Continuing an occasional series, another batch of recently closed Cardiff pubs:
THE FAT CAT
Fat Cat strutted into Cardiff in 2006 to the sound of fanfares, intent on luring punters into the vulgar confines of its chandeliered, velveteened and flock-furbished ‘café bar’ in the deeply intriguing (to me) Grosvenor House building. Then it slinked away in 2013, to the sound of silence. The fat cats skinned Fat Cat. Miaow. To make this entry longer, here’s a joke. A bear walks into a bar and says to the barmaid “I’ll have a gin and tonic, a Guinness and um, and a, and um, and a…” “What’s with the big pause?” said the barmaid. “Degenerative Alzheimers if you must know,” growled the bear.
Fire Island lasted less than a year; its unusual blend of connoisseur real ales and slabs of charred meat failing to survive the financial woes of owners Beatbox Bars. Thankfully, the admirable Tiny Rebel Brewery of Newport has just opened its first pub (named Urban Tap House, marginally less stark than ‘City Boozer’ I suppose) in the fascinating building, which was erected in 1890 as the inaugural HQ of the newly-formed Glamorgan County Council on the site of the defunct Town Quay left high and dry by the 1853 diversion of the Taff. The vivid terracotta chunk served as overflow offices after the Council moved to the monumental Glamorgan County Hall in Cathays Park in 1912 and then became the legendary Glamorgan Staff Club in 1963 (Glamorgan CC was abolished in 1974 and replaced by Mid, South and West Glamorgan Councils, all in turn abolished in 1996). Right through to 2007 the Glamorgan Club was the best place in the entire city for rakish bohemianism, languorous mood-modification and spontaneous free association, setting the benchmark for all Cardiff’s drinking establishments to come.
Way out on the featureless Trowbridge estate this 1971 Brains pub, built on the Wentloog levels close to the site of Hendre Isaf Farm, was classic old Cardiff, unruffled and unimpressed by the fickle winds of fashion. Doubly disadvantaged by the grinding poverty of its catchment area and an awkward location on a road to nowhere, the Hendre declined gradually into dignified decrepitude. A couple of years ago, I played there for my local in a Cardiff pool league fixture. You could tell the pub was in its death throes, but the friendliness and good humour (to say nothing of the chip butties and the recreational drugs) showed Cardiff at its best. It was so enjoyable I didn’t mind one bit when I was four-balled by a sloshed old soak who could hardly stand up (actually I did mind, but the nightmares are easing and my psychoanalyst says I’ll come to terms with it soon). A housing development is planned for the site.
THE PROMISED LAND
This independent opened in 2008 in one of the city centre’s oldest surviving terraced houses (1848) with a red elephant called ‘Tidy’ as a logo, a trained chef in the kitchen and a mission statement that read like the re-invention of the wheel. My instinct was to write it off as somewhere for posh berks, not for the likes of a rank’n’file berk such as I…but that just shows how wrong first impressions can be. I found myself being magnetically drawn there more and more, especially when down the east end of pub-purged Queen Street (I mean, what’s the alternative…the Central Bar?), and came to appreciate its intimate informality and live-and-let-live lubriciousness (that’s right, lubriciousness; it’s a brand new word I’ve just invented – no definition needed). It seemed the chosen people (Welsh slackers from Roath) had found their promised land, and it was a land flowing with milk and honey. And then the Philistines came calling, and paradise was lost.
THE ROCKIN CHAIR
Lower Cathedral Road
It is shocking, but true, that the Riverside area of Cardiff (population 15,000) now doesn’t have one single pub. Riverside joined Mynachdy, Pengam, Radyr and Tremorfa as one of Cardiff’s pub-bereft zones when the independent Rockin Chair closed this year after five jolly years in what had previously been the spaced-out Rajah’s of fond memory. The Rockin Chair’s excellent music, full-on Caribbean food and uncontrived nonchalance will barely constitute a footnote in the ever-unfolding story of Cardiff’s pubs, but remember: they also serve who only sublimate.
Pictures: John Lord; Innovare Media