The Exchange Hotel: A Guide to Cardiff's Oldest Pubs
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Exchange Hotel: A Guide to Cardiff’s Oldest Pubs

The Vulcan - oldest pubs Cardiff

During your visit to The Exchange Hotel take some time to check out the rich and interesting history of Wales’ capital city by taking a tour of Cardiff’s oldest pubs.

The Exchange Hotel itself is considered a landmark of the city, as are the numerous public houses that have been serving Cardiffians and the city’s visitors for a100 years or more.

Some have ghosts, some have ancient rules still enforced today and some were at the centre of passionate campaigns to commemorate Cardiff’s vibrant past.

Using our guide, why don’t you explore the city by visiting a few of Cardiff’s oldest pubs? All of which have been standing and serving for well over a century.

The Rummer Tavern 1713

Pretty as a picture with its Tudor style pastiche, the name means glass or cup for wine, from 16th century Europe. The landlord once served Marquis of Bute and even had a part in arranging his wedding.

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Patrons and employees often reported sights of ghostly spectres in the loo and cellars. It is also recorded that a sailor’s ghost still haunts the premises, the man is said to have died shortly after finding his wife in bed with another man.

Elevens Bar and Grill – 1731

Starting out life as The Globe in 1731, very little information exists about this Cardiff pub’s origins, only that it was popular and central to where people socialised as far back as the 16th century.

Elevens Bar and Grill - oldest pubs in Cardiff
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In the late seventies, The Globe became a successful jazz club called Four Bars, founded by the director of Brecon Jazz Festival Jed Williams. Williams also formed part of the house band, The Root Doctors, who performed as the resident entertainers here during the pub’s peak.

Four Bars was recognised in 2009, as being a major contributor to the UK jazz scene and has proudly welcomed jazz greats like Nappy Brown through its doors.

Dempsey’s was the next name to take over this ancient drinking ground, giving patrons a popular Irish drinking and live music venue.

In March of 2017, Dempsey’s closed and became Eleven’s Bar and Grill. A football-themed affair with Bale Ale being served and footy shirts hanging in wall displays.

It seems Dempsey’s was to be sorely missed and the music acts who played there over the decades, came together to say goodbye to a well-loved establishment with a tributary gig.

The Goat Major – 1813

Originally named the Bluebell when business was first recorded in 1813 but became the Goat Major in 1995.

The pub now bears the name in honour of the mascot for the Royal 41st Regiment North Wales.

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It is understood that the first goat of the regiment was bestowed by Queen Victoria herself, from her own flock of Kashmir goats. The rest of the flock was adopted by a family living on Great Orme, who still to this day supply the regiment with a replacement goat when the last one “retires”.

Both the Goat and Major are pictured within and are proudly displayed on the walls of the pub. There’s even a beer served under the name, Goat Major, recognised in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.

The Goat Major is one of Cardiff’s oldest pubs and is still popular among locals and visitors alike.

Owain Glyndwr – 1731

Originally named the Mabley Arms in 1731, the Owain Glyndwr has undergone at least four name changes.

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It sits prettily, on a corner plot next to a brewery owned and operated by successful local brewers Nells.

Today the Owain Glyndwr pub is a dedication to the last native Prince of Wales. Glyndwr is famed for staging an unsuccessful revolt against Henry IV and, even though he was eventually forced from his homeland, Glyndwr never succumbed to English rule.

The prince chose instead to remain hidden until his death, by his countrymen a stout and patriotic Welshman to the end.

Sandringham 1792

First named the Black Lion in 1792, then renamed the Sandringham in 1903, this ancient venue was a popular drinking spot for local farmers in Cardiff, who came to the centre on market days.

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It’s easy to see where the venue got its original name from, with the huge stone black lion lounging across the roof to this day.

The Sandringham became a top spot for local celebrities in the sixties and, shortly after Four Bars closed its doors as a live jazz venue, the Sandringham took over as Cardiff’s leading live jazz location.

Today the Sandringham is a central hotel, restaurant and bar that continues to offer live music to its patrons.

City Arms 1793

The building which houses the City Arms has been at the hub of incoming river traffic to Cardiff since 1610. There is no indication if the building ever served as an inn but, given its location, we can assume so.

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There are records of the pub being known as the “Van of Flesh Tavern” in 1850 . A name bestowed by locals due to it being directly opposite the city’s slaughterhouse and cattle market.

By 1858, the name “The Cattle Market Tavern” had been chosen for the popular drinking hole and, even after the markets and slaughterhouses moved, the pub served as a reminder of the trades original location.

In 1905, Cardiff had been officially named a city and, to celebrate, the most popular local drinking venue adopted the title “City Arms” to mark the occasion.

A title it has kept to this day.

The Cambrian Tap 1830

Digging down to its roots, The Cambrian Tap is a relatively recent addition to Cardiff’s pub scene. Although the historic venue did serve a related purpose, before becoming one of Cardiff’s oldest pubs.

Originally known as simply the Cambrian Hotel, the premises was built in 1830, on the site of the old tap brewery. The venue first served as an inn but later became established as a drinking venue with no accommodation.

In 1991, The Cambrian Hotel closed its door for good.

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It was then the venue was renamed Kitty Flynn’s, after a real landlady who ran the bar down the road oddly enough!

Kitty Flynn’s quickly became a well-loved Irish bar for many years and was the choice social hangout for Cardiff’s residents and visitors.

Now one of the oldest pubs in Cardiff has undergone a transformation, having been revamped by the Brains Brewery Co. as Cardiff’s leading craft ale bar.

A mash-up of the Tap Brewery and Cambrian Hotel, Cambrian Tap owners have taken the fundamentals back to basics so visitors can enjoy a huge selection of craft ales, and a good pork pie as well.

The Old Market Tavern 1844

Once known as the New Market Tavern or the New Market Inn, due to its proximity to Cardiff’s “New” market, this delightful pub has a spectacular outdoor space with views of St John’s church yard gardens.

Credit: Wiki Commons – shrinkin’violet

Since then the Victorian venue has become part of the popular Irish bar chain O’Neil’s and (fun fact of the day) is said to be the birth place of Olivia Newton John’s father!

Rather nostalgic, the venue has taken up the name The Old Market Tavern, a clever play on the original name and a nod to the building’s long past.

Old Arcade 1844

Originally named The Birdcage Inn in 1844, after the landlord’s hobby, selling handcrafted wooden bird cages from behind the bar, the Old Arcade is one of Cardiff’s oldest pubs with the most original features.

The Old Arcade - oldest pubs in Cardiff

Located close to St John’s church, down the quaint and narrow street, The Old Arcade is a traditional pub that serves ales from Brains Brewery and independent guest ales as well.

The originally covered walkway passes through from Church Street into the central market which has been running since the 18th century, runs directly alongside The Old Arcade.

This convenient location put the pub among Cardiff’s most frequented social venues over the last 170 years. With people visiting after church or on their way to and from market.

Found on maps as early as 1610, The Old Arcade occupies an ancient building that has clearly been a key part of Cardiff for centuries.

Golden Cross 1849

This striking building is one of the oldest pubs in Cardiff to have Grade II listed status. Having always been a pub, as far back as 1849 the building has seen its fair share of booze-fuelled folly. The name of the venue was originally Shields and Newcastle but was eventually renamed in 1863 as The Golden Cross, which has stuck.

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From the early years, when the venue had a reputation of being “the best brothel in town”,The Golden Cross ensured sailors coming into the busiest port in the world would always have a great night.

Perhaps the most notable story from within The Golden Cross is the fight between Rocky Marciano and the pubs Welsh clientele.

Legend tells that Marciano knocked out around 100 Welshmen, after he overheard one of them bad mouthing one of the visiting American marines. The offending Welshman apparently swung for Marciano, starting the fight which inevitably led to his eventual knockout and a massive pub brawl.

Now, The Golden Cross is recognised as Cardiff’s favourite gay-friendly venue, hosting regular drag acts, karaoke and strippers. During the day, it’s a homey pub but by night it’s the campest hot spot in town.

The Vulcan 1853

The Vulcan Hotel is currently in pieces, stored in museum archive. However, much to the pleasure of locals, the famous venue is due to be recreated by the end of 2019 under a restoration programme put together by St Fagan’s National Museum of History.

The Vulcan - oldest pubs Cardiff
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The name, The Vulcan, referred to the iron works located nearby and referenced the Roman God of Fire and metalworking.

Due to its close location to the busy railway into Cardiff, and being central in the working-class suburbs of the area, The Vulcan was frequently busy.

The venue held onto its original name, withstood neighbouring buildings being demolished and kept some of its traditional and original interiors, throughout its existence.

After Brains Brewery announced their plans to discontinue the lease on the pub, there was a campaign put together to protect what had become one of the oldest pubs in Cardiff still operating under its original name.

Despite best efforts, the venue officially closed in 2012 and was donated to St Fagan’s National Museum of History. It is from here that an interesting turn of events began to take place.

The Vulcan is set to be preserved in Cardiff’s memory for all time, after being carefully dismantled brick by brick by preservationists. Plans to recreate the venue as a working establishment by the end of 2019 are underway.

The Vulcan will be fully restored to resemble its appearance in 1915, one year after it was revamped. The museum has asked for as much information as possible on the venue including anecdotes, images and recollections of how The Vulcan would have looked and operated around that time.

Cardiff Cottage or The Cottage 1863

On the city’s most popular stretch of pubs, sits the small yet aesthetically pleasing Cottage pub.

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In keeping with traditional pub décor the floors and walls are still decorated in an opulent Victorian style.

There are relics that date back to the pubs early years, such as bell buttons on the tables once used for table service and an old Brains clock set into an ornate wooden platform.

The building itself is narrow and has a dark tiled exterior which, at night, is illuminated from historic lantern lights above the entrance.

There seems to be a residence above the pub that could have once been rent-able accommodation, and of course, like the rest of St Mary Street, Cardiff Cottage was built upon a burial ground.


Packet 1864

An ancient sea farers establishment, that first welcomed merchants, tradesman and sailors to Cardiff bay during the 1800’s, The Packet is a gem among the oldest pubs in Cardiff.

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Named from the packet steamers that used to frequent the docks, the packet is located a stone’s throw from the waterfront and often hosts live music into the wee hours of the morning.

Apparently, there’s an unwritten yet unbreakable rule that should a sailor be in the venue when the tide is out they are granted free lodging at The Packet for the night.

Worth noting if you’re heading there on a night out, and happen to know how to sail a ship.

The Borough 1867

An established boozer in the city centre of Cardiff since the 1800s, The Borough is a charming little venue nestled at the base of one of the city’s unusually high, slim city centre buildings.

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There are comfy smoker’s armchairs under a covered space at the front of the building, and the long slim bar runs all the way to the back where an ancient feature fireplace remains to this day.

Other than name changes in 1897 to The Bodega, changing back to The Borough Arms in 1967, the venue has remained a steadfast feature among Cardiff’s oldest pubs and is still a popular drinking hole to date.

The Corner House 1872 (Albert)

Once named the Albert when first constructed but only briefly until the establishment gained the title King’s Cross.

The Corner House is a bar that eventually became one of Cardiff’s leading gay bars and, late-night drinking venues.

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When the decision to refurbish the ancient venue was put forward, patrons campaigned heavily for owners to leave the bar untouched. Wanting to hold onto the longest standing gay bar in Cardiff, the campaign was backed by Gareth Thomas, a former professional rugby player who came out as gay in 2009, and gay Councilman Rodney Berman.

The LGBT community of Cardiff were outspoken about their disappointment to remove the most historical gay bar from the area. Most patrons had stories to tell of Kings Cross being the first bar they frequented after coming out, saying the venue made them feel safe and welcome.

Now the 145-year-old pub is stylish Gastro Pub The Corner House and welcomes a busy trade of both daytime and evening clientele.

The Duke of Wellington 1892

A huge three-storey building houses one of the oldest pubs in Cardiff, as well as one of the smallest. In the thriving centre of the city, The Duke of Wellington is a popular drinking venue. Attracts a varied clientele of tourists and residents it was named in honour of the fortieth anniversary of the “Iron Duke” of Wellington’s death.

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One of the greatest British generals, Arthur Wellesley, freed Spain from French occupation and took on Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo.

Wellesley earned the nickname, the Iron Duke, after rioters broke in through the glass windows in his home, he had them reinforced with iron shutters afterwards and along with his character and discipline the stalwart name appeared in articles and stories thereafter.

Church Inn 14th Century

Quite obviously there aren’t many records available with detail to the origins of the Church Inn. Only that it was and still is the main public house in the village of Llanishen, sitting in the shadow of the village church.

There is, however, a comical tale on the Llanishen history blog.

The Church Inn - oldest pubs in Cardiff
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After The Welsh, Sunday Closing Act (1881) which stopped the sale and consumption of alcohol in all public houses on Sunday’s, a young MP decided to see the effects of the ban by visiting random establishments undercover.

Upon reaching The Church Inn, the MP and his party spotted a man sleeping outside, clearly drunken, but inside there was a pleasant busy crowd. In the back room, an entire table was filled with pub patrons of all ages, drinking but not being rowdy, this, of course, pleased the MP and bolstered the campaign for the ban to be lifted.

That was until the same MP journeyed into Rumney, where the ban was being flouted but in a less dignified manner, with drunken parties “rolling from one side of the street to the other”.

The ban remained in place until 1961, but of course, it did not stop the good people of Cardiff enjoy a brew or two . . . or three or four in some places.

Staying at The Exchange Hotel

And there you have it. A fully comprehensive list of Cardiff’s oldest pubs.

Some have gone through various name changes and facelifts over the years, others are still firmly clinging onto their past. Only a few remain untouched since they began serving the public with fine ales over a century ago.

Exchange Hotel room Cardiff

If you are staying at The Exchange Hotel, a historical experience in itself, why not take a stroll around the city and check out as many of Cardiff’s oldest pubs as you can.

Become a part of Cardiff’s history by raising a glass in a century-old boozer, then enjoy a comfortable nights sleep in one of our luxurious Cardiff hotel rooms.

Also, celebrating the history of Cardiff’s social past, our very own bar and restaurant, Culley’s, has been built in honour of Richard Palethorpe. The popular local custodian of R.P Culley’s Restaurant that once resided in the basement of the Coal Exchange.

At its peak, this celebrated Cardiff restaurant would boast a wealthy clientele of coal merchants, local barons and foreign businessmen. Palethorpe himself became a noted personality among residents of Cardiff, leaving a proud legacy of his work behind.

Today in Culley’s, we’ve held onto this legacy, treating guests of The Exchange Hotel and the public to a unique dining and drinking experience set within a historical landmark venue. Book to enjoy a delicious meal or a few marvellous cocktails or your. next visit to Cardiff

R.P Culley's the original oldest pubs in Cardiff

One of the oldest, and most celebrated pieces of Cardiff’s historical architecture, The Exchange Hotel’s own story is long and proud, intricately woven into the fabric that helped shape the city we know today.

Call our reservations team today on 0151 236 0166 or email and start your journey into Cardiff’s rich and interesting history.

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