Because the Pubocalypse strand has grown into a large archive, I’ve now made it into a category in its own right – saving me the hassle of providing links to past posts every time I do a new one and making it easier to navigate for readers interested in Cardiff’s pubs.
29 PARK PLACE
It’s getting hard to keep track of the catalogue of failed ventures at this lovely 1874 townhouse close to the National Museum. This effort by local company Croesy Bars lasted 2½ years. It opened thanks to a £160k loan from the Welsh government via its Development Bank of Wales subsidiary and shut with debts of over £¼million, including to the council and various food suppliers (subsequently it’s been taken over by Knife & Fork Food and added to their stable of ho-hum gastropubs that includes the Conway in Pontcanna and the Discovery in Cyncoed). Croesy Bars owner Jon Saunders, ex Mitchells & Butlers general manager and responsible for the Ten Mill Lane cocktail bar, can now concentrate on another of his, um, undertakings: the Dead Canary in Barrack Lane (see Bar Icon below), a snooty ‘speakeasy’ where cocktails are £10 a hit. The question is this: why does the Labour government dish out scarce funds willy-nilly to prop up otherwise untenable speculative drinking establishments in a city centre which has over 320 licensed premises already? Possible answers include: to create a couple of jobs pulling pints, heating up bar snacks and scouring toilets; to hasten Cardiff’s transformation into a drizzly sub-Magaluf on the Taff; to encourage the creation of a numbed, passive, compliant population; or perhaps to paper over the cracks of their clueless inability to tackle Wales’ profound economic malaise. I have a supplementary second question: can everybody in Wales get such generous unconditional backing? You see, I could really do with £100k to complete, publish and distribute an important in-depth investigation and exposure of the corrupt crooks and criminals who run Wales.
The loss of one of Cardiff’s few remaining gay bars in 2017 was actually no loss at all. Leaving to one side the fact that Bar Icon, launched in 2007, was simply dreadful, it’s surely about time the very concept of a ‘gay bar’ was jettisoned. After all, if there were any such thing as a ‘straight bar’ it would be a place where bulimic single mothers stripped off for morons with overdeveloped moobs and miniscule penises – so there can be little demand and less justification for a gay equivalent. Furthermore, ‘gay’ itself has been effectively abolished by the identity police’s insistence that gay people are merely a minor component in the make-believe LGBTQIAPK+ ‘community’. This ever-lengthening absurd alphabet soup of micro-managed labels, frivolous fine differentials and victimhood point-scoring has made a laughing stock out of sexuality and gender issues, rendering identity utterly meaningless by ticking so many boxes one might as well be really ‘inclusive’ and just define oneself as a “human being”. There’s an idea! Meanwhile Dead Canary in Barrack Lane at the back of the building has expanded into the vacuum.
BARLEY & RYE
Over the years there have been many transient occupants in the fetching Grosvenor House building on Greyfriars Road – who now remembers Q Bar or Fat Cat? Barley & Rye, an eminently forgettable food-based effort with no redeeming features, was out of place in a street surrendered to piss-heads and it summarily shut after barely a year.
The Burning Night Group, which ran this hole for heavy drinkers, says that “a detailed cost analysis” was the reason for its abrupt closure in August after less than three years in the hopeless white elephant on Wood Street. With it went their connected themed bars, Around the World and Shooters. Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Entertainment Complex to let! Entertainment Complex to let! All offers considered!
Cowbridge Road East
Ahh, the Corp has finally corpsed. There is an interesting discussion to be had about the remorseless gentrification of Canton, the social and economic purging of Cardiffians from Cardiff, the incoherent rage of toxic ‘masculinity’, the systematic educational disenfranchisement of the working classes and the primacy of price to those who have nothing…but I’m not going to go there. Instead, it’s enough to mark the passing of this 1889 bulwark at the Canton Cross junction, Canton’s ancient nucleus where the highway across the coastal plain intersected with the road to the monastic site at Llandaf. Once the largest fresh food and livestock market in all Glamorgan was held here, hard by the Canton oak, one of the great social gathering grounds of pre-industrial Wales. Because it was built on common lands, the Corporation Hotel’s freehold was held by the council. Over the years the leasehold passed through many hands until Greene King didn’t renew in 2016, unable to change the pub’s appalling reputation as a seething den of unreconstructed who-you-looking-at-mate macho menace. There was one final spasm in 2017 when new landlords tried to make it ‘family-friendly’ – an impossibility when platoons of patrolling bouncers were required to keep the lid on the steroid-pumped, stone-age sociopaths. It shut for good in 2018 and now the Grade II listed colossus is up for sale at £¼million. Conversion into ‘luxury’ apartments so some tax-dodging speculator can make a killing seems inevitable. Meanwhile, the ‘Canton Mile’, Cardiff’s most-famed pub crawl, has been reduced to nine pubs – not so much a pub crawl, more a mouth wash!
THE GRAPE & OLIVE
When Brains go all aspirational the results are usually disastrous, well exemplified by this shrine to bad taste where chronically overworked and cheaply executed design ideas clashed under blinding lighting while ‘chefs’ fiddled with platters of muck the other side of a glass partition. As failed predecessor the Allensbank showed, this is a hopeless location for a pub, surrounded by Eastern Avenue dual-carriageway, Heath hospital, the cemetery and a corporation dump. Closed in 2016, it’s been rotting ever since. For months there have been signs outside threatening I mean promising the imminent arrival of speculative apartments as well as a ‘Mediterranean’ restaurant called Ilili. I suppose they’re waiting to see what happens to the recently shut Wedal Road tip next door.
GREENWOOD & BROWN
Let us mourn the passing of the city centre’s 4th-oldest pub site. It began life as the Ship on Launch in 1770, one of many salty taverns clustered near the wharf on the Taff at the bottom of Quay Street, then had a period as the Ship on Land after the river was diverted in 1850. Early in the 20th century it became the Model Inn, a ‘chop house’ run by wine merchants Greenwood & Brown. Brains acquired it in 1956 and the pub enjoyed a period as a boisterous Cardiff classic, before sliding into remorseless decline during the 1990s as Brains chased ephemeral trends with trademark ineptitude. The final indignity was when Brains exhumed the Greenwood & Brown name in 2011 and turned it into a very inessential gastroenteritispub. Last orders for one of only eight pub survivors from the pre-industrial town were called in 2016 and in 2017 the Bar 44 restaurant group took over and turned it into Asador 44, a restaurant where chunks of meat are chargrilled Spanish-style. And people wonder why gargantuan fatbergs are blocking Cardiff’s sewers!
THE JUG AND BOTTLE
1960s council estate Pentrebane was where many of the people of Newtown were relocated after the close-knit community between Adam Street and Tyndall Street on either side of the mainline railway was callously eradicated by the council. Originally called the Leather Bottle, the sole pub on the estate was seen as integral to the development – but that was half a century ago, before sociability and open-minded curiosity were lost to wanky hyper-individualisation. It had a long goodbye, an ever-diminishing handful of spiky, obstreperous customers dropping one by one, before closing in 2016 to become an Indian restaurant/takeaway called Pentrebane Spice.
When writing my brilliant 2012 ebook Unofficial Cardiff Pubs & Clubs (no longer available – it awaits rediscovery by anthropologists later in the century), I visited every single pub in Cardiff. In only one was I threatened with violence: the Michaelston Inn, on the extraordinarily anonymous and exceedingly egregious Michaelston-super-Ely estate. Originally called the Cavalier when built in 1968 as a centrepiece of the ersatz developer-filler spreading across the rolling countryside on the southern flanks of the Ely valley, such an enterprise depended on the creation and sustenance of some sense of place and semblance of common purpose to survive. Forty years of ‘market forces’ put paid to any chance of that, and it gradually evolved into an absolute shit-hole patrolled by a few nasty thuggish alcoholic inadequates. I got out alive more by luck than judgement. Good riddance.
THE SIR HENRY MORGAN
Built for the seriously rich railway wagon manufacturer Joseph Heald (1841-1917), this grand building with views over Cardiff on Rumney Hill became licensed premises after road-widening in 1966 chopped off half the garden. It had periods as Oaklands, Morgans and the Buccaneer before becoming the Sir Henry Morgan, another attempt to cash in on the locality’s links to the 17th century psychopathic mass murderer. It didn’t work: the lack of nearby residents and the six-lane highway roaring past the entrance didn’t help, not to mention the blaring televisions and general Punch Tavern awfulness. After closure as a pub in 2017 thrusting Cardiff City FC director Steve Borley took control, getting it tarted up, painted matt grey and converted into a restaurant called Thackeray. The name, accompanied by a sign showing a writing quill in a pot of ink, was presumably picked to suggest distinction and quality. But whoever was responsible for name-checking gluttonous Tory English author William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863), here in Wales of all places, the country with Europe’s oldest literary tradition, should know that a) he was rubbish, b) he never set foot in Cardiff, and c) bookishness doesn’t impress the denizens of eastern Cardiff. Anyway, after six months it closed for want of customers, and now it’s ‘under new management’, still trading as Thackeray. The food is ‘traditional’ and ‘British’ – don’t say you haven’t been warned.
After bargain-bin bookstore The Works closed in 2016, the Bristol independent Left Handed Giant Brewery moved in with a ‘craft beer’ outlet called Small Bar. Their retreat back to Brizzle took just 20 months, accompanied by soothing statements that it was no reflection on the Cardiff “beer scene”, just a structural streamlining. They could hardly say otherwise given they offloaded the lease onto the very similar Crafty Devil Brewery from Riverside. Crafty Devil have opened a bar called Beelzebub’s here, to go with their Llandaff Road shop and micro-bar and their ‘cellar’ bar near Cardiff City Stadium. I hate to be the spectre at the feast (he lied) but I fear the worst for the enterprise. Quite apart from the meaningless blather about ‘craft beer’ which, in the same vein as ‘artisan bread’ and ‘heritage carrots’ etc, is just hipster-dude marketing-speak pitching for a slice of the big brewers’ profits, I just don’t think there are enough young, affluent, bearded nerds in the putrid, vomit-smeared streets of central Cardiff to make a going concern of it. Only time will tell.
♦Tiny Rebel microbrewery from Rogerstone in Gwent has renamed its Urban Tap House on Westgate Street/Womanby Street Tiny Rebel – it makes sense, as would some action to reduce the sickening stench of meat wafting out of the kitchen.
♦Brains has gone into partnership with Croesy Bars to reopen The Flora in Cathays Terrace after a revamp, aiming the 1884 boozer at “students and young professionals”. Let me translate: distressed wood, vague abstractions, demotic sloganeering, raised prices, infantile gimmicks.
♦Pubs are becoming a bit like Football Clubs; even when they drop dead, more and more often they are resurrected to rise up like Lazarus and live again. Thanks to Martin Harries this has happened to The Heathcock in Bridge Street, Llandaf. Closed by Enterprise Inns in 2017, he’s taken over and reopened the sociable local.
♦The Vale of Glamorgan microbrewery is to open a micropub called The Radyr Tap in a former dry cleaners in Station Road. It will be Radyr’s first pub since the Radyr Arms, also in Station Road, was demolished in 2003.
♦The 2017 resurrection of The Grange in Penarth Road has been an unequivocal success. It’s already won CAMRA’s 2018 Cardiff Pub of the Year award. Congratulations are due to ex-Labour councillor Cerys Furlong, husband Tom Furlong and Gwyn Myring (no, that isn’t a typo). The dynamic trio were also behind the saving of The Lansdowne in Canton and the establishment of restaurants Porro in Llandaf, Potted Pig in St Mary Street and foodie shrine Milkwood in Pontcanna. On top of purveying ethanol and dead animals to the middle-classes, Cerys has found time to be Chief Executive of gender equality charity Chwarae Teg, vice chair of centre-left think tank the Bevan Foundation and a board member at Chapter Arts – she’s amazing!
♦More name changes: the Cayo Arms in Cathedral Road has been taken over by growing English chain The City Pub Company, received a refurbishment, gone all boutique hotel and poncey, lost most traces of Welshness and become The Pontcanna Inn; Luton-based pub chain Stonegate have ditched the Three Rivers name (nicked from me) and made their giant Greyfriars Road premises part of their Yates sub-chain – I can’t express how relieved I am that one of my best blog posts is no longer tarnished by association.
♦The micropub fashion came to Cardiff with Crafty Devil, shortly followed by the opening last year of St Canna’s Alehouse, also in Llandaff Road, Canton. It’s the brainchild of Baptist minister James Karran, who talks sense about rejecting industrial beers, televisions, mobile phones and the general ethos of the plastic pub chains; but I must disagree with him about St Canna herself. Canton and Pontcanna were named after the Nant Canna (‘whitening brook’) not, as he claims, after the obscure 6th century saint.
This is excellent work, a ripping good read. And: thank Sweet Jesus I don’t live in Cardiff anymore. You should come to Brighton and see ‘proper’ pubs. Oh, it was also a sad read.
Dic, another pithy, funny, entertaining read. I once, long ago, had a wish to visit every pub in Cardiff, but started to do so in lunchtimes, when they were mostly empty.
Bierkeller was horrific. Full of Banter Lads who can’t hold their drink.
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