I’ve written about my favourite pub in Cardiff before. But, much as I love my local for a quiet comfy pint or two, you can’t hide away in the suburbs forever.
Sometimes you’ve got to hold your nose, tuck your trousers in your socks and dive headfirst into the St Mary Street melee with Welcome to the Jungle blasting on your mental stereo.
Hold on tight, this could get a little rough – we’re going out out.
Streets of Rage
Be warned, intrepid nocturnal explorer; there are some face-meltingly dire places to waste an evening in Old Cardiff Town.
When Tom Daley dared to say he’d had a shit night out in Cardiff one New Year’s Eve, the people of South Wales responded with the kind of foaming rage you’d expect from a UKIP voter who’s accidentally stumbled into a Polski Sklep.
But where was he? Tiger fucking Tiger. Keith Richards himself would turn his ravaged septum up at the industrial quantities of toot that you’d need to inhale to endure a night in that steroid pumped, fake-tan smeared gateway to hades.
It also has to be said – negotiating the streets of Cardiff after dark at the weekend can be like playing a live-action recreation of a ’90s beat-em-up game.
It’s Streets of Rage, occasionally interrupted by Eastern European LED flower sellers.
Level one is dodging past hordes of identical check-shirted* beer-bellied bald #Lads lumbering towards Walkabout.
Survive that onslaught and you’ll face an oversized hen party in undersized pink t-shirts emblazoned with sequinned slogans shrieking “Cwmbran Cougars on Tour” or words to that effect.
Now it’s just the end of level boss to go – 20st of leery steroid enhanced beef wearing a black bouncer’s suit. Talk or, if female or extremely daring, flirt your way past him, and you’re in – a dingy basement that stinks of wet dog and sells watered down Carlifostiken Artois in plastic pint pots at nearly a fiver a go.
Midnight at the oasis
Contrary to how it might sound, I love the manic energy of Cardiff on a heavy Saturday night – there’s no greater people watching spot on earth than St Mary Street – just check out these amazing photos by Maciej Dakowicz if you don’t believe me. But the difference between a good night and a bad one all comes down to the choice of venue.
Luckily, the ‘diff has a few diamonds in the rough – little oases where you can wet your whistle with a decent pint while staggering through a desert of personality-less boozers. Urban Tap House, Cambrian Tap, Bunkhouse, Gwdihw and Porter’s all spring to mind as cracking Cardiff bars.
Even Wetherspoons dives like The Gatekeeper or The Prince of Wales have a headspinning array of craft beer for pocket money prices if you don’t mind sharing bar space with the possibly underage and the definitely incontinent.
But while I’ll happily sink a brew or two at any of the above, my heart belongs to a little piece of Scotland just past the Millennium Stadium.
One man and his Brewdog
I don’t admit to this very often, but there are two things that hipsters get gloriously, deliciously right; beer and burgers. Brewdog on Westgate Street offers some gems in both categories.
First, let’s talk booze.
Brewdog’s own creations are fantastic – Punk IPA is the ubiquitous beginner’s craft beer, but I’m yet to get bored of it.
Five AM Red Ale (formerly 5AM Saint) is like its more sophisticated cousin who moved away to London – sexier, richer and a bit more grown up.
Add to this the sessiony citrus palate tickle of Dead Pony Club and the hoppy jetwash astringency of the hulking 7.2% Jackhammer, and there’s something to float every boat.
But to get the most out of it, you’ve to go deep, and start exploring the dauntingly huge range of guest beers – and that’s where Brewdog really shines.
When you go to a place with a drinks menu longer than the extended Lord of the Rings Trilogy, you need a guide; an intrepid Sherpa Tenzing type to help you negotiate the treacherous but rewarding landscape of hops, barley and malt.
There are two reasons this is so important:
- the sheer, bewildering scale of the tap list, and
- anywhere that sells decent craft beer and doesn’t smell like a toilet is going to be charging London Prices™, so you’d best pick something you REALLY like.
This is where a lot of craft-y establishments fall down; either their staff don’t know their products very well, or they’re annoyed that you don’t. You either get very little help, or, if you have the audacity to take upwards of ten seconds to pick a beer, you’re in danger of being knocked off your feet by the barman’s internal eye-roll.
In a lesser craft beer bar, if you don’t know precisely what IBU and hop variety you’d like from your West Coast Pale Ale they can make you feel like a granny going into Subway and asking for a ham salad sandwich.
Never in Brewdog; they always seem positively bursting to recommend something new, like a kid desperate to show a mate their brand new bedroom. There’s never that awkwardness of feeling like a dick when asking for a taster – they’ve already poured you one with a conspiratorial wink.
If you can secure one of the quieter booths in the corner, populate it with about half a dozen of your favourite people and get a round or two of flights in, I defy you not to enjoy it here.
And if you do get peckish the burgers are mighty fine too. They’re not the biggest in town, but it’s actually refreshing to bite into a burger that doesn’t require you to dislocate your jaw like a double jointed python.
They’ve also mastered the art of putting together a burger that doesn’t explode like a ketchup filled cluster bomb on bite number one, which always helps.
And speaking of ketchup, keep an eye out for lots of menu items incorporating Brewdog’s own beers; there’s 5AM Red Ale ketchup and Dead Pony Club mustard in some of the offerings. I’m not convinced I could tell much of a difference, but it’s a nice touch.
Add some of their infamous tater tots on the side (with all the trimmings, obvs.) and it’ll soak up that round of pickleback shots you just polished off nicely.
Saturday night’s alright
When it comes to a big night out, Cardiff can go either way – it’s like that mate we’ve all got who teeters on the brink of being either the funniest guy in the room or a drunken dickhead who falls off his chair and picks a fight with the floor.
I’ve had a thousand nights out here – great ones, terrible ones and alright ones. Some have ended in tears, some in vomit and one or two in bloodshed. But one thing I can definitely say with confidence is that I’ve never had a bad one where Brewdog was concerned.
Now, stop yapping and start drinking. Chin chin.
What’s your preferred destination for a big night out in the ‘diff? Like getting wasted in Womanby Street or prefer to get mashed on Mill Lane? Let me know in the comments or on twitter at @FuudBlog…
* Yes, I know I wear checked shirts a lot myself.
Photos by the ever wonderful @scruffyDuke