Last week, we hosted Capital Ideas: the pubs of Cardiff, with Douglas Friedli, Richard Carpenter, James Karran, and Simon Wright, at Tiny Rebel. Over the last 8 years, Douglas and Richard have visited every pub in Cardiff – over 260 of them. Here’s what they discovered.
Firstly, what is a pub?
A pub is more than just the décor or quality of beer – it’s somewhere you can walk in, without needing to pay a fee or be a member, and buy a drink, without pressure to buy food.
More than that, it’s somewhere that facilitates conversations and helps build, and sustain, relationships. It’s all about the atmosphere, which can’t necessarily be defined – but you know it’s there when you walk in. A pub is where a community can come together.
The changing role of pubs
Unfortunately, since 2002, almost a quarter of pubs in London have closed, and roughly 50 pubs in Cardiff have shut their doors.
When Douglas and Richard started their tour, this was becoming a trend. Nice places were being squeezed out, and the choice of beer was disappearing. The role of the pub was changing, and rural pubs felt this the hardest.
Pubs go through a cycle: someone takes over, a brewery gives them cheap rent for a year, locals pile in with a new peaked interest, and they prosper. But, after that first year, breweries raise rent, landlords can’t afford to keep going, and the pub closes. Repeat annually.
In the community
Outside of the church, or the school yard, the pub is one of the places communities comes together. A recent survey showed that the happiest people have a regular, local pub – somewhere they’re going to see someone they know, or can talk to.
But, chain pubs – rather than independent locals – are on the rise. This seems like a bleak picture.
The beer tour
Halfway through their tour, Douglas and Richard started to notice a change in this trend. Places like Tiny Rebel, St.Cannas, and Gin and Juice – smaller, individual places – started popping up. And they’re evolving Cardiff’s pub scene.
St. Cannas, owned by James Karran, is an example of a micropub – pubs built in small spaces, focussing on people coming together. Micropubs are an innovative solution to a changing society. They’re recapturing the heart and soul of the pub.
People are coming up with a new idea of what a pub means to them, and giving it a go. They’re going back towards what they used to be.
But, society is changing. Crazes get shorter. Trends move on quickly. Retro is cool again at the moment. By removing dartboards and skittle alleys, are pubs missing a trick? Craft beers and gin bars are flavour of the month – but will they stand the test of time?
Either way, it’s good to see this necessary evolution bringing innovation and creativity into the industry.