and a pavilion roof that replaced Cardiff’s first theatre after it burnt down in 1877, but was always run as an independent concern until the Thistle group took over, renovated the hotel (Welshifying the name to ‘Parc’ in the process) and terminated the arrangement. The options are running out in Cardiff for argumentative, running-to-seed blokes perched on bar stools, swapping world-weary one-liners through the bottom of a glass – and that’s just me…
THE QUARRY HOUSE
St Fagans Road
The building alone always made this pub worth a visit. It was designed by architect Percy Thomas (1883-1969) in 1921 for the Treseder family, horticulturalists with a plant nursery at Union Road Canton, famed for cultivating the ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ dahlia, a scarlet stunner still very popular with dahlia aficionados. Thomas utilised warm-hued limestone extracted on site from the Pentrebane Quarry, now a wildly overgrown jungle stretching up the hill to the rear, to create an arts & crafts-style gem, most unusual in Cardiff (he went on to design two splendid purpose-built Cardiff pubs in the 1930s, the Birchgrove and the Westgate, as well as the Temple of Peace in Cathays Park, before bagging a knighthood – the company he established later built the Wales Millennium Centre). The Quarry House became a pub in 1970 to serve the Pentrebane estate that had swallowed up the rolling agricultural land to the north of the Ely valley in the 1960s. Cosy, friendly and mellow, just like the building, the pub was known for its good food and gave otherwise bland Pentrebane a raffish prestige. But such a building was always going to be vulnerable to the bean-counters at Enterprise Inns and now it’s lined up for conversion into “luxury” (translation: bog standard) private homes.
THE SLUG & LETTUCE
It is to Cardiff’s credit that this awful place shut down in 2010. One of 43 in the UK, it featured sky-high prices, inedible plastic food, slug-slow service unless you had big tits, hideous decor and tinnitus-inducing bubblegum music, and only drew unintelligent, angry, self-obsessed, mutton-dressed-as-mutton tossers. Its seven-year stint in the Pearl House building was as brief as its equally bad predecessor Bar Med. Now this much-abused Cardiff by-way, along which the Glamorganshire Canal once ran, can get some peace. Until the next exploitative chancers come calling.