In most major cities, suburbs fight against the building of new establishments selling beer on their street corners.
Cardiff, however, is not like most major cities.
This is a city where the rate of pubs and bars starting to open is beginning to overtake the rate of drinking holes closing down. No doubt locals were more perplexed than anything else when they were told that the empty building, that had once housed a video rental shop of all things, had been bought by a brewery. Of all the places to open the most recent piece of their estate, The Rhymney Brewery certainly chose a strange one.
Arguably, it sits rather prettily on Albany Road, it’s ostentatious signage making it blend in, rather than stand out, from it’s humdrum High Street neighbours.
This isn’t the kind of pub that you’d go out of your way to visit. Everything about this building screams affordability and cost-efficiency. The cheap cladding that makes up the rather rickety bar is plain and dull to look at. There’s very little in the way of sensible decor and a fruit machine flashes away in the corner of the room. This is a pub that is stuck in the past…but is this a bad thing?
Not only are The Rhymney Beers (a brand that was resurrected in 2005 after a near 30-year slumber) distinctively retro, but there also function rooms that local groups can choose to book out, so expect these rooms to quickly start filling up with eager board game enthusiasts and tabletop role-playing oddballs. Pop your head out into the Smoking Area and you’ll be greeted by a dismal looking alley, complete with a park bench that looks like it might have been grabbed from the nearby Pontcanna Fields.
You don’t see that many pubs with full length windows looking out to a high street.
Traditional pubs usually opt for smaller frames, perhaps with some lattice work to block a bit more light out. But the designers of The Andrew Buchan clearly felt that this was a part of the build where they could truly innovate. Although sections of these huge windows have now been frosted (like a hairdressers), it’s still uncomfortably bright in there. The light only serves to highlight the odd choice of decor (a mounted moose head over a wood burning stove?!) that is littered around the pub and the general feeling of malaise that hangs amongst the drinkers there.
The Rhymney Brewery have clearly cut corners when conceiving, designing and building this place. Everything from the cheap roof tiles to the depressingly thin carpet brings haunting memories back from the grim 1980s, an era that most of Cardiff probably thought they had escaped. You can even buy a bag of Big D peanuts from behind the bar, ripped from a display teasing a naked girl – I was under the impression that the company that owned this brand had gone into administration…
Should you wish, however, to take a step back into a not so distant past where Stacey Owen and Mel Penny were the pinups every man dreamed of and pints at £2.45 were considered expensive, then you can always step inside The Andrew Buchan for a couple.
Every great pub has a rich history to draw on but still chooses to innovate.
It’s much easier to be a cynical pub patron in this day and age.
If there’s a fad or a craze sweeping the country, then you can bet that you’ll see bars and pubs adopting it within a few months. The biggest trend to hit our shores in recent years is the craft ale movement. Not only are drinkers more discerning about what they’re drinking, they’re now becoming a lot more particular about where they drink.
Cardiff is a city well known for its charming pubs, many of which have braved decades of tricky financial times in order to stay open today. Of course, not all establishments managed to survive. The Cambrian Tap first opened its doors as a hotel back in 1830. The hotel did good business with it’s rooms, but soon found that more and more locals were frequenting the downstairs bar which became a popular staple of Mary’s Street come the latter half of the 20th Century.
This popularity did not last though; by 1991 The Cambrian Hotel had closed it’s doors. This is how it remained until it was reopened some time later as Kitty Flynn’s an Irish pub which successfully served Cardiff for a number of years until Brains purchased the property back and began refurbishing the interior.
Brains are one of Wales’ most recognised brewers with their origins firmly placed in Cardiff’s Mary Street, so it only makes sense that they open their newest bar back where it all began for them.
The strategy of breweries opening their own pubs is not a new one.
It has been a long running tactic for successful breweries to craft their ale and then sell it directly to the customer in the form of pints. Modern breweries have now taken this one step further, taking their drinks brands and placing them front and centre on the high streets of the UK, offering consumers the opportunity to purchase their beer (as well as food) in a branded setting that fits in with current trends for how fashionable bars should appear.
The Cambrian Tap, opened by venerable brewers Brains is one such place that respects both the heritage of the beer that they serve as well as the customers who are choosing to drink there. Although uninitiated passers-by may well dismiss the exposed light bulbs and iron work as being a little on the nose in terms of fashionable decor, old frequenters of the Cambrian Tap’s previous incarnations will be relieved to see that many of the original features have been kept intact whilst providing a comfortable space for sipping on some beer.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of the drinks on offer are from Brains brewery. On cask they serve their classic golden ale, Bragging Rights (5.0% ABV), for a reasonable £3.65. Their Barry Island IPA (5.0% ABV) is only ten pence dearer and goes down well with one of the fantastic pork pies that they serve throughout the day. For just over a tenner you can sit down in one of their comfy booths, with a full meal of pie, mash, peas and gravy with a pint – not something to be sniffed at when you consider the quality of the products on offer and the cool charm of the surroundings.
Although you can definitely find cheaper pints elsewhere in Cardiff, The Cambrian Tap is a great choice for relaxed post-work pint, an affordable working lunch or a laid back drinking session.