Last Updated : 27/01/07
knew Swansea of old; in the late 1980’s I had reason to visit the city numerous times when my scooping tally was in the hundreds rather than thousands… and still found almost nothing for my book despite some fairly extensive efforts to do so and usually ending up supping pints of Brains’ dark in the Adam and Eve on High Street, so you can understand my interest in seeing whether the city had, like most others I’ve been to recently, gained a few decent beer pubs where good local beers could be sampled.
After a check with Brian Francis I was left in no doubt that, as far as he was concerned, there was no decent beer in the centre of Swansea; yes, there’s the Swansea brewing company out at Bishopston, but as for good beer in the centre (just good beer, not even scoops!) he couldn’t recommend anywhere except, as an off-chance, one of the McSpoons pubs. A search on the internet also turned up nothing of interest and so, armed with precisely bugger-all in the way of beer gen, I was waiting for the bus from my hotel on a business park north of the city into the centre on a very cold Monday afternoon in January.
Into the known.
The bus service was sparse, to say the least, but at last I was away into town past the enormous and very plastic-looking footy ground stranded in the middle of an extremely tat retail park. After a quick detour to the travel centre to work out if I could actually get a bus back to anywhere remotely close to the hotel (I could, surprisingly, to Tatsco or Asda, a ten-minute walk away) I wandered off into the biting wind to see what Swansea could surprise me with.
I passed what either still is or, more likely, once was a McSpoons on the corner of Plymouth Street but all it could offer me was Brains SA Gold, Caley Great Scot or Robinson’s Unicorn, none of which particularly appealed to me, so it was back out into the howling arctic gale outside, deftly weaving through the intoxicated chavs on the doorstep, and onto Oxford Street which looks nothing like it’s London namesake being filled with cheap tat shops as opposed to the expensive tat versions in Laaarndan taaahn. A main shopping street isn’t the place to find pubs – shite or otherwise – so after having a quick peek at the castle I braced myself for a cruise down Wind Street, the city’s “yoof” circuit area, with absolutely zero expectations of finding anything worth drinking but in my defence let me say that I was following a young lady whose skirt was continuously being lifted by the blustery conditions…
As expected, rows of tat circuit venues greeted me, and you’ll have to excuse me if I can’t remember any of them; Yates was definitely there, maybe a All Bar One, but after that we’re into the realms of “platypus and trombone” and their ilk and, let’s suffice it to say, I didn’t even bother darkening their doorsteps with my presence as if there was anything worth drinking in any of them I’d show my arse in Burton’s window. The one slim chance of a scoop was the Lloyd’s No.1 McSpoons, the Bank Statement, but SA Gold, Rev James and Evan Evans Cwrw wasn’t exactly what I was after and the huge cavernous space was totally devoid of people, giving it all the ambience of a bus garage, and so I retreated back along Wind Street in search of something more exciting, thinking that I could always have the Evan Evans later as a fallback.
Just off Wind Street was the much better looking Cross Keys which had the advantage of actually looking like a pub and not some converted Airbus A380 hangar. Sadly the inside was identical to any of the other identikit fizz palaces along Wind Street and, predictably, real beer-less so off I went along the Kingsway towards the other McSpoons with the vague hope of finding some other pubs which might, against all the odds, serve micro-brewed beers. Ha, the naivety of him!
No pubs manifested themselves until I reached the Potter’s Wheel McSpoons so in I went to seek shelter from the whipping gale outside, and to be honest this was the best range I’d see all evening; SA Gold (again!), Evan Evans Cwrw (again!), O’Hanlon Port Stout and Elgoods Thin Ice. As tempting as it was to have a swift half of something – anything! – to avoid facing the icy wind again, none of the beers really appealed to me enough to make me want to drink them (I’m not a massive Elgoods fan, and the Port Stout is a bit sweet for me) so I reluctantly pressed on along St Helens Road hoping against all my better judgement that I’d find a proper pub, although by now I was realizing that I’d embarked on a futile quest and would have been better driving out to the Bryncelin brewpub at Ystalfera!
Find of the evening – but it’s not beer!
As I plodded along St Helens Road I came to the conclusion that I was wasting my time; many of the premises were Indian restaurants or associated shops and so, obviously, there would be little call for a pub in such an area. What I did find was a superb Indian Sweet shop which furnished me with a box of assorted barfi for a very reasonable £4, and very nice they were too! Munching a particularly luscious lump of pistachio barfi, I had a quick peek into the Pantygwydr hotel on Richardson Street but found it to have no real ale on the t-bar infested bartop and so, cutting up Russel Street, I headed for the more fertile hunting ground of Mansel Street and thus back to the centre.
On the way I passed the Brunswick on Duke Street, still badged as a Greenalls pub, with two real ales available. Unfortunately, these were only Theakstons XB and Courage Directors so, despite the interior being sociably wooden and cosy, I didn’t stop to partake but joined Walter Road and turned right towards the centre. The St George on the corner of Walter Road was a large old wayside tavern but, as was becoming the norm for this wander, no real ale was to be seen on the bar. On I went past the Tenby, looking like some timewarp 1960’s workingman’s club (no real ale), and thence to the High Street where I saw the Shoulder of Mutton was closed and boarded. Almost back where I started, I was now under no illusion that nothing had changed with the passing of 15 years – the centre was still a hideous concrete carbuncle, the pubs were still terrible with hardly any real ale, and I’d be forced to seek refuge in the Adam and Eve – if they still did dark that was…
The pub was almost as I remember it, save for maybe having been painted in a particularly unattractive shade of beige inside, but my tipple of old was still on the bar and so, glad to be out of the freezing wind outside, I partook of a pint and relaxed, savouring the fact that I’d done a move pretty similar to this all those years ago and still ended up drinking Brains’ dark in the very same pub as I was in now. The beer was pretty average but had the usual chocolate malt taste with a smooth, dark malt finish and was very welcome after my mammoth trudge around the city. I know some people may be wondering why I drank regional beer instead of the micro stuff available not five minutes away in the McSpoons, but the answer is simple – I don’t like drinking in McSpoons, but I do like proper pubs with decent beer, and the Adam and Eve was providing me with these requirements perfectly well.
One final call was the King's Arms, also on the High Street, but inevitably it had no proper beer on sale and so I called time on this sad excuse for a beer hunt and returned to the bus station for the 18:05 back to the hotel; it says something when I’d only been in the city for 150 minutes but already I was going back empty handed – Carmarthen had been so much better than this! The bus departed on time, but Swansea seemed to have one more trick up her sleeve to pay me back for the inevitable slating it would get on Scoopergen; I’d bought a single to Asda, thinking it closer than the Tatscos, but after leaving Tatsco the bus took a tortuous route through the outer suburbs taking an extra twenty minutes to reach my destination, from which it was another ten minute walk in the bracing breeze back to the hotel…
Just don’t bother, OK? Swansea has nothing in the city centre to entice any scooper there, not even one who’s just started and is thus “empty book”, so save your time and money and do Cardiff instead! Yes, there is the Swansea brewing company at Bishopston, but their beers are absent from the centre of town and therefore outside the scope of this report. There may be some decent pubs further out which I couldn’t get to but, likewise, these are also “out of scope” and not relevant to anyone looking for scoops in the city centre. If you’re really desperate (and I know some people are!) then there are at least two McSpoons in the city but don’t expect the range of beers you’d find in other cities: five beers is the most you’ll find with the likelihood of anything rare being very low indeed.
To add insult to injury it’s not even as if there’s anything to look at in Swansea’s centre; the castle is rather small and decrepit, and most of the rest is faceless concrete shopping centres and streets with zero visual appeal; even the football ground has moved out of the centre! So, to sum up, Swansea’s city centre is a bland, visually unappealing wasteland with very little micro beer and no scoops at all – but I knew all that fifteen years ago anyway!
Obviously there’s no beer of the evening award as I only drank one (and that wasn’t brilliant) but for find of the day I must usher you in the direction of the Khushi Khana Indian Sweet shop on St Helens Road, opposite Russell Street, where hellfire Indian sweets can be purchased in all configurations and weights. Not much use if you want beer, but there’s always Cardiff for that…
© Gazza 26/01/07 V1.0