Boasting three thriving universities and a handful of international venues, it’s hardly surprising that Cardiff has a huge range of bars and pubs to keep everyone refreshed.
From budget to blow-out, funky to fabulous, there’s something to suit everyone in this small but perfectly-formed capital city. Jane Cook selects ten of the best…
The Trendy One: Urban Tap House
When Newport craft beer brewers Tiny Rebel moved into the old fire station on St Mary Street, no one knew whether the gamble would pay off. One year later, this place is sitting pretty, having become a well-loved hang-out for beer and burger fans alike. Five different rooms spread across two floors house a huge variety of craft beers and ales (and some arcade games). Regular foodie pop-ups and themed evenings mean there’s always a reason to pop in for one or two. Or three…
25 Westgate St, Cardiff, 029 2039 9557, www.urbantaphouse.co.uk
The Surprising One: Porters Bar
Despite its unremarkable appearance from the outside, this bar is a real hidden gem. Inside, you’ll find a large multifunctional space that plays host to live bands, comedy nights, and theatre. The craft beer selection is vast and varied, and there is even a separate cinema room complete with reclaimed cinema seats, vintage posters and a huge projector screen. Out back, you’ll find a big, covered beer garden (always handy in Wales) where you can enjoy a game of tipsy giant Jenga or Connect 4.
Harlech Court, Bute Terrace, Cardiff CF10 2FE, 029 2125 0666, www.porterscardiff.com
The Mixologist’s One: Lab 22
This small but stylish upmarket cocktail bar (on the not-so-upmarket Caroline Street) serves a wide range of interesting and creative cocktails with a bit of Heston Blumenthal-style theatre. The seven-course taster menu of bespoke cocktails and specially crafted accompaniments costs £49.95 pp and offers a real once-in-a-lifetime experience. Highlights include the Smoky Jack cocktail – a glass decanter filled with whisky and vermouth, smoked with maple wood and served with lapsang souchong tea and dry ice.
22 Caroline St, Cardiff CF10 1FG, 029 2039 9997, www.lab22cardiff.com
The Scenic One: The Dock
This tourist-friendly bar run by Brains (Wales’s biggest brewery) makes the list for one reason only: the brilliant views. Perched on the water at Cardiff Bay, the terrace at The Dock is perfect for whiling away the afternoon with a glass of Pinot Grigio whilst overlooking the Welsh National Assembly, the Millennium Centre opera house and later on, the sun setting over the water.
Mermaid Quay, Cardiff CF10 5BZ, 029 2045 0947, sabrain.com/thedockcardiff
The New Kid On The Block: Ten Mill Lane
This quirky basement bar is the latest to open on fashionable Mill Lane and is fast becoming a firm favourite. There’s outdoor seating until sundown, but the indoor club opens until 5 or 6am, Thursday – Saturday, making it the perfect place to take an after-party when everywhere else has closed. With regular 2-4-1 deals on cocktails and a DJ spinning everything from Stevie Wonder to Duke Dumont, it’s hard not to have a good time here.
10 Mill Lane Cardiff CF10 1FL, www.tenmilllane.com
The One With The Beds: Bunkhouse
The Bunkhouse is actually a hostel, and as anyone who has ever stayed in a £15-a-night establishment will tell you, the bar areas aren’t usually up to much. This one breaks the mould. Bunting, fairy lights and upside-down umbrellas are hanging from the ceiling, and four poster beds are used for sitting – or lying – on; it’s up to you. I love it just for the quirkiness, the great beer selection, and the fact that on busy international match days, they limit the capacity to keep the atmosphere inside an oasis of hipster calm.
94 St Mary St, Cardiff, South Glamorgan CF10 1DX, 029 2022 8587, www.bunkhousecardiff.co.uk
The Fabulous One: VIP Piano Lounge
This is not the sort of place you would visit on an average Friday night after work, but that’s kind of the point. This is a champagne bar; complete with giant chandeliers, red velvet drapes and as the name suggests, a live pianist (seated at a jewel-encrusted grand piano). It’s a real guilty pleasure to sit at the mahogany tables, sip on a glass of bubbly, nibble the complimentary pistachios and listen to the songs of Frank Sinatra as they are played in front of you. It’s worth popping by just to indulge every now and again, in the fantasy of being fabulous and filthy rich.
Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay, CF10 5BZ, 02920 489077, www.vipcardiffbay.co.uk
The Cultured One: Chapter Arts Centre
Just outside the city centre lies Chapter Arts. This ‘multi artform cultural space’ was voted one of the best places to drink in the UK four times by Observer Food Monthly Magazine, and boasts a busy open-plan bar and restaurant that serves up everything from Eggs Benedict in the morning to pizza at night. This is where the creative types hang out, grab a pint of Belgian beer, and settle down at the in-house cinema to watch the kind of film I could only ever pretend to understand.
Market Rd, Cardiff, South Glamorgan CF5 1QE, 029 2030 4400, www.chapter.org/eat-drink
The Music Lover’s One: The Full Moon
The newest live music venue on trendy Womanby Street is not to be missed. Soul, hip-hop, funk, ska, reggae, rock, blues and everything in-between is washed down with an impressive drinks list of spirits and specials. The signature drink? The legendary ‘Jar of Green Shit’ – the contents of which remain unknown. Once a month, the Moon also plays host to ‘Ultimate Power’, a night of pure unadulterated, power-ballad glory.
Womanby St, Cardiff, South Glamorgan CF10 1BR, 029 2037 3022, www.thefullmooncardiff.com
The Godfather: City Arms
Built in the 1800s, the City Arms may be old but it still holds its own against all the young pretenders; it was voted Cardiff’s best pub by CAMRA in 2012. Situated a stone’s throw from the Millennium Stadium and Cardiff Arms Park, this godfather among the watering holes of the city centre is cherished by sports fans, students and professionals alike. Despite being a Brains pub, there is a huge draught beer selection and a regularly changing selection of guest ales from welsh micro-breweries, and they all come served in their appropriate branded glassware, too.
10-12 Quay St, Cardiff, South Glamorgan CF10 1EA, 029 2022 5258, www.thecityarmscardiff.com
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