Tuesday, 15 February 2022

NQ64 Arcade Bar

60–61 St Mary Street, Cardiff [map]

Previously the site of bizarro sports compound The Bunker, 60–61 St Mary Street is now home to the Instagram-friendly retro-future arcade games cyberbar of your dreams. Or nightmares. Depending on how you look at it.
There's a small but perfectly formed selection of beers on tap, although branding your house lager '4-Bit' Pilsner isn't exactly selling it. Obviously, we opt for the 4-Bit Pilsner.

While you're at the bar, you can also buy tokens for the parade of vintage arcade games on offer – the raison d'être of the whole place. Sundry games consoles from 'yesteryear' are also available to play for free.
Rarely will you see anyone playing cutesy shoot-'em-up compendium Point Blank 2 in as resolutely melancholy a manner as this.
If you're looking for what semiologist Roland Barthes – in a chapter entitled 'The World of Wrestling' in his seminal 1957 tome Mythologies – referred to as, "The primary virtue of the spectacle, which is to abolish all motives and all consequences," via the medium of an early '90s coin-operated videogame, then WWF WrestFest is just the ticket.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Brew Monster

31–32 High Street, Cardiff [map]

You join us en route to a pre-coronavirus concert by the popular beat combo Napalm Death, which The Photographer – suitably boozed-up by that stage of the evening – subsequently strays into without a ticket.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves here. The first order of business is, of course, the pre-gig livener. To the bar!

This is one of the slew of booze joints that seemingly sprung up overnight down this end of the High Street.

Whereas most seem to focus on cocktails, gin and sundry libations of that nature, Brew Monster is very much about delicious pints.

It's tastefully done (and the staff are super friendly) but there's something about all that blond wood, the rows of industrial-chic lighting turned up to 11 and the large shopfront windows that lend it all the ambience of the Barry branch of Poundstretcher.

Blimey, this place is full of chaps, isn't it?

Our arrival coincides with the start of the weekly quiz. Absolutely no points whatsoever to the teams who selected the names Quizzy Rascal and Quiz on My Face.

Friday, 19 July 2019


17–19 Church Street, Cardiff [map]

Beelzebub. Proper noun. A name for the Devil. Origin: From late Latin Beëlzebub, translating Hebrew ba'al zĕḇūḇ 'lord of flies', the name of a Philistine god (2 Kings 1:2), and Greek Beelzeboul 'the Devil' (Matt. 12:24).

Which is certainly at the more esoteric end of the spectrum when it comes to picking a name for your bar.

Fortunately, contrary to the brewhouse's monicker, heading inside is less like descending into the depths of hell and more like approaching a counter packed with craft beers that share a particularly identifiable branding aesthetic. So that's a relief.

I can't actually remember what this is but I do vaguely recall that, if you drink too many of them, it's a pretty accurate reflection of the state of your urine the following morning.

Looks like there's some sort of sporting activity taking place, no doubt involving men and balls. Which makes a change.

Holy shit, where did this lot come from?

Still, you've got to love that bloke's natty flat cap/horn-rimmed specs/patterned scarf combo. I bet he's got really great trousers as well. After all, the devil has all the best pantaloons.


Tuesday, 14 May 2019

The Flute & Tankard

4 Windsor Place, Cardiff [map]

So, here we are back at The Flute & Tankard for the first time in aeons. In fact, we haven't been here since it was still called The Promised Land (of which more presently). 

As you can see, they've sent out the welcoming committee.

We amble towards the main bar, which is reassuringly busy.

Always good to see punters engage in that classic drinking trope in which you pour the remains of one drink into another pint that you've taken a few sips of (bottom left). We all do it, don't we, even though it's *entirely pointless*.

Down the far end and there's no shortage of imbibing going on as the world is set to rights. All good stuff.

Head upstairs and there's a second bar along with extra seating in a space that also doubles as a function room.

Back in 'the day', we put on a few gigs here, with varying degrees of success, although the first one was particularly memorable as we somehow managed to get the Guardian website to run a preview of it (back when they had a local Cardiff blogger), and subsequently packed the place out with a bill that was headlined by a drummerless two-piece who sounded like The Fall being clonked repeatedly over the head with a small brass instrument (but in a good way).

Unfortunately, The Promised Land shut down unceremoniously when the owners did a runner just before Christmas one year, taking the wages that staff were owed with them. Not so much The Promised Land, more The Really Shitty Thing to Do Land.

Anyway, back to the present-day. While The Flute & Tankard is just off a stretch of Queen Street that you perhaps wouldn't naturally gravitate towards of an evening, it's well worth popping in for a swift pint if you're passing.

Just bear in mind that there's significantly less chance these days that you'll stumble upon a gig here featuring a "guitar/skronk/drum machine/cornet/abuse duo".

Sunday, 3 February 2019

The Head of Steam

18–19 Church Street, Cardiff [map]

Previously the site of a Harvester and, going back into the mists of time even further, Old Orleans, these sizeable premises have now been given a rail-themed scrub-up and transformed into a jack-of-all-trades bar. You know: craft ales, food, sport, live DJs. And so on.

There's a swathe of these places in the north but this is their first venture into Wales.

I don't really get the whole train-based vibe – why would you want to remind customers of our failing rail network of an evening? – but at least they don't take the theme to its logical conclusion: "Due to signalling problems, this pint has been diverted via Prestatyn and will be delayed by approximately two days. We apologise for any inconvenience caused."

Not entirely sure what The Photographer was aiming for with this shot. Still, as you can see, they've got some lovely wooden and tiled criss-cross flooring.

Now, I do like a booth and these are very well done, with lamps, charging points and – a nice touch this, you have to agree – overhead coat racks.

Upstairs, and there's a kind of vintage, industrial chic vibe afoot. And that's just the customers.

Blimey, this room is so bright it could have written A Brief History of Time.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Coyote Ugly Saloon

78 St Mary Street, Cardiff [map]

So, here we are outside Coyote Ugly (formerly The Square about a million years ago) on an otherwise unremarkable Saturday afternoon, somewhat alarmed by the convoluted velvet rope/steel barrier walkway you have to negotiate to even make it to the door.

Not to mention the extravagantly lopsided ratio of security personnel (three) to punters in queue (zero). Maybe they're expecting trouble. Well, The Photographer has got a thirst on.

Before you make it into the primary room, there's this little side bar. We can only approve of the sort of place that enables you to get a drink on your way to getting a drink.

Well, this is awkward. There we are trying to peer at the medley of booze on offer behind the main bar and next thing you know there's a woman clad in cowboy boots and fishnet tights cavorting about right on top of the bloody counter.

This, we later learn, is *a thing* round these parts, but it doesn't half make you worry about getting your pint kicked over.

Heaven forbid you go here in a mixed group. Instead, the unwritten rule seems to be: men on one side, women on the other. Making the whole enterprise akin to a liquor-powered school disco. Just with worse music.

Oh god, the music. Did we mention the music? It's less aural pleasure, more psychological warfare – the sort of soundtrack that would have made you sympathise with Manuel Noriega.

The torture is compounded by the fact that the cheerleaders sashaying on the bar – mind that pint! – are prone to start caterwauling along at any given moment.

Still, anywhere that's got a bucking bronco is fine by us.

Friday, 21 April 2017


114–116 St Mary Street, Cardiff [map]

Formerly a (slightly odd) rock bar called Charlie Browns, this is now a retro arcade games, table football and ping pong-based joint.

Combine this with some delicious fizzy lager and you can't go wrong.

There's a kind of minimalist-industrial vibe afoot – someone clearly got a good deal on a job lot of plywood.

It's the old-school videogames that are the real draw – Donkey Kong, Track & Field, Double Dragon and the like. Surely no one has fond memories of NBA Jam though?

What you can see in progress here is the worst attempt to play a game of 1942 in the history of coin-ops.

Turns out that successfully taking part in a World War II dogfight following the consumption of five pints of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is easier said than done (and it's not even that easy to say).

Further inside again and there's 2003 drive-'em-up OutRun 2 adjacent to a weird glowing wall. And some more plywood. Obviously.