13 December 2021

BOTB BOTY 2021

"Another year over, a new one just begun...."

Well, once again we're on the cusp of another Winterval / Solstice / Yule / Christmas (delete as appropriate) so it's at this time of year that people habitually reflect on the past 12 months and look forward to the next dozen or so arbitrary divisions of our annual journey around the sun.
2021 was, by any measure, a better year than 2020. Vaccines flowed in veins and pints, once more, flowed through pumps; albeit they had to wait a few months to get going as our knowledge of the Greek alphabet kept growing. Remember, this will all be pub quiz fodder one day.

For myself, I took advantage of the enforced closure to have a very guilt-free 111 days off the booze between January and Opening Day in Wales (April 26th); during which time my own journey through the world of No/Lo continued. My Dryanuary was a Tryanuary like anyone else's. It just went on a bit longer than normal, and coincided with the rediscovery of my size L t-shirts. 

That did however mean my Christmas stash remained substantially intact throughout the spring, and I eventually consumed some very festive fayre during the dog days of June. By this time I had also aqcuired a bike and began exploring the canals and pathways around my home city a bit more; especially those that led to pubs which had been quiet and closed when I'd walked past during lockdown but were now QR-code-bedecked havens once again.

I also made a bit more of an effort to explore some venues in the city centre itself which I had usually walked past rather than in to. The relative quiet of Thursday nights leant themselves to pints of Tenby Harbwr in the Cellar Door, Sam Smiths in the Murenger or, delightfully, Felinfoel in the Carpenters.

Then in October came the magic news that Sweden was once more open to UK travellers. In the words of Peter Kay, we booked it, packed it and fecked right off as soon as we could. After 700+ days, I was reunited with my family and reunited with Falcon. There was also time for some bonfire beerage as well as a gleefully gallivant around Gothenburg.

And now, as we face a slightly uncertain but no less optimistic future in this prolonged, painful chapter of our lives, it comes to all of us to look back and forward at the same time. Christmas truly is Schrodinger's Season.

So, apart from the above, what were my specific beery highlights of the year?  Here are my top 10 beers of the year (with six honourable mentions) as well as my top 3 venues of the year.

(NB - the beers below were not necessarily new or launched in 2021, but ones that I tried for the first time in 2021, i.e. that were *new to me*. This is also why Guinness 0.0, the rerelease of which was undoubtedly one of the most anticipated events of the year, is not included as I first tried that in October 2020.)


First it's the
Honourable Mentions 


Watney's Party Seven
a retro brand which could have been played for novelty value but which actually turned out to be a pretty decent, smooth bitter and did much to change my opinion on the virtues and merits of home-consumption kegs.

Madri
a very pleasant macro premium lager from Molson Coors which slotted in nicely in the gap vacated by Guinness HopHouse 13

ABC - Jerry's

was one of many beers to capitalise on the 2021 trend of throwing orange at, in or on anything; an was one of the few beers in recent times to get orange as an adjunct right.

Skinner's - Chapel Rock
One of several IPAs which helped change my mind further about IPAs in general; this crowdfunding reward was perfect for St Piran's Day

Northern Monk - Seabrook's Cheese & Onion Lager
This supposedly novelty beer had an unforgettable, unique umami quality to it though I hated myself for liking it. Unfortunately, given some of the stories that emerged this summer, it's likely to be one of the last NM beers I enjoy for a while.

Wild Beer - Oak Aged Millionaire was a genuine example of how you can genuinely iterate on an already well-established, well-loved beer without resorting to amping it up to insane ABV levels.


Now on to the
Top 10 Proper


10
Lost & Grounded
Starsky
A late but strong entry. I finally stole away across the Channel last weekend to try out the L&G taproom; ostensibly to get a pint of draught "Autumn Protagonist" and of course to get Keller Pils direct from the keller. But the most noteworthy half of the day in the vast metal hutch was their new oatmeal stout, Starsky, which was everything an oatmeal stout should be - smooth, subtle and silky.
 
9
Big Drop
Woodcutter

If you're going to do a Dryanuary or a Stoptober, Big Drop have to be part of your stash. The Woodcutter was perfect for October; warming and fulfilling. AF Beer as it should be.

 

8
Lost & Grounded
All The Cool Cats

There is no shortage of excellent lagers from craft brewers around nowadays, and All The Cool Cats is no exception. So what made this one stand out from the field. The artwork, the label, the name. Generally, folk would have you believe what is inside the can is more important than what is on the outside. But I like cats just as much as I like beer, so this was definitely one for me.


 

7
Utopian
Dark Lager

Having long been a fan of dark lagers, from Budvar Reserve to Schlenkerla Märzen, picking up a few of these excellent Exeter examples was a no brainer. Some may want a Dark IPA comeback; I want more dark lagers like this. There's definitely one of these in the Christmas stash for this year.



6
Hive Mind
Big Smoke Welsh Honey Smoked Porter
Wye Valley Meadery's products were one of the highlights of Lockdown 2020, and in 2021 my local bottle shop began stocking this beautiful London Porter-inspired 7% drop. Light and gentle despite its strength, it helped numb some of the pain of Wales' ultimately unsuccessful Euro 2020 campaign.

 


5
Budvar
Nealko
We are lucky enough in Newport to have a venue - The Pod - which serves fresh draught Budvar (at a very reasonable price too.) That same venue is on one of my cycling routes and, when I began practicing Sober Sunday over the summer, ensured it remained a pitstop by offering a NA version of the legendary Czech lager which is every bit as flavourful and enjoyable as the real thing; so much so that I got a crate of 24 delivered for Stoptober.


4
Vault City
DDH Lemonade
Scottish sourmeisters Vault City established a reputation in 2021 for what seemed like infinitely interesting and intriguing interpretations of their chosen style. Not only was this lemonade the highlight of the bunch, they also forced bemused barfolk up and down the land to google what a "cloudberry" was.
3
Tooth & Claw
Wolf Pilsner

Cameron's little brewery on the side - Tooth & Claw - have provided some amazing beers over the years - the Nordic Ale and the Chocolate and Orange from winter 2019 being particular highlights. But, as mentioned above, when you come across a great lager, you sit up and take notice just that little bit more. This is definitely one of those, so much so that it is now a permanent fixture at the Head of Steam in Cardiff, fighting tooth and nail with Brooklyn, Sagres and San Miguel.

2
Weird Dad
Mine's A Dark

Something truly amazing happened in Newport this autumn. Three new venues opened. THREE! Firstly the Alexandra, a new pub serving Rhymney Ales, which were a favourite of my late grandfather, took over a closed bank on the high street. A new pool and sports bar opened a stones throw from the much missed Riley's. And to top it all off, Newport gained a third brewery, Weird Dad, with its very own tap room, the Filling Station, named after the nearby Shell garage. They debuted with a strong line up of IPAs and darks, the best of which was their "Mine's A Dark" mild, a beer which I unashamedly described as "orgasmic" when I first tried it. They've since done a canning run and two examples from the first batch went straight into my Christmas stash

 

1
Neon Raptor / Vault City
Dinosaur Tea Party
Well, who'd have thunk it. An IPA with a bonkers adjunct was my beer of the year. Is this really the same Bring On The Beer who decried IPAs as boring and repetitive and iterative not too long ago? Who has frequently joined in with the gentle mocking of overly hopped, overly hazy, overly murky "joosy" beers?

Well yes. This may be cheating slightly as Dinosaur Tea Party is actually two beers with one name. I was fortunate enough to sample the different variants in the one day on a recent trip to Cardiff. Firstly the keg version - the lemon ice tea sour - at Bub's which came in at just over 4%, before cracking open a can of the 6.8% turbo charged DIPA version up at Pop N Hops

Objectively the best beer of the year? Maybe not. But I'm not an objective beer wanker. Was it the most memorable? Did it make the biggest impression? Have I ensured I've got one ready for Christmas Day? Oh yes. Yes indeedy.



 

 

Which neatly brings me to my
Venue of the year


In third is Pop N Hops. By opening up the shop for sit- and drink-in, I was able to put a face and a voice to the legend that is Trev who, along with Nicky Vig, kept me sane during Lockdowns 1, 2 and 3. A short busride away from the hustle and bustle of Cardiff, Trev's selection of tins and tunes offers an insanely civilised way to while away an afternoon. Importantly he also offers a hugely diverse selection of no/lo which made a visit during StopTober a necessity.

In second is The Bell in Caerleon - a recently reopened vintage pub with beautiful original decor, a sheltered beer garden and some superbly kept cask ale that is, handily, a decent bike ride away from home. The beer and bacon festival which rounded off the summer during Cask Ale Week was especially memorable and I look forward to pedalling over there more often come the spring.

And my winner is Bub's. Outside of the bigger English cities, you won't find a bar like this anywhere. A huge and varied selection of beer and cider, street- and popup food, and staff who are engaging, knowledgable, friendly, accommodating and patient with even the wankiest of beer wankers. It breaks my heart that, at the time of writing, it will soon close. Having weathered the pandemic, it has fallen foul of that other insidious virus infecting society; the landlord. I am trying my damndest to spend as much time as is possible there before that horrible day comes. I hope that something, somewhere can be found for this story to continue but if it is to end, it will have been one of the best things to happen to Cardiff's - and Wales' beer scene ever.


So that's it. Another 365 days have passed on this ongoing beer journey. What lies ahead in 2022? Maybe more honesty, openness and kindness in the industry? Maybe less douchebaggery and more delightfulness? Who knows. After all this time, can beer still be interesting and exciting? Maybe. 

As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beerholder.

21 October 2021

Pubtober 21: The Three Tuns, Bristol

Another "must-visit" stopoff on any Bristol session, especially if you're circling back towards the city from taking in the numerous pubs in and around Spike Island, this beautiful bijou boozer is very slightly off the beaten track but not inaccessible by any means, being just a short walk from the city centre in the Hotwells area.

We're lucky that it's still here. It temporarily closed just before Christmas 2019 before reopening under a new owner in the early part of 2020 with huge optimism.....

...and we all know how 2020 turned out. 

Fortunately it survived the pandemic and is back welcoming folk through its distinctive arched front door.

As you pass through said arch you get a sense straight away that this is a beer lover's paradise, from the CAMRA magazines and Good Beer Guides stacked up to the selection of beer on the bar.


Offerings include local cask and keg ales such as Bath, New Bristol, Bristol Beer Factory - and even some trans-channel offerings from Mad Dog.

The big draw about the Tuns though has always been its Irish nights for and by the members of the local Hibernian diaspora - live music and singing in the communal Irish tradition. As restrictions have relaxed Monday nights once more have taken on a distinctly Celtic tinge. 

This also briefly spawned a Cornish equivalent on Tuesday nights, which is when I first visited to drink Mena Dhu and belt out Trelawney in my Cornwall RFU shirt.


I paid my latest visit in January 2020 just after the reopening and have not yet had a chance to go back since; something I will remedy sooner rather than later. As yet another small-in-stature, big-in-character location, the Tuns is proof that good things don't always have to come in big packages.

20 October 2021

Pubtober 20: Quick Stop Offs

In compiling this series I knew that there would be pubs that I wanted to highlight and share, but about which I couldn't write a full blog post. 

This would be either because I'd only been to the location once; or that I didn't have much to report back other than it was somewhere I enjoyed frequenting and would recommend.

There's only so much fleshing out of an article you can do and there's only so much of the reader's intelligence you can insult.

So instead I'll use Day 20 to post some snappy quick highlights of places that I've been and enjoyed over the years but to whom I couldn't do full justice to by subjecting them to a wishy-washy overlong boring article.

Peadar Kearney's Pub, Dublin
Far enough away from the overpriced, overhyped hubbub of the Temple Bar but not so far away that you have to miss out on any of the action, Peadar Kearney's has everything you could possibly want from a genuine Irish bar in Dublin - off the scale Guinness, plus Smithwicks and Murphy's if you feel like mixing things up a bit. Had some fantastic craic with the locals here when over for an Ireland v Wales soccer match.

Duke of Wellington, Cardiff
On the opposite end of Caroline Street to the Cambrian Tap, this Brains pub (at time of writing) is a delight of mahogany, cubby holes and of course, exquisitely kept cask beer. Great food too - the burgers are superb.

LePub, Newport
Formerly on Caxton Place but now part of the grouping of bars and venues at the top of the High Street, LePub and LePublicSpace is a music venue, trendy hotspot, hip paradise and pub all in one. One highlight is that it's the only pub in Newport that I know of that regularly serves non-alcoholic lager on tap

The Orchard, Bristol
Down near the SS Great Britain lies a little, out of the way gem of a pub, especially if you love your cider. There are dozens on offer, as well as several cask ales and fresh pasties and rolls. No wonder it's a multiple-CAMRA award winner.

Pennycomequick, Falmouth
Formerly the Wodehouse Ams, this St Austell pub, named for the old name for the town in which it can be found, sits in the middle of Falmouth's Moor, so it's a short stumble from a bus or a taxi or a pizza. Or if you're adventurous you could always walk up Jacob's Ladder.

Poole Arms
No prizes for guessing where this one is; or for finding it. On Poole's pub-heavy quayside this beautiful building stands out for its ornate green tilework and heavy wooden door. Cask and seafood are the main attractions at the oldest pub in Poole - this is where I first fell in love with Ringwood Fortyniner way back in 2009.

19 October 2021

Pubtober 19: Cambrian Tap, Cardiff


The Cambrian Tap is one of the first pubs you'll come across as you make your way from the railway station down St Mary Street in Cardiff. Picked out in gold and black, this evocative city boozer sits on the corner of this busy, social throroughfare and another of Cardiff's famous streets; Chippy Alley, or to give it its proper name, Caroline Street.

Built in 1830 as part of the original Thomas' brewery which was sold to Brains in 1882, the Cambrian abuts a bar called the Brewhouse and a plaza of hospitality venues called The Old Brewery Quarter. 

It hasn't always had this name though. Between 2002 and  2015 it was known as Kitty Flynns, an unapologetic Irish bar right down to the tricolor flying over the door and the emerald green doors and windows which wished you céad míle fáilte. 

Kitty was a real person - a Cardiff landlady who managed the Royal Oak in Adamsdown. It was in her honour that the pub was renamed after Brains asked the drinkers of Cardiff for suggestions. With over 50 years behind the bar, Kitty lived a long life and only passed away earlier this year. This article from the Western Mail is well worth a read.


Kitty doesn't live here any more.

In April 2015 Brains wanted a dedicated outlet for their Brains Craft Brewery offshoot and Kitty's was refurbished, rebranded and reopened as the Cambrian once again.


All the brews - and the brewers too. See how many famous names you can spot.

It is a narrow pub with the bar on one side and a section of booth seating on the other, with a small section of additional tall tables to the left of the entrance. The toilets are down a staircase to the rear. On busy days a one-way system is implemented with a way in and a way out, as well as a doorman keeping an eye on the capacity levels, such is this place's popularity.


As it was....

so shall it be...

At time of writing the Cambrian is still a Brains pub, albeit up for sale. As such on the bar you will find Brains cask ale and a couple of surviving offerings from the Craft Brewery such as Barry Island IPA. It is also one of the outlets serving Brains' new lager Bayside, which replaced the long-standing guest lager Korev from St Austell.


My fondest memories of the Cambrian were of its February Dark Beer festivals. For a week the taps were taken over by dusky drinks of all kinds from all over the UK and beyond; from the sublime to the ridiculous. 


I really really hope the Cambrian survives the Brains fire sale, if not for the benefit of the drinkers of south Wales and beyond, but for the memory of Kitty Flynn whose service to the Cardiff pub scene will always be remembered. There is no pub like this in Cardiff - it is unique, special and deserves to remain open and frequented for many years to come.
 

18 October 2021

Pubtober 18: The Bell Inn, Caerleon

Sometimes the best pubs are the accidental finds, or the chance recommendations, or the you-sorta-knew-about-them-but-never-went-there-until-now ones.

The Bell fits all of those. Tucked away in a street on the Newport side of the river Usk in Caerleon, to get to this 17th Century coaching inn from the village itself you have to walk past two other pubs, over a bridge, down a lane and round a corner. (See the "Mapped" page for exact location)

Or you could do what I do and cycle there. Caerleon is reachable from Newport by the excellent new Route 88 cycle route which skirts the river Usk and the Marches rail line before depositing you at Caerleon football club.

The Bell was initially a casualty of the pandemic, closing in September 2020. 

We are making this announcement with heavy, heavy, hearts; 
Due to the financial strain of the pandemic and with no help from our brewery with full rent and bills being charged without hesitation or remorse or any help for reopening, Charly and I will be unable to continue here at The Bell 
(Facebook)

It sat vacant until the new year of 2021 when a couple of local chaps took it on. After a refurbishment during Lockdown Three, it reopened in April 2021, with takeout food cooked by part-owner and head chef Ricky.

Like all venues in Wales, it reopened for outdoor/takeaway service on April 27th and then fully in May. 

The pub has a proper traditional feel about it with the merest touch of the modern and contemporary. There's plenty of exposed stone and brick walls, ornate light fittings and beautifully dark wood to set the mood.

On the bar there are two regular cask ales - Landlord and HPA - and one cask cider, Thatcher's Stan Cheddar Valley. Guest casks occasionally appear such as Adnam's Bitter or Wye Valley Butty Bach.





Pefectly poured cask pints from Timothy Taylor and Wye Valley

Keg offerings come in the form of the usual macro options, including Carlsberg and Guinness.

An exquisite food menu presents many exciting options such as cider-infused Scotch eggs, sourdough with Marmite butter, one of the juiciest burgers I've ever had and chips that are so thick they could almost stand for political office.

Outside there is an enclosed beer garden terrace with plenty of seating - both covered and open - and behind that there is plenty of parking. Overhead fly sparrowhawks and pigeons. Despite being yards from a main road there is relative silence here, the only noise coming from the chatter of the patrons.


Through the gate lies an expansive beer garden and, in the summer, sun terrace

One of the outbuildings has been converted into "The Shed" - a quaint and welcome seating area with its own cask bar which came in very handy during the Bell's recent Beer and Bacon festival.



Booking is recommended if you want to eat here - the combination of great food in a lovely location make this reborn, renovated, historical hospitable venue a hit with the locals - and those from further afield too.

17 October 2021

Pubtober 17 : Head of Steam, Cardiff


The Head of Steam chugged into Cardiff's Church Street in October 2018, shunting out a branch of Harvester that was occupying the site up until then. I was midly peeved at first - I used to go to that Harvester regularly for takeaway salad boxes - but when I discovered a new beer bar was going to occupy the site, my annoyance gave way to excitement.

For a small-fry beer blogger like myself, it was an incredible honour to be invited to the press day launch the night before the grand opening. There were only two slight drawbacks - one I was unavoidably in work in my "real" job which, ironically, was on the railway; and two I was just coming to the end of one of my completely arbitrary, completely self-imposed dry months. So I resolved that when I finished work that Thursday, 1st November 2018, I would pop along. You can see that visit in the video at the foot of the page.

The Cardiff venue is one of 16 Head of Steam outlets in total. Launched in 1995 in Newcastle by Tony and Carole Brooks, the Camerons-owned chain is mainly concentrated in the north of England. The Cardiff branch is the most southerly - and westerly - of all.

The railway theme is present throughout, with a wood, iron and brass motif spreading throughout the two-level structure. Old beer bottles form a chandalier of lights. Old pictures and station signs from Cardiff Station punctuate the walls. There's plenty of beer branded ephemera too from Delirium, Anchor and others.

A grand central bar with three serving areas dominates the ground floor, with seating spread around in four separate clusters. A variety of seating options are available, with the leather armchairs near the front being my preferred option. There is a small overspill seating area on the first floor.

On the bar you get your choice of up to nine cask ales and ciders, about two dozen keg options plus as many bottles and cans that they can fit into their fridges. A welcome feature is that vegan and/or gluten-free beers are clearly marked out for those with specific requirements.

  
As you'd expect, Camerons' cask ales feature heavily and are rotated regularly

Quality reigns over quantity, an eclectic mix of both macro and independent beer brands are stocked, and I have had brewers off tap here that I have never had anywhere else this side of the M25.

Guest casks from all over the UK feature heavily


  
Favourites from the keg offering over the years: Omnipollo Agamemnon, Motorhead Road Crew, Rodenbach Grand Cru and Anchor Steam 

Cameron's, like most major brewers, have their own "craft" offshoot, called Tooth & Claw, whose new offerings have their own dedicated tap. The two which were offered simultaneously in winter 2019, the Nordic Ale and the Chocolate Orange, were particular favourites of mine.


As well as featuring their taplist on their website, giant screens around the venue (which, pre-pandemic, showed live sport) also display the cask, keg and bottle lists reguarly through integration with Untappd, which is a welcome and handy thing to have for the beer wanker planning out their afternoon's imbibing. Food is also available with hot dogs, burgers and pizzas the order of the day.


Now you see it



now you don't

The Head of Steam's staff are friendly, approachable, knowledgable, engaging and patient. It's a fantastic venue with a fantastic atmosphere. Plus as it's sat next to Bub's and the Old Arcade it makes Church Street a beer-lover's and pub-goer's mecca. You can have an entire day's session in this one twenty-yard space. Less time walking, more time drinking. 



Bonus: my visit on International Stout Day 2018:




16 October 2021

Pubtober 16: Waxy O'Connor's, London



A few years ago I was taken on a pub crawl of London by a mate who lives in Reading. It's where I first discovered the Harp (Day 2) and [[SPOILERS]] (Day 31). 

As we arrived in Leicester Square and stood adjacent to the ridiculous tourist-grabbing hellhole that is The M&M store, he said "OK, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find our next venue, Waxy O'Connor's."

Look left? Pret. Look right? The Swiss Court. Look straight ahead? Chinatown.

And then the most inocuous of round signs caught my eye. There wasn't a grand entrance to this place, certainly not on Wardour Street. A little red door, slotted inbetween various Asian restaurants and shops. 

/
Blink and you'll miss it

In we went.

And down.

And down......

Until we pushed open a heavy wood-and-glass door to see a pub like no other. Wooden beams, brick walls, stairs everywhere leading to little quiet dark drinking cubby holes. A huge bar spread out before you on the main floor of the building. Bright lights hanging from chandeliers making little sparkly reflections off every piece of cut stained glass and exposed metal.

Four bars are spread out over six levels. It's a Crystal Maze zone, a live Hogwarts and Queen video all in one.

And the buzz. One hell of a buzz. Every Irish person in London seemed to be in here.



Such a shame that my phone had such a sh*tty camera in those days

Waxy's (and its delightfully named, slightly more conventional overspill pub across the road "Waxy's Little Sister") are owned and operated by the Foundation Group's Glendola Leisure, a Middlesex company who run bars, coffee shops, restaurants and hotels across the UK. Waxy's has a cousin in Glasgow and, up until the pandemic, there was also one in Manchester.

On the bar is the usual big-venue fayre, albeit illustrated by some exquisite bespoke custom pump lenses. They have their own branded barmats too. 

Of course Guinness is on, and Murphy's, and my go to, the delightfully sharp Franciscan Well's Rebel Red which, although claiming to be from Cork, is a Molson Coors brand. Such is life.

I believe this was £6.50 a pint

I visited many times since then - including a memorable Six Nations Super Saturday when we literally turned up at opening time - almost banging down the door to be let in! - and watched two matches back to back, surrounded by several folk wearing every shade of rugby shirt. Being a big session we ate as well as drank on that occasion; the food was excellent - I had a sausage roll so thick it could have been a soccer player. 

On another occasion there was live GAA football on the big screen and this time the shirts that surrounded us were those of the Irish counties. We sat near one folorn Wexford supporter, who was less interested in the fact I'd visited Gorey mere months before than he was in his team getting pasted.

Waxy's is always on my tick-list of go-to venues in London if only for its uniqueness. I have never been anywhere else like it - yet.

15 October 2021

Pubtober 15: The Pod, Newport


Upcyling and recycling

Earlier in this series I mentioned how the Cellar Door in Newport had turned an unloved retail unit into a micropub as an example of upcycling done right. Well a few yards away and over the river Usk, another example of giving something a new lease of life can be found in the form of The Pod.

Before the financial crash of 2007, Newport was receiving a relatively large amount of interest and investment. The cathedral town had recently become a fully fledged city. The Friars Walk shopping centre scheme was well into the planning and tendering phase, the Ryder Cup golf tournament was about to arrive at the Celtic Manor Resort down the road, and expansion of the University of Wales Campus Newport to include a new city centre location meant housing and digs were needed. 

One of the companies designated to build on unused wasteland on the eastern bank of the river were Taylor Wimpey, who dubbed their development Renaissance Point, and set up a rather fetching spaceship shaped sales office adjacent to the old Art College on Clarence Place.

If the name Clarence Place is dimly familiar, it's because it's the location of the long-closed and now horrendously dilapidated TJ's, the famous rock music bar. John Peel dubbed it "legendary." Oasis launched their career here while recording at the nearby Rockfield Studios. Other performers included Green Day, Skunk Anansie, NOFX, Muse and Primal Scream. Kurt Cobain proposed to Courtney Love there. Catatonia filmed the music video for "Mulder & Scully" there. It was featured in FHM's Top 50 Music Venues.

And then, suddenly, its enigmatic owner John Sicolo was gone, and his club died with him.

Meanwhile, round the corner, it took nearly 9 years before "Renaissance Point" was built, eventually rising up in the cursed year of 2016. All this time the sales office had sat unused and empty, its futuristic and optimistic design becoming almost mocking and laughable to an increasingly pessimistic city used to disappointment.

And then suddenly, the flats were up and the office was no longer needed. But what to do with it? Former rugby player Paul Young (no relation to either yours truly or the Sad Cafe singer) saw an opportunity not to waste the building and in 2017 The Pod was born.

Initially opened as a coffee house - cum - cocktail bar, the Pod has settled into its niche as a cocktail, food and events-led venue that also offers a few beers. When it first opened, a 4.6% eponymous IPA was offered, although the glassware seemed to indicate it was a rebadged brew from Caledonian.


This was replaced, excitingly, with Budvar - making the Pod one of the few venues in my part of the world which offers this well-loved brand off tap, and the Nealko non-alcoholic option in bottles. 


Budvar in - and above - the glass

The food side is taken care of with burgers, pizzas and dirty fries, where the generous portions are more than enough for two people to share. 



If, like me, you have found yourself sitting outside more often than not recently, then you'll be treated to the veritable smorgasbord of Newport's architectural, er, gems. Immediately behind the contemporary curves of the Pod are the more classical lines of the Grade II listed Art Deco art college with its landmark copper dome, now apartments. Immediately opposite is the slightly less visually stimulating Clarence House, a largely empty, redundant carbuncle which sits atop the currently closed Riverside Sports Bar and an Iceland supermarket.


To the other side lies the River Usk, across which lies Newport City Centre, the Riverside Theatre and the giant Wave steel artwork. Nearby is the ancient Town Bridge with its beautiful light fittings and cherubs, abutting the riverside walk where cyclists and pedestrians breeze past on their way to the aforementioned newly built flats.

I will admit to being initially skeptical as to how much appeal venues like the Pod could generate in Newport. I will also admit to being wrong. This place gets packed on summer evenings and weekends. Newport's demographics, like anywhere, are evolving. The removal of the tolls on the Severn Bridge has attracted young professionals from Bristol across the water, enticed by lower house prices and council taxes. 

Places offering what the Pod offers were once unthinkable in this overwhelmingly working class, no nonsense, industrial port town. The Pod has proved they can work and are working. Newport is changing, and if the Pod is representative of that change, it's for the better.

BONUS : Read GingeyBites' review of the food offering back in 2019 here