Pubocalypse 12

Windsor Place
An 1850 townhouse, used as offices for many years, was converted into the calculatedly posh Bar Essential by Brains in 1998 and all the corny trappings of faux-sophistication were duly put in place: comfy sofas, muted tones, ‘art’ on the walls, steep prices. It didn’t work, so Brains lazily renamed it after the postal address in 2005 and it evolved into something fairly pleasant but hardly essential until it was one of the many bars handed over to Marstons in 2020 as Brains abandoned the pub trade. Not being profitable enough for the Wolverhampton brewer, it was shut down in the pandemic. Now Croeso Pubs have come to the rescue, refurbishing it and renaming it Daffodil. I will gloss over the emphasis on food and the hostage-to-fortune mission statement about it being “the place Cardiff has been waiting for”, simply because Croeso are that rarity, a Welsh business. Daffodil becomes Croeso’s 6th Cardiff pub alongside the Blue Bell, the Brewhouse, the Dock, the Philharmonic and Retro, and all I can say is: Welcome!

Cathedral Road
Lately gin has been proclaimed fashionable (by the advertising agencies hired by gin distillers), resulting in a plethora of grim ‘gin bars’ opening everywhere to satisfy the fly-by-night demand of gullible fashion victims for sickly, flavoured ethanol, aka Mother’s Ruin. One of many in Cardiff was opened in this ’boutique’ Cathedral Road hotel in 2019, and was doing ok until the Council intervened to inform the owner he had no planning permission for a public bar and it promptly shut in 2023. Oh well, punters can always chuck a few herbs, a tablespoon of sugar and a squeeze of lemon into a bottle of turps if they’re caught short…

Churchill Way
Opened 2008, closed 2023: the brief lifespan of this “luxury gastro bar and fine dining restaurant”. Yes, yet another overpriced ‘hospitality industry’ speculation in Cardiff has conked out, and the first thing that needs saying is good riddance. You could tell what it was like by the customers it attracted: vulgar, loud, uncultured, unfriendly, tattooed, coiffured, bling-laden, botoxed, buttock-lifted, silicone-implanted, collagen-filled, bargain-bin wannabes with cheekbones and jawlines that could cut glass, gravity-defying arching eyebrows, 3″ eye-lashes, enormous doe-eyes and grotesque trout lips, proudly baring extreme teeth-whitening jobs done on the cheap in an Istanbul alley – and the women were even worse! I haven’t got a religious bone in my body, yet it still felt like sacrilege for the superb 1877 Capel Presbyteraidd Pembroke Terrace* of Penarth architect Henry Harris (1851-1885) to be given over to the clueless as-seen-on-TV profanities of the dregs of humanity. Harris was only 26 (he died from tuberculosis at age 34) when he concocted the bravado High Victorian gothic tour-de-force of arches, complex windows, geometrical tracery, buttresses, pinnacles and bow-fronted stair-turrets fronted with Pennant sandstone, ashlar dressings and red brick highlighting, while inside he delivered a spectacular feast of polychromatic brickwork, white, black and red latticework, towering arches and lofty galleries. The Chapel closed in 1975 and was sensitively converted into an open-plan office for architecture firm The Wigley Fox Partnership in 1983. The conversion into a bar was also handled well, but high-falutin’ generic foodie posturing was soon rumbled (ping!) and after Chapel 1877 changed hands and plunged downmarket into a mere backdrop for scuzzy wedding-venue barrel-scraping and boorish expense-account strutting it’s ‘classy’ guise evaporated. Let us pray that whoever takes on the building next has just a fraction of Henry Harris’s imagination and creativity.

Chapel 1877

* Pembroke Terrace and Edward Terrace were two distinct roads on the west and east sides of the Dock Feeder until in 1949 the Feeder was covered over and the amalgamated single road renamed Churchill Way

St Mary Street
A grown-up snug for serious drinkers since 1863, when it was opened in an actual tiny cottage with a long back garden, the Cottage was an authentic sociable haven in the heart of town for chopsy, chippy Cardiff archetypes who can handle their drink. In 1895 a purpose-built pub replaced the ramshackled cottage, cleverly utilising the narrow site by squeezing in three storeys and an attic and stretching back so far into the old garden that it was longer than it was high. The Dutch-style beauty in red brick with Bath stone dressings featured pilasters, floral reliefs, cornices, wooden oriel windows, iron lanterns and a moulded parapet inscribed ‘Cardiff Cottage’ (the pub’s new name until it reverted back to the plain ‘Cottage’ in the 1950s), all topped by a delightful gable and attic window. Inside, the wooden fittings, array of old Cardiff photographs on the walls and the atmospheric twinkling lighting and cosy nooks made it a pleasure to stay a while, and it was always one of the best places to be when Wales were playing rugby. But, it grieves me to say, this history-drenched Cardiff landmark was unceremoniously shut down by Brains earlier this year and that, it seems, is the end for the 16th-oldest pub in the city centre. It’s like this: to Brains the land has more value than Cardiffians. The Cottage managed to survive for 160 years, ticking over successfully through all the many economic ups and downs and through all the the many appalling UK governments, a much-loved social sphere for generation after generation of Cardiffians. Nobody made a fortune; it was quite enough to be a viable business providing an income for its workers and a service to its customers. But it could not survive this era of insatiable profiteering and turbo-capitalist greed lining the pockets of millionaires at the expense of everyone else. Who, I ask, voted for this? Expect the Grade II Listed building to be sold off and turned into some ghastly games room or crappy cocktail bar pitched at the infantile tastes and stunted attention spans of anti-social, know-nothing, here-today-gone-tomorrow interlopers. Cardiff is being destroyed before our very eyes.

The Cottage

Miskin Street
Replacing nasty Koko Gorilaz in 2018 (see Pubocalypse 8), Locos Latin Bar was a yucky ersatz effort that quickly shut for good in 2021. The next attempt to add to the debts of the 18-21 student demographic that comprises the entire population of Cathays has already moved in. It’s called Misfits Social Club and offers ‘live music’ (translation: DJs), ‘street food’ (translation: deep-fried cultural appropriation and a belly-ache) and ‘real ale’ (translation: over-priced beer).

Mill Lane
Fantastic news: this absolute shit-hole that filled up every weekend with hideous, self-centred, neanderthal oafs has closed! Fly in the ointment: Scandinavian chain Rekom has opened Heidi’s Bier Bar in its place…

Cowbridge Road East
Formerly a bakery that was converted into a pub in 2005, this amenable boozer was first the Goscombe, then the Plum Tree and finally Tafarn Treganna before closing late in 2022 when the building’s lease expired. By then it was a Brains pub, which meant it had been sub-let to Marstons with 155 others in 2020 and therefore, like so much of the Brains estate, was doomed.

Church Street
A belated farewell to eclectic live music bar Ten Feet Tall (and Undertone nightclub in the basement) which, although popular and much appreciated since opening in 2008, was shockingly shut down in 2020 so that the owner of the freehold could make more money by having it turned into a restaurant and offices. The Council, of course, granted planning permission for the change, despite all their bullshit about ensuring Cardiff is a “music city”, and despite the fact that there is an incredible overabundance of 1,300+ restaurants and a vast oversupply of empty office space in the city. Here money doesn’t talk, it curses.

The Unicorn, a Grade II Listed pub next to St Edeyrn’s Church in the core of old Llanedeyrn, has claims to be the oldest pub in Cardiff, the original core of the building dating back to at least the 17th century. After Punch Taverns shut it down ‘temporarily’ in 2017 under the pretext it needed refurbishment it has just been left to rot with typical Cardiff contempt for history. Meanwhile vast new housing estates of completely inappropriate and entirely unaffordable ‘town houses’ have been plastered over the lovely countryside that surrounded the pub, and that has given the green light for Star Pubs & Bars of Edinburgh to smell an opportunity. A £1.4 million modernisation is planned.
Scandinavian Chain Rekom have turned The Yard (see Pubocalypse 11) into something called Proud Mary. I asked a friend who had been there what it was like and he replied “expensive, ridiculous, up its own arse and horrible”. I trust his judgement and won’t be bothering.
Irish pub chain O’Neills has decided to revert the Old Market Tavern in Trinity Street back to O’Neills, its name between 1996 and 2014. What’s the point?
Built in Loudoun Square in 1968 as a token gesture to compensate for the 70+ pubs that had disappeared when Tiger Bay was demolished, the Paddle Steamer soon became a vital Butetown amenity, even after it shut as a pub in 2004 and became a community cafe. Now, despite widespread local opposition, it too has been demolished by the Council, to be replaced by 28 flats. The message is clear: stay at home and die slowly watching telly.

Pictures: Food & Drink Guide; British Listed Buildings;