Swn 2012: A guide to Cardiff
Essential hangouts to enjoy this year's Swn Festival
Kai Jones - 11 October 2012
Best venues: Clwb Ifor Bach, Womanby Street / Undertone, Castle Street / Little O’Neils, Trinity Street
Clwb Ifor Bach has played host to everyone from Welsh legends Catatonia, Super Furry Animals and 60ft Dolls to pretty much every rising star that has passed through the city, including the Strokes, DJ Shadow and Coldplay. The three-floor venue is named after the 12th Century Welsh rebel Ifor Bach, who brilliantly scaled the walls of Cardiff Castle and kidnapped the Earl of Gloucester and his family, in protest at the Earl’s attempts to seize land that under Welsh law belonged to Ifor. Bach didn’t release them until he recovered the land “and a lot more”.
Undertone is one of Cardiff’s newest venues; a sullen, basement divepit that evokes memories of the sorely-missed legendary TJ’s, which used to be just down the road in Newport. The tiny, claustrophobic interior is a fabulous place to experience any band peddling death riffs and analogue bass filth.
Little O’Neills is a classic old man’s pub with a tiny upstairs function room that revels in creating memorable Swn moments. Two of Swn 2011’s finest performances took place in this intimate space: Niki & the Dove, and Truckers of Husk’s legendary topless saxophonist guest spot.
Best pub: Dempsey’s, Castle Street
Ah, Dempsey’s, Cardiff loves you so well. A crush of gorgeous souls and messy conversation poured onto its wooden floorboards every weekend, Dempsey’s is invariably the pub you were at during the previous night’s blackout. Ditto the City Arms (Quay Street), the Rummer Tavern (Duke Street) and the Pen and Wig’s (Park Grove) fabulous beer garden, where everyone seems to be perpetually drinking cheap bottles of Rose.
Best secret bar: Gwdihw, Guildford Crescent
Ssssh! Gwdihw is Welsh for owl, and this intimate, artisan bar, hidden away behind the vulgar Motorpoint Arena, is a word-of-mouth treat for night owls searching for idiosyncratic entertainment in the shape of 1940s and Balkan discos (sadly not on the same evening) and Brooklyn-style car park raves.
Best oldest record shop in the world: Spillers, Morgan’s Arcade
Tucked inside one of the city’s beautiful Victorian arcades, Spillers isn’t just a record shop, it’s a national treasure and as part of Cardiff’s heritage as the stone animals that line the castle walls. Founded in 1894, when it specialised in wax phonograph cylinders, Spillers is where you’ll find releases by some of Cardiff’s amazing bands, like Truckers of Husk and Islet, and passionate, friendly staff who specialise in cultivating your obscurest musical obsessions.
Best lane full of greasy takeaways: Chippy Lane, Caroline Street
Remember that time Caligula was partying with the last few dinosaurs during the last days of Sodom and Gomarrah? If only Cardiff’s High Street on a Saturday and Friday night could be as cool as that. Unfortunately it’s full of people who failed the audition for MTV’s the Valley’s and think appearing legless and legs spread in Maciej Dakowicz’s ode to excess, Cardiff After Dark, is a stamp of approval. Avoid the High Street at these times, but do pay a visit to the Snoop Dogg-recommended Chippy Lane, where you can hilariously watch these people fall over, like a comedy gif repeatedly on loop before your eyes.
Best place to chop your locks: Slunks, Whitchurch Road
Run by Joel, the tattooed, bearded guitarist from primal stoner-psychs Witches Drum, Slunks is the hippest salon in the city, all retro-fitted gramophones, Dixieland jazz, Elizabethan paintings and incredible cuts. It’s also ridiculously affordable.
Best place to get inked: Frontier Tattoo Parlour, 23 High Street
Newly-independent, Frontier has built a strong reputation as the to-go-to parlour for the city’s ink needs, specialising in custom designs and mesmerising artwork. Chris ‘the Boy’ Collins is the artist to seek out, a uniquely-talented chap at home with antique images of Victorian gentlemen riding hot air balloons, as he is with beguiling octopuses. Check out his work on Instagram at chriscollinstattoo.
Best local treat/hidden gem: Secret tea shop at St John the Baptist, St John Street
Set in the tower of Cardiff’s oldest church this old-fashioned church tea shop feels like a step back in time to a gentler age. No-messing mugs of tea, beans on toast and iced buns are the speciality, and all for seemingly the same price they’ve been charging for decades.