With indoor hospitality returning, but me being stuck inside working on assessments, I figured I’d take a bit of my downtime to write a little post about some of my absolute favourite bars in the whole of Cardiff (yes, the whole of Cardiff!).
Admittedly, this isn’t the most student-budget friendly of lists, as I am fortunate enough to have a non-student boyfriend willing to foot the majority of the bill when we go out. But worry not fellow students, I know that you’re mostly looking for as much booze as you can get for your buck, so I’ll do a follow-up post with some suggestions of places to pop to when you’re dangerously close to hitting your overdraft.
That said, everyone deserves a treat, especially after the year we’ve had (online seminars are somehow even more draining than real-life ones!), so if you do fancy forking out a bit extra to celebrate the end of the academic year, I cannot recommend these bars enough.
1. Lab 22
Whenever I’m asked for a place to go in Cardiff, Lab is the first word out of my mouth. Maybe it helps that I’ve often gone into Lab 22 with friends who all work in bars, and the Cardiff hospitality camaraderie is very evident.
But even on quieter days, or when I go in with non-hospitality-industry friends, Lab 22 is always a great place to be. With beautiful & tasty cocktails, brilliant staff and chic décor, Lab 22 pretty much has everything you could possibly want in a bar. I don’t think I’ve heard a single person say one bad word about Lab 22, and if they had… well… they probably wouldn’t be in Cardiff much longer (am I threatening Lab naysayers? Possibly).
Anyway, in short, Lab 22 is my favourite bar in the whole of Cardiff, and I can’t think of a single criticism, nor can I quite express my approval, so you’ll just have to give Lab 22 a visit and find out for yourself.
Drinks : 9/10
I’ve never had a bad drink in Lab 22, and nor has my boyfriend. On a whole, we have pretty different tastes when it comes to what we like to drink, so I can pretty much safely assume that there is a cocktail for everyone. I also have a pretty hard time deciding when it comes to beverages, but thankfully, leaving my trust in the staff’s suggestions has never failed me.
Atmosphere : 8/10
Honestly, the atmosphere can vary depending on the day and time, but the staff are always friendly and accommodating and keep the bar’s atmosphere going, even in quieter times. Busier nights can seem a little intimidating if you’re short and shy like me, but after a couple of shots, well, that’s another story.
Instagramability : 8/10
The menu definitely has some incredible drinks that Instagram-users seem to love (yes, guilty as charged for posting a story of Buck Fast, Die Young). As a bit of a Instagram Photography connoisseur (well, I took GCSE Art Photography and I’ve had an Instagram account for as long as I can remember), I would say that probably the lighting is a little bit tricky (see photos above) and you’ve got to find the right place for a good pic, which is a little difficult when the bar is busy, or with the current COVID rules about staying seated/masks on when walking etc. (This is no fault of the bar itself).
Ellie’s overall opinion : 10/10
The maths here is a little off, because how does 9, 8 and 8 lead me to 10 overall. Well, I’m not a mathematician, I’m a writer and this is my opinion. Lab 22 scores a 10/10 because I like it and I have good times here. Half of my visits I’m too drunk to remember that I have a photo-taking device in my pocket, so at this point, ‘instagramability’ doesn’t even matter. Basically, it’s a damn good bar.
Coming in at number 2, we have Pennyroyal! Another personal favourite (I mean, that is kind of the point of this list), Pennyroyal has only recently made it’s way to the top of the list – I can’t believe that I only visited once pre-lockdown!
I do have one major criticism. The bar is too high for me. Could do with a booster seat or something. But that’s just me picking holes, because once again, I don’t think I can properly fault this bar.
(I’m beginning to think that maybe I just like bars too much because I can’t really do anything other than sing their praises).
Aside from the bar that feels like a personal attack against short people, the drinks are always very tasty, and I choose myself a new favourite every time I visit (currently the Melon-Lime Soda, as I am a sucker for Midori), the bar is very wooden, which gives it a nice warm vibe (I don’t know anything about interior design so shhh) and the staff are always brilliant. Basically, my nights out are a toss-up between Lab and Penny, but usually end up involving both.
The drinks here are always interesting, but not too interesting to the point where they seem a little bit ridiculous. They’re tasty. They look nice. They smell nice. All good things basically. Pennyroyal gets a solid 10/10 because it is physically impossible for me to order a cocktail and drink it without exclaiming “Oh wow, that is good!”
I feel a bit underqualified to make this rating, because I have so far tended to avoid busier nights here, and go for the quiet ones where you can interact more with the staff. Or a few busy ones when it was outdoor dining only, which meant you got the atmosphere of the whole street (which was brilliant). But anyway, no complaints about the atmosphere here.
I don’t feel that I can rate Penny higher than Lab, and I’m thinking that maybe I shouldn’t rate bars for Instagramability because after a drink I forget what a camera is. Still, the drinks are pleasing on the eye, but I can’t really say if the lighting inside is any good for pictures, because I’ve not really tried. The décor is very nice though.
Ellie’s Overall Opinion: 9/10
I can’t give everywhere 10/10. Pennyroyal is so so close, but I don’t frequent it as much as Lab. Give me a few more good nights and I might be convinced to up the score. But also the bar is really high and I feel like a child when I sit at it, which can’t be helped, it wasn’t built for me specifically, so that’s what knocks off one point.
3. La pantera
La Pantera (or Panties), seem to be taking over the world in a very short, and very tricky, period of time. I mean, they even sell sauces and T-Shirts.
With a cocktail and taco menu that changes weekly, you’ll always be getting something exciting. It’s the perfect bar to stop off in when you’re just starting to feel a little peckish, at least once a week so you can try the new items.
I’ve been known to insist on heading to La Pantera every time I’m nearby, dragging anyone and everyone with me. It’s just that good.
It’s actually been a while since I’ve ordered anything outside of the slushies. I’ve got to be honest, I usually come for the tacos, then stay for the shots, so I’m not particularly well versed in Panties cocktails. If in doubt, there’s always Dark Fruits.
La Pantera is one of the top places to be at the moment. They’ve got a fun, IDGAF thing going on, which is something that works very, very well. Some friends of mine once described it as an equivalent of a school canteen for Cardiff bartenders. Maybe if school canteens had better food, better music, nicer décor, and sold booze, then we’d be in the right sort of area.
It’s bright and fun. The tacos look good. It’s not really the sort of place you’d think of to spice up your Instagram feed, but it definitely works, possibly more than intended.
Ellie’s Overall Opinion: 8.5/10
La Pantera is fairly new, and various lockdowns have meant that they’ve had to adapt, a lot. I’m interested to see how La Pantera will develop with the current regulations, and eventually no regulations. It’s already made it’s way into many people’s top spots, despite a whole avalanche of COVID complications, so I’m sure a Panties Revolution is due soon. #prayforpanties
Cardiff is one of those places that is too great for it’s own good, especially when it comes to the Bar Industry. I could probably list many, many bars that I would recommend, at least one bar for every mood or occasion. And then I’d have to write about them all, and that would probably create a blog post that would be way too long for anyone to want to read. So here’s a couple of bars I love, that didn’t quite make it to the Top Three.
The Dead Canary
And there’s a whole lot more, but I’d be listing for hours if I kept going, so I limited myself. The moral of the story is that Cardiff is a great city for bar-hopping, so you should give all of these bars a go.