A view from the city: Cardiff

19 September, 2019

Shay Waterworth speaks to Alex Mills, Lab 22 bar manager and Alex Taylor, owner operator of Pennroyal 

Tell us about the history of your city’s drinking culture.

AM: Cardiff is a strange one because it’s all happened so recently. The more premium cocktail bars have only really started to appear in the past five years or so.

We get a large influx of around 80,000 people some weekends who travel to Cardiff to watch rugby at the stadium in the middle of the city. This can be significant for the high-volume bar scene.

AT: I think that, although the stadium brings in a lot of consumers, on a game day we aren’t allowed to use glass and serving high-end cocktails in plastic glasses just doesn’t work.

Where do you think the city ranks in terms of bar scenes in the UK and where does it get its inspiration?

AM: I’d say it’s right up there somewhere between the mid-range and the top end. It’s definitely on the rise and there have never been more cocktail bars opening in the city on a regular basis.

We tend to get inspiration from more northern cities and Scotland rather than London, because people who live in Cardiff can’t relate to Londoners as much as they can other closer cities.

AT: We’re getting there.

It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come in five years and I think we’re very close to becoming more of a cocktail destination.

What is the biggest challenge facing Cardiff’s bar scene?

AM: Managing the expectations of our clientele is a challenge. There are three big universities in Cardiff and we get about a month of good business from the students when their loans come in, but for the rest of the year they have no money. So we find that people come in expecting £5 pitchers of beer and it can be difficult to manage these expectations.

AT: I’d say one of the issues we have is getting the staff to fill these new bars. We have a Be At One but I’d like to see a London Cocktail Club too. Bristol has just got one but I think it would be an ideal platform to train staff in Cardiff.

What are the pioneering bars in the city?

AT: There are three pivotal bars in Cardiff. Lab 22 was the first one to push proper bartending practice and it held industry nights every Monday, which I think contributed to a cocktail boom in the city.

Next came Dead Canary, which has now been around three years, and then came Pennyroyal, which is the first bartender-owned bar in Cardiff. There’s another bar opening soon called Fly By Night too, which we have high expectations for. It’s going to be a wine bar upstairs and a tiki bar underneath.

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