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It’s open mic night on a Sunday evening at The Royal Oak, another Cardiff contribution to Britain’s 100 most famous pubs, and a lad in skinny brown jeans with a Justin Bieber fringe is playing Pink Floyd covers with a diminutive, pork-pie-hatted gent on the saxophone. Brilliant.

What dusk should look like

The performers keep coming and what with kids running around and drams of whiskey on the table beside the pints of Brains, it feels like a real céilidh. This fits with the Celtic flavour of the flags on the ceiling – a French tricolor but no St George cross, thank you – and with the pub’s history: it was owned by Kitty Flynn for over half a century.


Current landlord Rhys Gwn Lewis, 32, says Irish descended Kitty was Brains’ longest serving landlady after taking over The Royal Oak from her mother and lived above the pub for 57 years. Rhys and his wife Jennifer Louise Mills, 31, took it over themselves from his publican parents 10 months ago and live upstairs with their young family.

“It’s a music-lead pub,” says Rhys and with weekly gigs, acoustic sets, karaoke and a USB Radio mini-festival on December 17, its easy to see why. Rhys also has plenty to say about his relationship with Brains; but more of that in a later post.

Yes please

The Royal Oak also has a pugilistic past. ‘Peerless’ Jim Driscoll: relative of Kitty Flynn; fierce Newtown-born featherweight and one of only 20 outright winners of the 22 carat gold Lonsdale Belt in 1910, used to train in the gym upstairs. His pictures are prominent among some wonderful old sporting memorabilia (think toothless boxers and hirsute 70s rugby greats) and you can just about see the yellow walls, once nicotine-stained but now painted, between the plaques.

Spot Peerless Jim in the middle

It’s now only used by one man: Cardiff welterweight Gareth Piper, who had the place properly kitted out again after it was unused for some years. Gareth is nephew to former Commonwealth Light-heavyweight champion and Ely native Nicky Piper, and takes everyone at the Royal Oak to his fights. “He does a lot of publicity for the pub and it’s a good relationship,” says Rhys.

Mr and Mrs Royal Oak...and a boxing ring

On the way out, it’s as if Buddy Holly never got on that plane as Peggy Sue rings out. Some pubs are struggling, but the Royal Oak isn’t one of them.

Peggy Sue, Peggy Sue, pretty pretty pretty pretty...