Cardiff’s nightlife was forever immortalised in the 1999 film Human Traffic. To the rest of the world it was a tongue-in-cheek snapshot on the UK’s thriving super club culture, but to the city’s youngsters at the time it felt more like a documentary. No one stayed at home. Clubs remained open – and full – till way past sunrise, and the die-hard party seekers often took their mischief out into the surrounding fields or disused warehouses for extended illicit fun. Or they drove on to Swansea, which was even more renowned for its afterhours sessions.
The club scene dwindled several years later and many of the more characterless chain bars and pubs moved in and captured the party clientele. Shortly after, some of the city’s most legendary nightspots such as The Hippo and The Emporium closed for good. It’s taken many years for the city to really redevelop its nightlife scene, but it’s definitely back on track. In fact it’s learned from its hedonistic mistakes. There’s much more of an emphasis on live performance and a welcoming sense of variety; whether you want to worship the DJ, get rowdy to an unsigned punk band, giggle yourself silly to a top comedian or become enlightened by the Welsh National Opera, there’s likely to be something for you.
Where to drink
The city has a longstanding pub culture. In fact my first memory of moving to the city as a seven-year-old boy was beer-related thanks to the malty smell of hops that pumps out from the Brains Brewery and lingers throughout the city. It can still be whiffed today from time to time, and it’s certainly not the only sign of the city’s proud brewing institution: they also sponsor Wales International rugby team and own the majority of pubs.
If you’re after a hearty traditional British boozer then head to Pontcanna, here you’ll find the likes of The Conway (58 Conway Road, CF11 9NW; +44 29 2022 4373; www.theconway.co.uk), Y Mochyn Du (Sophia Close, CF11 9HW; +44 29 2037 1599) and The Beverley (75-77 Cathedral Road, CF11 9PG; +44 29 2034 3443), each one armed with a great range of guest local ales. For a traditional spit and sawdust experience visit The Vulcan (10 Adam Street, CF24 2FH; +44 29 2046 1580). A quaint hundred-year-old throwback in the midst of a great wide car park opposite the ultra new college buildings on the main road into town, it stands out like a Great British thumb and has survived many demolition orders thanks to Cardiff’s community spirit.
Meanwhile on the east side in Roath, Poet’s Corner (56 City Road, CF24 3DN; +44 29 2045 8714) and The Albany (105 Donald Street, CF24 3NS; +44 29 2031 1075) are both lively, friendly drinking spots that are full of great beers and many a Cardiff character. You can find an extensive list of Cardiff pubs right here: www.cardiffpubs.co.uk
Instant bar variety can be found on Mill Lane. Lively young vibes abound at Zync (63 St Mary Street, CF10 1FE; +44 29 2034 5189), Retros (7 Mill Lane, CF10 1FL; +44 29 2034 4688; www.retrocardiff.co.uk) and the Soda Bar (4 Mill Lane, CF10 1FE; +44 29 2039 8036; www.thesodabar.com) while a more swanky, upmarket (read: expensive) experience can be discovered at the old Number 10 club Gios (10-11 Mill Lane CF10 1FL; +44 29 2066 5500; www.gios.co.uk).
Cooler, more creative bars are dotted around the city. Milgi (213 City Road, CF24 3JD; +44 2047 3150; www.milgilounge.com) can be found in Roath, Cardiff Arts Institute (29 Park Place, CF10 3BA; +44 29 2023 1252; www.cardiffartsinstitute.org), Gwdihw (6 Guildford Crescent CF10 2HJ; +44 29 2039 7933; www.gwdihw.co.uk) both teeter on the outskirts of the centre and Cwtch (5 Bute Crescent, CF10 5AN; +44 29 2048 8775; www.jolyons.co.uk/bar-cwtch) is at home on the bay.
Other bars in the city worth investigating are 10 Feet Tall (12 Church Street, CF10 1BG; +44 29 2022 8883; www.thisis10feettall.com), a cosy dwelling home to a young crowd, and Pica Pica, a more upmarket, dimly-lit joint that has a fine range of gins (15-23 Westgate Street; +44 29 2034 5737; www.picapicacardiff.com). Buffalo Bar (11 Windsor Place, CF10 3BY; +44 29 2031 0312; www.buffalocardiff.com) is also well worth a look-in but with an extended license, live music and respected international DJs performing, you consider it more of a club than a bar.
Cardiff excels at live music right now. According to the city’s local monthly guide The Miniature Music Press there are 38 live venues in the city. Granted, many of those venues double up as bars, boozers, kitchens and cafés, but it’s an apt reflection of how many live events are held here.
The Globe (125 Albany Road, CF24 3NS; +44 29 2023 0130; www.theglobecardiff.com) is one of the best dedicated live venues. An old converted cinema, it’s open almost every night of the week and home to an eclectic range of touring acts and local bands, you’ll find it out of the centre in Roath.
For larger acts your best bets are the Millennium Music Hall (Millennium Plaza, CF10 1LA; +44 29 2034 0737; www.millenniummusichall.fatsoma.com), which also doubles as a sizeable club space for parties with big DJs. Cardiff International Arena (Ann Street, CF10 2EQ; +44 29 2022 4488; www.livenation.co.uk/cia) caters for larger acts but can be a little more soulless as it also functions as an exhibition hall or conference centre.
If the live music you seek is of a more distinguished, symphonic or orchestral nature, then the St David's Hall (The Hayes, Cardiff CF10 1AH; +44 29 2087 8500; www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk) is your most likely destination. And if it's nothing but the biggest band then don't stop until you get to the Millennium Stadium (Westgate Street, CF10 1NS; +44 870 013 8600; www.millenniumstadium.com) where headliners play to a pitch with the capacity of over one million. We’re talking U2, Madonna and Paul McCartney level here.
For much more intimate affairs, jazz and blues fans should head directly to CafeJAZZ (21 Heol Eglwys Fair, CF10 1PL; +44 29 2038 7026; www.cafejazzcardiff.com), while lovers of acoustic, folk or spoken word should consider The Norwegian Church (Harbour Drive, CF10 4PA; +44 29 2087 7959; www.norwegianchurchcardiff.com) or the awesome aforementioned bar/café Gwdihw
The city’s range of nightclubs has picked up a little. Discounting the trashy, drunkard-ridden clubs at the top of St Mary Street, there was a time when there was only really one choice for genuine, musically informed club events. It was Clwb Ifor Bach (11 Womanby Street, CF10 1BR; +44 29 2023 2199; www.clwb.net) a venue that still stands proudly as one of Cardiff’s coolest, most consistent nightclubs that’s home to all manner of music across its three floors.
As well as being apt for live music, the Millennium Music Hall also works well as a large nightclub for bigger DJs. And for even bigger DJs and bands, the city’s illustrious Coal Exchange (Mount Stuart Square, CF10 5EB; +44 29 2049 4917; www.coalexchange.co.uk) has recently re-opened for special events.
Cardiff’s rock fans are happy once again as one of the city’s oldest club institutions Bogiez (Kingsway, CF10 3FD; +44 29 2039 6589; www.bogiez.com) has taken over the old Barfly and is now running daily events from midday onwards. And those searching a more underground, strobe-soaked electronic affair should keep their eyes on Undertone (12 Church Street, CF10 1BG; +44 29 2022 8883; www.undertonecardiff.com) a great little subterranean venue that you’ll find underneath 10 Feet Tall.
And if it’s laughter you’re after then head directly to the bay for the Glee Club (Mermaid Quay, CF10 5BZ; +44 871 472 0400; www.glee.co.uk). A high-end comedy club that attracts some of the best contemporary comedians and guarantees a fine night out. It also opens out into a disco after the chuckles have faded.
Nightclubs aren’t for everyone, and if you’re after something a little more highbrow or gentile then there’s a wide range of performances, musicals, plays, productions and pantomimes to be found in the city. The New Theatre (Park Place, CF10 3LN; +44 29 2087 8889; www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk), the Chapter Arts Centre (Market Road, CF5 1QE; +44 29 2031 1050; www.chapter.org), the Wales Millennium Centre (Bute Place, CF10 5AL; +44 29 2063 6465; www.wmc.org.uk) and the Sherman Theatre (Senghennydd Road, CF24 4YE; +44 29 2064 6900; www.shermancymru.co.uk) are all great performance spaces and home to a great range of touring shows and homegrown productions from reputable progressive outfits such as No Fit State and Hijinx Theatre.
The big screen shouldn’t be ignored on Cardiff’s nightlife selection. Between its four cinemas you’ll find all the box office heavy hitters and a discerning selection of independent and world films.
Cineworld (Mary Ann Street, CF10 2EN; +44 871 200 2000; www.cineworld.co.uk) is by far the most impressive to look at. The redevelopment of David Street and its pretty open green area really captures the building’s glower. When lit up it genuinely looks like a monster.
Other, less prettier, mainstream cinema complexes are Vue (Wood Street, CF10 1LA; +44 871 224 0240; www.myvue.com) and the Odeon (Red Dragon Centre, CF10 4JY; +44 871 224 4007; www.odeon.co.uk), which is home in the Red Dragon leisure complex in the Bay. Meanwhile, for a more eclectic, independent movie menu head to the Chapter.