The Butcher’s Arms

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One way pubs can keep punters coming through the door is that great British institution the pub quiz and to that end, here’s how it’s done Canton style with a look at the Butcher’s Arms on Llandaff Road’s ‘Never Mind the Music Quiz’ from a couple of weeks back.

Things got off to a bad start for my team, Shorthanded, as we were confronted by a pop conundrums list of 20 anagrams to try and unscramble throughout the evening. My favourite was ‘A Glad Gay’ for Lady Gaga which is one of the 10 we actually managed to get, though if anyone could tell me which band, female or male solo star ‘Enema? You wish’ is supposed to be, then I would be much obliged.

Shorthanded struggled trying to pin down some of the older stuff quizmaster Jon Stevens was playing us as the 50s, 60s and 70s round yielded a grand total of 3 out of 9 for a trio with an average age in the mid-twenties. Said Jon: “To be honest with you I wasn’t expecting such a young crowd!”

The quizmaster and his tools

Undaunted, we ploughed on until we hit the wall of the TV pop shows round where you had to guess the theme tune, artist and appropriate programme for each question. Matching Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ with ‘Top of the Pops’ was fine, but the fact that Manfred Mann’s ‘5-4-3-2-1’ began ‘Ready Steady Go’ once upon a time was news to us. 4 out of 15: ouch. Still we chose our joker round well, picking up double points predictably enough on the 80s, 90s and 2000s round.

Mr Stevens slaps down an errant team

We also distinguished ourselves in the mash-up round, spotting one gory combination of ‘Run to You’ by Bryan Adams and Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’.

At the end of the night the remains of a shredded beer mat on the table next to us is evidence of the overwhelming tension in the room as the winner of two bottles of wine and unlimited bragging rights are about to be announced. The feeling in the Shorthanded camp is downbeat, and rightly so as the impressive I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue romp to victory.

Quizmaster Jon used to put on nights like this around Cardiff in the 90s and has come back to find it a very different game, running events at The Romilly and The Goscombe in Canton as well as The Butcher’s. Jon said: “I’ve just updated it for the iPod age. Everything was off cassette in the 90s. Back then people had a better knowledge of music.

Basking in the warm glow of victory (and free wine), I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue

“Radio 1 and the popular stations don’t play anything now from 10 years ago whereas I find now people in their 20s are completely unaware of things my generation consider classics so that makes it difficult trying to cater for everyone.”

Landlord Chris Gough, 41, from Cathays took over the Butcher’s in December last year with business partner Paul and is happy with Jon’s efforts at getting customers in. Chris said: “I was offered it by Brains and I fancied a challenge.” He and Paul haven’t signed a full lease yet, but are hoping to make a go of the place just next to Chapter Arts Centre.

The Butcher’s Pub Quiz, Wednesday February 1, 2012 results:

  1. I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue: 119 points
  2. The Jokers are Mildly Stinky: 108.5
  3. The Inbetweeners: 100
  4. Shorthanded: 99.5
  5. Confused.com: 83.5


 

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One man and his (dream) job

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There was a good feature in Wales on Sunday about those annoying people who not only have jobs, but dream ones at that. Top of the bill was Barry beer taster Simon Martin who started reviewing brews on Youtube for a laugh, but now gets 10p from Google every time someone clicks on one of his 450+ reviews. With nearly 150,000 hits so far, Mr Realaleguide isn’t doing too badly. Simon’s latest venture is a cyber pub on Google Plus. Does anyone who’s on it fancy joining and telling me how it goes? Is this yet another nail in the coffin for the Dog and Duck?!

A plea for dying boozers

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Sun business editor Steve Hawkes weighed-in on behalf of Britain’s struggling pubs on Tuesday, calling on the unusual combination of the Institute for Public Policy Research and CAMRA to issue a ‘Plea for Dying Boozers’. The IPPR has claimed the “social value” of a good community pub is up to £120,000 a year to the local area. Not sure how they work these things out, but I reckon News International could let go one of the 300 editorial staff said to be on six figure salaries, and plug the hole in the community left by one of the 1,078 pubs to have closed in the last two years. I couldn’t reach Mr Hawkes on Twitter, so I’m guessing he was down his local.

The Canton Cross Vaults

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The best place to be on a drizzly Tuesday afternoon in West Cardiff is a pub, especially when there’s a wet bike ride to face when you’re done. Cue a half of Strongbow and a bowl of chips at the Canton Cross Vaults which is nestled on Leckwith Road just off the hubbub of Cowbridge Road East.

Landlord Brian McDonald is holding the fort as the only other customers are a ladies’ lunch club whom he keeps happy with food and banter. Brian, originally from Rhymney,  used to run a pub in Gabalfa before he took over the Cross and he does a very good line in v-necks, as today’s lime-green number and a bright pink one in pictures on the pub’s Facebook page can attest. The Cross is owned by pubco Punch Taverns – one of the UK’s largest – which hasn’t had an easy ride in the past year, but Brian said he’s just happy to have a job given the current economic climate. Tied-in on alcohol as he is, Brian said the beer could be a bit cheaper but that’s the only complaint he has about the bosses.

Not a million miles from heaven

The Cross is a lesson to other pubs in using Facebook to promote itself, with over 900 friends and frequent updates, pictures and comments on its page. There’s plenty to talk-up too with karaoke nights, quizzes, darts teams, poker tournaments and a Sunday league football outfit competing for attention. Printed in valleys green on a roof beam is the following: “To be born Welsh is a privilege, not born with a silver spoon in your mouth but with music in your heart and poetry in your soul.” Stirring words from a pub making a real go of a crowded Canton market. Oh, and the chips are great.

The Royal Oak cancels band nights

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The Royal Oak in Roath, where I stopped for an enjoyable open-mic night in November, has unfortunately put an end to live band nights for the foreseeable future. There will be no more tunes on Friday evenings as a lack of support means the pub’s function room will no longer be a venue for local talent. Nights were cancelled in December and January before landlord Rhys and landlady Jen took the painful decision to postpone them indefinitely. Rhys has called the Oak a “music-lead pub” and the couple, who took it over around a year ago, said they tried to keep the nights going but couldn’t drum up the level of interest live music at the pub used to attract.

“Quite simply it was a financial decision,” Jen said. “On a typical band night we had five people in the room and it costs about £200 with staffing and equipment so we were losing money. If the room was full and there was support and there was demand there would not have been a question: we would never have dropped the bands.” The Oak enjoyed the support of customer and Radio Cardiff DJ Scott Travers, sponsoring his Big Scott show on Mondays and Tuesdays, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to get the punters in.

Though Jen said the reaction of most patrons has been supportive, the Oak has been a gig venue for decades and there has been understandable disappointment. Cardiff gig-goer Carl DeAbreu said on Facebook:  “Been supporting live music @ The Oak for over 30 yrs and will be very sorry to see it stop. 20 odd yrs ago when the likes of The Superclarkes & Snatch It Back were playing you could barely get through the door it was so packed. There’s still quality music out there and pubs like the Oak selling good relatively cheap beer but the sad fact is people ain’t going out and socialising in this way any more. A sad sign of the times I’m afraid.”

Musician and Cardiff University student Marc Smith added: “It’s such a great shame….As the capital city of a “musical nation” Cardiff sadly lacks venues for small-ish live music events!!! And the loss of another one makes it ever more difficult for local musicians to have somewhere to play & be heard.” But Rhys and Jen are open to the suggestion, put forward by Marc, of groups playing for free. Said Jen: “We are certainly not against the idea. We would love there to be live music here again if bands are willing and they understand I just can’t afford to pay them what they had before.” The pub’s open-mic nights are also still very much on so one way or another, there will still be music at the Royal Oak.

That was the year that was

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Ok, so this isn’t a real pub quiz but it’s the next best thing: a German current affairs-themed online quiz with news magazine Der Spiegel! It’s called “News you may have missed 2011” and if, like me, you’re not German, then you’ve probably missed quite a bit. Never fear though as the questions are pretty lighthearted and when you get one wrong you’ll just be lightly admonished in a self-deprecatingly German kind of way.

Look out for tales of Yvonne, Germany’s famous runaway cow, a deadly Brazilian wandering spider let loose in a supermarket and my personal favourite, question 21: “In November, an armed burglar in Schwanewede, a town in northern Germany, was thwarted when he tried to rob a house. What prevented the masked gunman from carrying out his crime?” My guess: “He drank a bottle of vodka and fell asleep on the couch” was met with: “That is a surprisingly common occurrence here in Germany, but it is incorrect in this case.” Rats. Have a go to find out what really happened.

One last last thing before new year. Apparently, it’s a German national tradition to watch this come December 31st which is fair enough as a bit of slapstick surely beats a drunken rendition of Auld Lang Syne any day. Prosit Neujahr!

A capital night out but more pub closures in 2012

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Cardiff is the most sociable city in Britain according to social network citysocialising.com. The site looked at the social habits of 160,000 people and found Cardiffians attend 28% more social events than the national average. People from Glasgow apparently prefer to keep themselves to themselves however, joining in with less then half the number of events compared with your standard city-dweller. Still, if you take a social event to be a “see you down the pub” to your mates rather than an “I wonder how many other web designers there are in Shoreditch who want to go to a wine bar tonight” pre-arranged, networked happening then the results might be a bit different. As was asked on Walesonline, “So who makes up all this drivel?”

Away from cozy PR fluff, 2012 doesn’t look so good for the UK’s pubs according to James Hall in the Daily Telegraph. The British Beer and Pub Association has said up to 1,500 establishments may close in the next two years as a five per cent increase in beer duty kicks in – on top of a 35 per cent rise since March 2008 – and new taxes are threatened including a “late night levy”. The measure is part of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, passed in September, which allows local licensing authorities to charge premises open beyond midnight up to £4,440 a year towards the cost of dealing with alcohol related disorder. Whether this will be applied fairly or contribute to more closures is a big question for pubs in 2012. Happy new year everyone?!

P.S. Dicmortimer’s pubocalypse post on Cardiff’s pub closures may be a bit rambling, but it’s well worth a read.

The City Arms cuts loose

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The big red dragon may be all over the City Arms on Quay Street, but a visit gets you much more than a watery pint of SA for your troubles. Brains have let one of their flagship city-centre pubs off the leash since landlord Chris Partridge took over in September last year and it now stocks a range of guest ales alongside the standard Rev James and Brains Dark. It’s also one of the most inviting watering holes in Cardiff with a permanent ruddy glow drawing-in regulars and passers-by alike from the capital cold.

Go inside. Now.

Brains have allowed Chris a free reign on which guest ales he gets in and these are rotated every two or three days. Combined with a range of ciders and continental lagers, this has made the City Arms a proper drinkers pub.

Here’s Mr Partridge on beer, Brains, and the new direction the City Arms has taken since he poured his first pint here more than a year ago:

The range of craft beers Brains will be bringing out in the new year has Chris excited. The company is responding to the rise in the number of small brewers in the last decade and to pub-goers who want more to choose from now their pints cost so much more than they do in the supermarket

The best use for a TV in a pub

Brew Wales blogger Arfur Daley is positive about what this means for the City Arms. The organiser of the Great Welsh Beer and Cider Festival also contests the charge that Cardiff has always been dominated by Brains pubs. “Ten years ago there was choice in Cardiff. I was running a freehouse in the city at the time and we did not have the competition from superpubs such as Wetherspoon, or the smoking ban. Brains have lost a lot of their Cardiff pubs since the 1980s due to the city centre being rebuilt and have expanded their estate outside of the city and even into England,” he says.

Mike is 24 – “born 35!” – and a Pembrokeshire-born City Arms regular. He also recognises that Brains have broadened their horizons and thinks this is a good thing for his pub of choice:

Derek, 55, and from Cardiff has also become a fixture at the City Arms since Chris took over, even though he lives outside the city. Alongside his partner Sarah, he chats amiably to Mike who is less than half his age and their group exemplifies the mix of customers the pub attracts from older drinkers to students and young professionals. He doesn’t think pub-goers lack for choice in Cardiff:

But this isn’t the view of the clutch of CAMRA members I came across on an earlier visit to the City Arms. Steve Avery tells me: “The landlord keeps his beer very well which is good for Cardiff – because there is sod all around.” Fellow drinker Norman Jenkins chimes in: “Brains is alright, it’s just the fact it’s so dominant. We would drink Brains if there was nothing else. A well kept pint of Brains Dark is fine.”

It seems that either as a manager, tenant or patron you’ve got to meet Brains in the middle in Cardiff. Rhys Gwn Lewis, landlord of the Royal Oak in Adamstown, knows the clout they have.

“You can strike deals with them, you can meet halfway in the middle really. They are a good company to work for; it’s give and take on both sides. They do put money      back in. Some landlords will tell you they are a waste of space but me personally I have a good relationship,” he says.

Is it good for Rhys that Brains have so many pubs in Cardiff? “For Brains yes, for me no. There are two other Brains pubs within walking distance. Some people will only drink in Brains pubs,” he says. Still, Rhys has signed a ten-year contract with the company where the normal length is three. “We get on, we click. You have to click with Brains and if you don’t that’s it,” he adds.

Arfur Daley argues: “Brains remain a family-owned brewery and the pubs have changed, for the better over the years, with food becoming an important part of the business.” For beer enthusiasts like Arfur, it is always preferable for a pub to be owned by a brewery rather than a pub company.

So whatever you think of how Brains run things in Cardiff, at least they know about beer and have given Chris Partridge the chance to put his passion to work in a thriving pub with a viable business model. As CAMRA member Jim Conway puts it as he sups a pint in the City Arms: “There are bigger brewers than Brains but for this area they are huge. It just happens to be Brains here; they are just part of the game.”

Find the City Arms:

Zombie Nation

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Straying a little further from Cardiff pubs but still on the seasonal binge-drinking path, here’s Kim Willsher in The Observer today on London’s “booze bus”: an ambulance which heads out at weekends solely to deal with the capital’s most ‘tired and emotional’ residents. This takes pressure off 999 teams and helps protect vulnerable women in particular from being robbed or assaulted while they’re comatose.

Typing ‘booze bus Cardiff’ into Google gets you a very different type of vehicle, namely the stretch limos which take rowdy hen parties round the block a bit before dropping them off at Flares. You can even rent an old red Routemaster for the purpose, like the one I spotted off-duty on Corbett Road earlier. Next stop Marble Arch (or the Heath).

Zombie Cardiff

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I went out at 2am this morning after Will Humphries somehow persuaded me to help him film a capital night out. Apart from feeling like we were in Shaun of the Dead (or worse, like Daily Mail reporters) it wasn’t too bad and most of the ‘loons’ police warned us about seemed to be stumbling home without causing trouble.

Plenty of revelers were under-dressed for the chilly temperatures though with guys hugging their torsos, leaving empty t-shirt sleeves flapping, and women going barefoot to doubtless save themselves from more blisters.

I’m sure Black Friday will be a whole other proposition if snow doesn’t affect things as it did last year so perhaps we’ll give that one a miss, eh Will?! Not to mention you owe me a burger, sunshine. Check-out Will’s blog for some footage and a full report soon.