‘Cardiff is in danger of losing some of its unique character’
I’VE lived in Cardiff for about 15 years. In that time, I’ve frequented quite a few of the city’s watering holes. A number aren’t there any more.
When I moved to Cardiff I drank in The Wharf (flattened) and The Vulcan (flattened), went to gigs at the Barfly (gone) and then moved to Roath where I drank regularly at the Poets Corner (flattened).
The Splotlands (closed) was a handy pub crawl stop-off on the way to town. Throughout all of this (and new pubs opening), Dempseys was a constant. And now that’s closing. That place is responsible for giving me most of my current friends. I’ll miss it but as with the rest, I’ll still have the memories. And terrible photographs.
With the news Dempseys is about to become part of the pub crawl in the sky, I was asked to write about what made some of them special to me...
The Wharf When I moved to Cardiff permanently, I lived in a flat on Schooner Way. It was number 120. The Wharf was number 121. It was a friendly, handy neighbour.
This was in about 2004, the Bay wasn’t entirely finished. There wasn’t a Tesco or Sainsburys, just a corner shop about 15 minutes away.
If it was raining or cold or there was football on or the day had a vowel in it, that was way too far away.
It was far easier to walk the 90 seconds to the pub, stick our credit cards behind the bar, order food and beer and stay there until closing. It was an extension of our living room. Only with Sky Sports and a pool table. It really was home from home.
It was a weird shape, open plan, had a pet boat and a huge indoor beer yard to compliment the outdoor one that overlooked a square bit of water and a Holiday Inn. It wasn’t your conventional local.
One of my favourite ever nights was in that pub.
Myself, Pete, Brad and Gary met there to watch the 2005 Liverpool v AC Milan Champions League final. Three Liverpool fans and Brad the Gooner.
At half time there was talk of just going home but I persuaded everyone to stay, not because of any witchcrafty premonition, more because I liked being in the pub. Gary went to the bar. As he was coming back to the table with a pint in each hand, Gerrard scored. Gary did brilliantly to keep his composure and not spill a drop. At the time, he was still a professional boxer, he had good balance.
He went back for the other two pints and on his way back, Smicer scored. Again, amazing restraint. He’d put the beers down by the time we scored the third.
We’d drunk a decent amount by the time it went to penalties. He lost track of the score by the time Dudek saved the decisive kick. He ended up crushed underneath me and Pete on the floor. Pete wasn’t a small lad.
The Vulcan The walk home from town took me past The Vulcan. What a wonderfully bonkers pub.
We’d often stop off for a post-work pint but even when I moved to Roath, I kept going back.
When trendy bars started to open in the city and claim to be arty, The Vulcan was frequented by people that created more than hot air.
I spent many a night there with writers, photographers and musicians. It was the sort of pub these people gravitated to.
It was the only pub I’ve frequented where you were offered food with your pint despite it not having a menu. More often than not, there was a vat of chilli or curry sat in the back room. I never asked why, it was far easier to just run with it.
I took a new housemate there once, told him it was weird. He asked why. I told him he’d see soon enough and kept my fingers crossed it didn’t let me down. We walked in and the only other people in there were a table of four pensioners, all wearing maps of the world as kilts. I still don’t know why. It proved my point though.
I also happened to be in The Vulcan the night Michael Jackson died. We were all stood outside as a few of the group smoked. It was raining. We all jumped at the sound of thunder as lightning split the sky.
A second later someone ran out of the pub shouting Jacko had died. The Stereophonics’ More Life In A Tramps Vest started up on the jukebox. The place was magic. Hopefully, it’ll retain its mystic powers when it reopens at St Fagans soon.
The Poets Corner When I moved to Roath, the Poets was my local. Another pub that was less than conventional. It seemed to change hands every six months or so at that point.
With every new landlord came new quirks. The locals on the ground floor never changed though. I can’t say it was entirely welcoming but, at the same time, it was easy to feel at home with the ramshackle band of characters who regularly drank there.
The Splotlands OK, I only went there three times. All were during pub crawls. It was a handy stop-off between the end of City Road and town. It never looked all that inviting from the outside but the first time I went there, there were three of us and one was a serving Marine. We were feeling brave. As it happened, we were the only people in there on a Tuesday afternoon so we were welcomed with open arms.
The beer selection was basic, the layout rudimentary. There was a plaque attached to one of the seats, It was dedicated to Cynthia, the inscription stated that the old regular had “done it her way”. It was good to know.
The second time I went was near Christmas. Most pubs had tacky tinsel or gaudy foil decorations hanging from the ceiling. Not Splotlands. It had shimmering white drapes hanging from every wall. If a guy dressed as St Peter had emerged from the toilets, I genuinely would’ve started to believe I’d left this mortal coil. I hope it was like that every Christmas. It might just have been left over from a recent wedding party. I’ll never know.
Dempseys It’s still open until February 12 so make the most of it. Dempseys is probably the place in Cardiff that shaped my life the most. I run a record shop and put on gigs, so it’s fair to say I’m active in the local music scene. Dempseys gets a lot of credit for that.
Once upon a time, if you were in a band, put on bands, liked bands, wanted to cop off with someone in a band, you went to Dempseys on a Saturday night. Sometimes upstairs to Twisted By Design, sometimes just downstairs talking rubbish and drinking until 3am with like-minded people. If you were cynical, you could call it networking but in all honesty, it was just a place where a massive group of mates hung out. I include all of the staff in that too. There are many standout memories but two immediately come to mind.