The train from Newport to Cardiff takes 13 minutes, and matches the Potters Bar to Kings Cross journey for culture shock. Unlike Newport, Cardiff never sleeps.

This was my first visit since City’s unfathomable capitulation at Ninian Park the City Stadium three years ago. The city centre was so much fun that Sunday that I soon forgot about football. Just like Manchester it continues to surge forward, cranes still dominating the skyline as you emerge from the gorgeous central station.

Not everything is in quite such good taste;

Nice watch

St Mary’s Street was full of professional drinkers, and a horde of fancy-dressed amateurs who’d just completed the Cardiff half-marathon and were now refuelling with burgers and chips.

So I thought I’d walk a half-marathon too, refuelling in the half-dozen Beer Guide ticks dotted around the city.  It was a good idea at the time.

The sure sign that a place has embraced “craft” is a raft of new Beer Guide entries called things like “Tap House”, “Hop Bunker” and “Ralph“.  Cardiff has two of those.

Brain’s Coming Soon was off

First up was the Cambrian Tap, which looked like a showpiece for Brain’s excellent self-defined “Craft” brews, which I’ve liked a lot.

Stupidly, I elected to pace myself and went for the weakest.  The Electric Bear was served at Key Keg temperature and was (consequently ?) a very moreish NBSS 3.5.  A sign of the times, 5% ABV seems to be the starting point now.

The seating design was closer to those OK American diners along the A1 than Sam Smiths, but the atmosphere was jolly and the service superb.  As I left I finally remembered this as Mulligans, Brain’s attempt at an Irish bar in the’90s.  It’s better now.

Saving the culinary delights of Caroline Street for later (I’m an athlete), next stop was Tiny Rebel’s Urban outpost. I’d have liked to compare this with the Newport version, but Newport was closed.


I liked Urban a lot. Mrs RM would have said it had similar design aesthetics to BrewDog,but I can’t spell that, and the cognoscenti would never say that.  It does have cask, albeit not Cwtch today. A beer with a long name including the word “Bock” was potent beyond it’s ABV (NBSS 3.5 again), albeit warmer than in the Cambrian.  The musical selection was slightly more challenging too, always a good thing (I don’t mean Stereophonics).

Next stop, the people who defined “Craft”.

The Gatekeeper isn’t an astonishing Spoons, but it is a busy one, and I commend their lovely staff for their cheerful approach to the gourmet burger demanding half-marathoners. The Manager was happy to answer my request for “Your fastest selling beer please” with the word “Summerskills“.  Possibly the first time that’s happened.

The first wrong choice of the night.  It was gorgeous (NBSS 3.5), but a debilitating 5.5%.  The Old Empire had just gone too; Cardiff like their strong beers.

Much worse was to come at the Hop Bunker. But only after my free Café Nero flat white and a nod to the Aneurin Bevin statue.

Resist the Bullmastiff

In the ’90s I visited Cardiff regularly, and the rule was that Bulmastiff‘s Son of a Bitch could never be bypassed.  I know the brewery has changed hands, but I was unable to resist their Special Reserve calling to me among a line of frantic looking home-brew pumpclips.

It tasted it’s 6.5% ABV, anyway.  A mark off for that glass, a mark back for the Postcard Records compilation playing quietly. A great little bunker bar.

The Glasgow School

The Bulmastiff did at least speed up my walk into Roath and the relief of the Andrew Buchan (whatever happened to public toilets). Pub of the night, for all sorts of reasons. Proper seating, proper punters discussing flyovers, proper prices (£2.40 a pint for a classic but chilled Rhymney Bitter, NBSS 3).

A chance for me to consult my astonishingly detailed hand drawn map,


and some great Quiz material.

Name all 5

The walk back took over an hour, and passed hardly any pubs.  What’s happened to all the suburban Brain’s houses ? And what’s happened to all Cardiff’s Balti houses ?

Mindful of the need to prepare for IndyMan (two more sleeps !), I ended here with a Live Dead Pony Club.  Good (NBSS 3), but tasted like the dead one.


  1. I believe Cardiff City’s new ground is the Leckwith Stadium.

    Robbie Savage or Chris Hargreaves, not sure which
    Julie Garland
    Liz Windsor
    Stephen Fry
    Tommy Cooper


  2. It is a shame about the suburban Brains tied houses closing down,i went to Cardiff as a birthday treat from the wife when they were doing the play offs there as Wembley was being rebuilt.
    My main aim was to do only Brains tied houses but i did do one that was not a Brains tied house,i had a good walk into Canton and was even mistaken as a football thug in the city centre Brains tied house,when i went in had a quick half as i was leaving the doormen said not enough action for you in here,i am pretty sure it was Lincoln v Darlington and Lincoln took over the city,he then went on to say it will be better tomorrow when West Ham come to town.


    1. My wife went to Sincil Bank once (late ’80s) and was terrified.

      I’m not sure how many Brains pubs have closed, there just seemed to be a lot less of them, and very few in the Good Beer Guide.


      1. It is nice that your wife likes watching football,
        when i met my wife to be she told me i am a Nottingham Forest season ticket holder,i could not believe my luck.
        Lincoln is a great city that i love,but it has some pretty rough estates and is usually solid Labour.
        What team do you and your wife support,just interested


      2. I’m Manchester City Alan, get up for most home games and a few aways. More to do with beer as I’ve been visiting Manchester for 25 years for pubs and walking and started going to games.

        Wouldn’t say my wife is a fan but tolerates it and been a few times with me and boys.


  3. That surprised me,Martin,but at least you support the proper Manchester club,
    I have took my wife to loads of away games with the lads which she loved,a great day out on the piss and hopefully an away win to put the icing on the cake.


  4. Do I get a consolation prize for getting four and presumably being the first ever person to muddle up Robbie Savage and Bob Marley?

    Ninian Park was a proper football ground. The Leckwith Athletics place is not. In an odd way I miss the days of escaping rioting home fans at such grounds. I even almost miss Lincoln, apart from the fact that it’s just a shithole with a castle. And we always lost. And we always had a player sent off. And we were always completely and utterly outfought, shite and embarrassed. Apart from that it was good.

    Nottingham Forest are a proper big club, the City Ground decent but probably not what it once was. I still find it bizarre to be anywhere near either Forest or Manchester Hunter in the league, let alone a division above one of them. Good luck to both clubs, Forest should be in the top division.


    1. Yes bonus point.
      I agree on rioting fans, saw Cambridge 7-2 and 4-0 at Ninian,the hatred was palpable.

      Forest a top club; mad German fans and in the heart of the town (albeit Bridgford).


      1. While we are talking about trouble at football grounds and around them,Nottingham Forests claim to fame is the only clubs fans to take the shed end at Chelsea in the 70s,that comes from a Chelsea football holligans book.
        Spot on about the results Martin.


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