“In three days I’ve seen more trade than I would have done in three weeks at The Goat Major. I reckon I’ll be out of cask beer by tonight.” This was Chris Rowlands, manager of the Urban Tap House, speaking on Saturday. I had finally managed to pin him down for five minutes or so; otherwise, he was a bearded whirlwind on both Wednesday night when the Tap House opened, and even during the steady Saturday afternoon.
Chris has always been energetic and passionate about beer and managing a pub, but there was a twinkle in his eye as he pointed to the well-stocked beer fridges. The 100-plus bottled beer range is one of the more obvious improvements since the Fire Island days, but there were others that had skipped my attention on Wednesday. “The air conditioning cost close to a third of our budget,” Chris pointed up to the shiny new air ducts running along the ceiling, “winching the massive air con to the roof was the main cost.”
The air con hadn’t entirely passed me by on Wednesday; even with a full house, I still felt the Tap House was lighter and airier than it had ever been. Infrastructure improvements seem to form the bulk of the changes, making for a cleaner, tidier, warmer/cooler environment.
“Is that a new projector in the Piano Room?” I asked as we stood at the main bar. I had noticed it while photographing the back wall on Wednesday.
“No, the projector was there before, but the screen is new.”
We wandered through to the Piano Room and instantly I was staggered to see an upright piano. Long ago, a grand piano (or something closely related) stood in the back room of Fire Island, soaking up space and oozing out atmosphere. It was a behemoth; bulky but lovable, and so the back room became known to most as the Piano Room. The piano mysteriously disappeared long before Fire Island closed but the name always stuck.
“We’re just getting it tuned,” Chris said, tinkling the keys with a big grin. The piano stands in the corner beneath the window and the sun was coming in over the top of the Millenium Stadium, so none of my pictures came out. It looked brand new and beautiful, though. It reminded me of my recent visit to the Craft House in London on a busy Saturday night, where a lone drinker played piano versions of pop hits, his efforts rewarded with free drinks from impressed punters throughout the night.
The menu caught my attention again for a moment. Presently, Tiny Rebel are focussing on just burgers; they do around 5 for the £7.50 mark each. I wanted to know if they had plans to extend the menu in the future but when I looked up the bearded whirlwind had charged off to take care of the staff payroll. The bar is staffed by an army to ensure the drinks flow quickly so I figured Chris would be busy for a while. I supped and left.
The launch has generated nothing but positive feedback from the local community, (this much I know because someone at the Tap House is ably manning the Twitter account), and even once the high passes and the hangover fades, there’s still a palpably confident sense that yes, the buzz will remain. It’s not just good by Cardiff standards, it’s good enough to give some of the London heavy-weight drinking venues a run for their beer tokens.