Sunday, 12 October 2014

Charlie Browns

114-116 St Mary Street, Cardiff [map]

Charlie Browns is perhaps one of the more unlikely drinking spots on St Mary Street. It's (literally) an underground bar/club although, with its CBGB-inspired banner (just seen, top left), it's clearly presenting itself as being part of the metaphorical underground as well.

Erm, reading that back, I have no idea what the metaphorical underground is.

Don't forget to salute the Jägermeister flag on the way in.

Good unpretentious fare at the bar: Carlsberg, Carlsberg Export and - if you're feeling particularly la-di-da - cans of Stella.

There's free use of an Xbox 360 although, as the note stuck to the front of the metal locker in which it's encased makes clear, "There are some simply rules."

These simply rules include having to 'exchange' your driving licence or passport for a controller at the bar. Which, frankly, seems like a bit of hassle in order to have a go on a last-gen version of Kung Fu Panda.

Take your pick from either a south or west-facing pool table, whichever your preferred cardinal point is.

Other entertainment options include the skittle alley they've installed in the somewhat dangerous and unexpected location of directly in front of the bar.

The woman pictured here has just knocked down five pins and a bloke carrying two pints of lager, a large gin and tonic, and a packet of dry roasted peanuts.

Our book, A Drinker's Guide to Cardiff, is out now, priced just £2.99. Click here to look inside and to order a copy

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Waterguard

Harbour Drive, Cardiff Bay [map]

Back down the Bay then, this time for a visit to the curious environs of The Waterguard, with its Victorian frontage and contemporary, concrete-and-glass, erm, backage.

It's Cardiff's only pub operated by the Samuel Smith Old Brewery, which means there's none of your Foster's, Heineken or other reassuringly familiar thirst-quenchers on tap. Instead it's all Double Four and Taddy Lager, which tends to throw people a bit when they enter a Sam Smith's for the first time.

Still, the good news is that their assorted beers are pretty inexpensive (Double Four weighs in at £2.74 a pint). The bad news is that they are prone to sucker-punching you with the most horrendous hangovers.

Everything's very spick and span (notwithstanding the smell of vomit on the way in - someone had clearly been going for it the night before). Unfortunately, it's got all the ambience of a dentist's waiting room.

It's sometimes difficult to work out what The Photographer's motives are when he provides shots such as this, knowing full well that I then have to attempt to craft an engaging caption for it. Frankly, "Two-seater sofa adjacent to table with some leaflets on," just isn't going to cut it, is it?

Anyway, moving on, here's the outside area round the back, replete with 'artfully' positioned pint glass. This is basically the whole raison d'être of the place - if the weather's good, you can buy a cheap pint and then go and drink it on the grass outside. Lovely.

Our book, A Drinker's Guide to Cardiff, is out now, priced just £2.99. Click here to look inside and to order a copy

Monday, 2 June 2014

Cosy Club

1 Hills Street, Cardiff [map]

And so to shoppers' retreat Cosy Club. Which is neither cosy nor a club but does at least have a nice alliterative ring to it.

The whole gaff is on the first floor and is accessed by the weirdest staircase in Cardiff.

Imagine the design meeting. "Yeah, so what we're going to do, right," goes some beardy hipster fresh out of art college, "is stick a massive gilt-framed painting on the wall of… ahh… that king who had all the wives, surround it with a few other random pictures of… um… some old guys and… er… if there's any space left underneath, fill it in with some coloured planks of wood."

"Brilliant. You're hired."

It's tricky sometimes to distinguish between a bar and a barre.

The main drinking area is all retro lampshades, outsize cushions and leather armchairs so impossibly low you've no hope of getting up from them after a few pints.

Further on through and there's a separate dining area. If you're into that sort of thing.

These framed images of Country Life 'lovelies' are, somewhat incongruously, on the walls of the men's loos. Although, to be fair, if you're from the country, you're probably fairly used to the smell of excrement.

Lenin. (McCartney not pictured.)

Friday, 28 March 2014


49 St Mary Street, Cardiff [map]

For ages - probably over a year - we were convinced that Brewhouse was a diminutive, independent coffee shop that put on afternoon gigs by wilfully naive folk singers. Kind of like Central Perk, just with less David Schwimmer.

Not being particular fans of either coffee or acoustic guitars, we always gave it a miss.

Turns out it's a popular booze palace/live music venue of some repute. How little we know.

The main room is embellished by a selection of instruments - including a number of large tom-toms - dangling precariously from the ceiling. Which does seem to add an unnecessary element of danger to having a pint here.

Thankfully, there's less scope for unfortunate drums-falling-on-heads incidents in the upper bar.

There are murals of various Welsh music icons (and Stereophonics) dotted about the place. Here's Tom doing his thing. We always thought his performances were a bit wooden but this is ridiculous.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Urban Tap House

25 Westgate Street, Cardiff [map]

Stumble up Womanby Street these days and, before you reach the assorted pleasures of The Gatekeeper and Dempseys, there's beer-and-burgers emporium Urban Tap House.

It was opened in September by Newport microbrewery Tiny Rebel and, as the signage suggests, it's very much from the craft-beer-as-hipster-accessory school.

As you can see, The Photographer's camera - such as it is - doesn't cope well with bright lights. But we forge ahead nonetheless. We are, after all, professionals. (Aside: we're not.)

There's none of yer Carlings and Carlsbergs here. It's all Camden Hells Lager, Dortmunder Union Vier and, er, Dirty Stop Out.

Which is both a delicious smoked oat stout and a harsh-but-fair appraisal of what happens when you drink, let's say for the sake of argument, nine pints of the stuff on an empty stomach. Not that we'd know anything about that sort of thing, you understand.

It's in the same premises as Fire Island (above) used to be. Tiled bar aside, Urban Tap House is, in many ways, very similar to its predecessor - albeit without debts of £1.2m.

There's some sort of cask ales thing going on during our visit, which takes us well out of our comfort zone - who can even guess at what Buxton American Rye entails? But when we discover they're all going for £2.50 a pint, it seems churlish not to get involved.

We may be many things but churlish isn't one of them.

This is one of those arcade machines that houses loads of retro classics, including Space Invaders - here being played absolutely appallingly. The trick, apparently, is to take out the columns of aliens at the ends first.

More tips on 35-year-old videogames coming soon.

Round the side of the bar and you've got these little diner-style booths. Turns out they're not that easy to manoeuvre into following the consumption of a miscellany of cask ales and nine pints of Dirty Stop Out.

Thursday, 22 August 2013


Harlech Court, Bute Terrace, Cardiff [map]

From the outside, Porter's may well be a nondescript-looking establishment in an unlikely location (it's tucked away on Bute Terrace between The Big Sleep and an immense block of flats). But its delights are many and varied.

For one, it's home to Cardiff's smiliest bar person.

The well-curated array of beers includes Blue Moon, Brooklyn Lager, Modelo, Anchor Steam Beer and this 8.4% Belgian concoction, Pauwel Kwak.

So that patrons aren't tempted to nick the shapely receptacle, you're asked to leave a shoe behind the bar as security. The Photographer, haggler extraordinaire that he is, manages to reduce the deposit down to a hat.

One (presumably hatless) woman was once so reluctant to remove a shoe that she instead left her wedding ring behind the bar. Which perhaps doesn't bode particularly well for her marriage.

A side room houses this bijou cinema – themed screenings of a trio of films take place every Sunday. Although due to some sort of licensing quirk, the bar isn't allowed to advertise which films it's showing outside the premises.

Keep going through the cinema and you arrive at this mini golf course. Which if it wasn't for the photographic evidence to the contrary, I'd be convinced I had imagined after one Kwak too many.

Nothing like a good table tennis/masturbation gag.

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Bunker

60-61 St Mary Street, Cardiff [map]

The Bunker is, ostensibly, a sports bar. But in both name and presentation it's more like a fortified compound in which to take shelter from the impending apocalypse. (Otherwise known as a Saturday night on St Mary Street.)

It does a fine line in beverages that no one has ever heard of. Indeed, Backyard Retro sounds more like some sort of seizure-inducing moonshine than it does a legitimate lager-based product.

We order two pints of Backyard Retro.

The 'sports' aspect of proceedings comprises some darts on the telly (which, let's be honest, is a game not a sport) and the fact that there is enough open space to accommodate gymnastic floor routines.

Which is, it transpires, what those two kilted blokes on the right are limbering up for.

The gymnastics judges go on to have a rather heated discussion about scores at the bar. It's a close call but, in the end, Kilted Bloke #2 gets the nod and is through to next week's live final.

Incongruously, there's a collection of photos on the wall of former wrestler Bret 'Hit Man' Hart. Nothing like being able to gaze at a greasy-haired man clad in pink Lycra while supping your pint.

There's also a photo of Paula Radcliffe shitting herself.

They've thoughtfully created a little waiting area outside the loos. It doubles as a good place for a quiet lie-down if you've overdone it on the moonshine.

This is The Blue Room.

What happens in The Blue Room stays in The Blue Room.