The Cricketers

Tags

, , ,

The Cricketers in Pontcanna is one of a number of non-Brains-owned pubs on Cathedral Road which have been getting capital drinkers excited recently. Coming in from the cold on a wet night makes you feel like a country squire after a grouse hunt, complete with a dozy brown labrador slumped by the hottest mock-coal fire this side of Hades.

Tally ho

The huge bay window of this grand Victorian semi further opens out a vast drinking/eating/sitting/snoozing area filled mostly with smart diners: check shirts, v-necks and hush puppies are the order of the evening. So, too, is food. The Cricketers is definitely a gastropub and visiting just for the beer is clearly a bad choice given its grub was a regional winner at the Great British Pub Awards 2011.

This is as close as it is physically safe to go

Still the Evans Evans festival, running until December 14 with the pub’s sister company in Llandeilo, puts five brand new brews on tap to distract from all that lovely hake and pork belly you’re not eating. The Archers Strong Ale is certainly that at 5.5% and is described, in a way only ales can be, as “deceivingly quaffable”. It’s a bit sweet for my taste but is nice and rich as well as good value at £2.70.

Evans Evans are certainly asserting themselves lately having bought Swindon-based Archers in 2009, which they re-opened this year. They’ve also gone on a heavy publicity drive to celebrate 245 years of the Buckley family’s brewing in West Wales.

Tapping into the festival spirit

Cricketers manager Michelle Francis hasn’t had the pub for quite that long having taken it over almost a year-and-a-half ago. Regular John Griffiths (who we can forgive his pint of lager), says she “runs a tight ship”. “It’s very friendly and they let dogs in” he adds. This fact is clearly very important to Cricketers patrons, though it’s hard to imagine too many rottweilers get brought in. A picture of Mr Griffiths’s black labrador Thomas, sadly absent tonight, sits proudly behind the bar.

Holding court

Mr Griffiths has another reason for his loyalty: after he was unlucky enough to be mugged in Bute Park recently, the staff kept things sweet with the guests whom he was meant to be wining and dining. “From the police station I phoned up and they made sure my clients were looked after while I was giving statements which was nice. I don’t go anywhere else,” he says. Now that’s service.

An ale for The Economist

Tags

, ,

The Economist, august “house magazine of the global anglophone elite”, was excited about the growth of micro-brewers last week. Apparently it’s all thanks to Gordon Brown, that famous giver of good cheer. I’m heading to the Evans Evans beer festival later to see just what the ex-PM unleashed when he introduced progressive beer duty in 2002. It’s at The Cricketers in Pontcanna so pints – and blazered BBC types – all round.

Brains

Tags

, , , ,

This blog may abhor the Yates and Wetherspoons of this world, but there’s no escaping the fact there aren’t that many free houses in Cardiff. SA Brain & Co are an inescapable presence in the pub trade and across the city in general be it on the side of bridges, or the pitch at the Millennium Stadium. The company claims its beers are “the toast of a nation,” but if none of what they offer is to your taste, then you may struggle to find a place to drink in the capital.

The big dragon

Royal Oak owner Rhys Gwn Lewis says: “Some landlords will tell you they are a waste of space but me personally, I have a good relationship with them.” But it’s not hard to find different views. A regular at another pub says the rates they charge his local are “extortionate,” while one of a clutch of CAMRA members drinking in the Brains-owned City Arms, says to me: “Brains is alright, it’s just the fact it’s so dominant.”

With the brewery expanding more into craft ales, taking on a restaurant and even buying up a coffee chain, there is no doubt the 127-year-old concern is continuing to grow. But how Brains treats its tenants and managers, the quality of the beer they supply and the uniformity they lend to so much of Cardiff’s pub scene, are more pertinent issues the bigger Brains gets. Without doubt, Brains have got plenty of brawn in Cardiff.

The Royal Oak

Tags

, , , , , ,

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.

Shindig

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...

The Insole

Tags

, , , , ,

Tucked away on Harvey Street just off Canton’s main shopping drag on Cowbridge Road East, The Insole isn’t flashy; but then that’s hardly what its patrons are looking for. Landlady Diane took it over in March after a period of closure and it continues as an intimate and friendly social spot for its small but loyal band of customers.

If you don't limbo, you can't come in

Stopping in on a Saturday afternoon I’m greeted not by a blast of Premiership football and an odor of stale Carling, but by Free Willy 3; like Crocodile Dundee they really, really should have stopped at one.

Only marginally less ferocious than a killer whale is Missy: the Insole’s guard dog.  With a yelp that would shame a budgie she’s more guinea pig than canine and a massive flirt to boot. It’s clear who wears the trousers around here and they’re definitely pint-sized.

Vicious beast mauls girl. Girl laughs.

“She’s very spoilt: the lady of the pub I think that dog is,” says bar girl Laura Evans who is holding the fort until Diane returns from a spot of Christmas shopping. “She (Diane) is like a little Mum to me; she’s like a Mum to everyone. Most of the people who come in here are regulars; it’s a homely pub. I would never leave here: I love it too much,” she adds.

Simples

A little less homely these days is the boarded-up Maltings around the corner on Cowbridge Road East. The pub was closed last year when the tenant walked away after the latest violent incident in its troubled recent history, and it is now set to be demolished to make way for housing.

Laura says: “It was a really busy pub. They had a lot of the youngsters in there and they took advantage, caused a little bit of trouble and it closed down. The Maltings was just like this place.”

Luckily there aren’t too many pool cues flying around the Insole on a sleepy Saturday afternoon; there is a table, but it’s in the public bar which only usually opens for Friday night’s famously raucous karaoke.

Serious snackage

At the end of the lounge bar on his usual perch is regular Colin Mountjoy, 31, who comes in “at least three or four times a week.” While he used to help the previous owner by working behind the bar when he was struggling to make a go of the place, flat-cap sporting Colin prefers a pint of Stella and a stool these days. He says: “My parents were in the pub game for 20 years but even they sold up seven years ago. I wouldn’t take on anything now.”

As pub welcomes go, they don’t get much friendlier than the Insole and it’s well worth straying just a little way from the Canton Mile for a pint of Brains and more Billy the Seal yarns than you can shake a tiny dog at.

Y Mochyn Du

Tags

, , ,

Sunday lunch Sundays don’t come much better than last weekend’s in Cardiff, and a brisk walk across Bute Park in the sunshine was rewarded by Y Mochyn Du at the end of it.

A pub, in some very dappled light

Looking like an overgrown mock-Tudor groundsman’s hut for the gentleman who cuts the grass at Swalec Stadium next door, it soon shakes off the Harvester feel once inside. The huge portrait of an ebony sow in the glass dining area suggests the pub’s name in English, ‘The Black Pig’, might not be too hard to guess for non-Welsh speakers. Still that didn’t stop me asking, in cut-glass English, what Y Mochyn Du means. Nice one.

A right big pig

Sitting down, there’s an earnest discussion about the merits of Welsh language education going on amongst a family at the next table; this ends when the daughter pulls out a pair of new Nike high tops she’s just bought, and globalisation can breathe easy once again.

The food, cawl and roast pork, is solid and its consumers famished so that works. A wider variety of veg and some proper potatoes with the roast would have helped but the beer, the pub’s own cwrw, is a really tasty traditional bitter.

Broth and a beer- not long for this world

The main bar area is all wood paneling and sports memorabilia from a newspaper cutting of Scott Gibbs looking chuffed after helping Wales deny England the Grand Slam at Wembley in 1999, to a picture of an angelic looking young footballer from Ely who went on to become Ryan Giggs.

The never-ending bar...

There’s also a ‘cricketer’s corner’, which was occupied by three men discussing the laws of rugby. I left feeling I had shown insufficient cariad@iaith– by Gareth Bale’s boots, I’ll bring the red Primark t-shirt I bought for the Wales-France game next time.

The Golden Cross

Tags

, , , ,

For my first foray into Cardiff’s drinking establishments, I took the recent Famous Grouse 100 Famous Pubs guide featured on The Daily Telegraph’s website as a good place to start. The capital has three pubs on the list, and it was the Golden Cross in Riverside which first caught my eye with the tagline “most spectacular pub interior in the whole of Wales.”

The stunning red-brick exterior’s not bad either and it stands out for all the right reasons amidst the gaudy glassy chain stores on Hayes Bridge Road opposite.

Thy wanderings are at an end, oh thirsty one

Unfortunately we just missed the start of the quiz, which begins every Monday at around 8.30, but I still can’t tell you Lady Gaga’s real name or what the first, second, sixteenth and twenty-sixth U.S. presidents have in common, so it was probably just as well; as regular readers of Drunk Dragon will come to know, I hate losing a pub quiz.

Once inside the first thing I noticed was not the beautiful decorative tiling on the bar for which, amongst other things, the Cross is famous, but the fact that absolutely everything – and I mean everything – is purple. On carpets, curtains, chairs, chandeliers and even cocktails – the ‘Purple Flirt’ if you fancy one – I’ve never seen so many hues of everyone’s sneaky second favourite colour.

A shade of watery brown that shames my pint of IPA, those ceramic tiles are amazing and are reputed to have been made specially for the pub’s 1849 opening.

Bar tiles at the Golden Cross

I'm mean. And I'm a lion. Grrr.

Less propping up the bar than cowering in a corner are every gay pub’s most amusing patrons, the up-tight straight couple who’ve just wondered in, accidentally bought a pint, and now don’t know how long to wait before they can leave without seeming rude. The guy sits twisting his scarf between his fingers in silent agony. They leave with half his drink resolutely un-drunk.

I must admit I’m here with my girlfriend too, but that doesn’t stop me from being chatted-up by a guy who looks like the bassist from Blur – you know, the one who likes cheese – which is all good fun.

Unfortunately, she gets some less welcome attention from a ‘refreshed’ straight bloke who assures us “this is probably the best pub in Cardiff because nobody will bother you if you don’t want to be bothered,” while cheerfully refuting that assertion. Still he’s perfectly friendly, as is everyone we meet all night, and warns me away from Brains SA as a few too many apparently induces “skull attack,” which sounds like a migraine on steroids.

Chandeliers n' queers

Supervisor Anthony Rowley, 20, kindly agrees to chat and fills me in on the pub’s history from when sailors could pick-up prostitutes here, to its present incarnation as a gay pub which it became well over a decade ago. With the King’s Cross losing its gay identity in the summer, he says it’s all the more important for the city’s LGBT community that the Golden Cross stays in the pink.

“I care about the place. I’ve worked here for so long and I’m best friends with the manager; we’d do anything for each other. I love the place to death,” he says.

Hello, sailor

Without doubt the star of the night though is quizmaster, self-styled Sunday “bingo bitch” and resident drag act, Lambrini Rampage.

This “Rhondda girl on a mission,” runs a very tidy quiz indeed and is only too happy to pose for a picture once she’s sorted her wig.

The Cross’s bingo and cabaret night on Sundays is said to pack the punters in, not that you’re supposed to shout ‘bingo’ if you win- “You have to shout fanny flaps,” says Lambrini. Hear, hear.