Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Achosion I Laweni

Having been born in Nottingham and later resident in Birmingham, Silent Words Speak Loudest has now been Cardiff-based for a year. What better way to commemorate that than by continuing the Achosion I Laweni series in praise of all that is good about the Welsh capital with a triple bill of fine drinking establishments?

#8 - Shot In The Dark

An atmospherically dimly lit bar where you can avail yourself of shots until late - you see what they've done there?

That said, the shot involved could just as well be of espresso, because Shot In The Dark is just as much a coffee house as a bar, if not more so.

Situated in the unlikely location of the rough and ready City Road, Shot In The Dark rather bizarrely has a few tables and chairs set out on the grimy pavement outside next to the busy road.

But if that's a strange attempt at recreating European cafe culture in an inappropriate environment, then inside is much more successful. The food is tasty, the seating is plentiful (on two floors - though it does get busy) and the service is friendly.

So bag yourself a sofa, snuggle up and glide smoothly from cup of coffee to glass of red wine to glass of red wine to glass of red wine as the clock hand moves stealthily around unnoticed.

#9 - The Waterguard

The Waterguard is one of our most recent discoveries.

Enjoying a leisurely day off down by the Bay on Friday, we had been foiled in our attempt to visit the Butetown History & Arts Centre (a possibility for Achosion I Laweni in future, if it's actually open next time we wander down that way...), and had once again failed to find our way onto the barrage. Mercifully, consolation was near at hand.

We'd been told about the Waterguard but even upon walking in couldn't quite believe it was a pub. It's the imposing Victorian front that does it, seemingly modelled on a medieval castle, but inside, beyond the two snug rooms, it's like a stylish Tardis, boasting smart modern decor and plenty of space.

Once at the bar, it's an unexpected delight to find that the pub is affiliated to the Samuel Smiths brewery, and that as a result an impressive range of beers, ales and ciders is served in such swish surroundings. The only problem is deciding what to choose. Having come across very few pubs in Cardiff other than those serving the unimaginative selection of Brains bitters, we took an age to come to a conclusion, much to the amusement of a barman who rightly took pleasure in being able to offer much better than the standard city centre watering hole fayre.

#10 - The Glamorgan Staff Club

Like the Waterguard, the Glamorgan Staff Club caters for the real ale enthusiast - but that's about where the similarities end.

Accessed from a front door on Westgate Street opposite the main entrance of the Millennium Stadium and backing onto Womanby Street (home of the City Arms, Dempseys and Clwb Ifor Bach, and hence my favourite street in the city), it's an impressive red brick building that is as characterful on the inside as it is on the out.

Apparently you are supposed to be a member to drink in there, but we flout the official rules as members of Cardiff Friends Of The Earth, one of the many groups to hold their meetings for free in the upstairs rooms (incidentally, one of the others is the South Wales Anarchists - one wonders what they're doing organising meetings in the first place...)

A firm favourite with local CAMRA members (and duly named as the Best Real Ale pub in Cardiff on at least one occasion), the Club prides itself on serving an ever-changing selection of ales from around Britain, with at least three available at any one time. The pricing policy is equally genius: £1.75 a pint if it's under 5%, £1.85 if it's over 5%, and £1.95 on very special occasions.

With those prices being written in white plastic lettering pressed onto a black board, it's as though it's stuck in a time warp - and a quick glance around at the faded wallpaper, carpet filthy with ingrained stains, broken and battered furniture and seats with chunks of leatherette and foam missing does nothing to dispel that impression.

The Club is populated by chainsmokers with eyes both lazy and glazed, though a quick burst of Michael Jackson on the ghetto blaster in one of the downstairs rooms has been known to inspire a burst of movement. That might have been convulsions, mind. Waiting at the bar before one meeting, we witnessed a fight between two fat middle-aged men - probably over who got the last bag of pork scratchings.

Salubrious? No. Unique? Yes - and in a good way.

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