Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The rebranding of the Cardiff Arts Institute

The Cardiff Arts Institute (CAI) re-opened this week, after a radical refurbishment. Brains are now sole owners and they have rebranded the bar as “The Institute”. The Lego wall and all the other quirky details have gone.

Established in 2009, the CAI (“Canteen, Social Club & Music Room”) was a partnership of Brains with 580 Ltd and Something Creatives who did the design and event programming. It had a very distinctive décor, with some highly original touches, but it was not really built to last.

The new décor is more robust than previously and not as bland as some feared it might be. The new theme is Art Gallery, appropriate given that this bar is across the road from the National Museum of Wales. There are numerous reproductions of old masters, along with a good selection of historical photos of Cardiff. The Lego wall has been covered in blue flock wallpaper of the type found in old-fashioned museums. The (frankly awful) wall of rubber gloves is now bare brick and a handsome large mirror. There’s Leonardo (sorry, Michelangelo) on the ceiling above the bar, and the skull (optically corrected) from Holbein’s The Ambassadors above the stairs descending to the basement; although in other areas the selection appears pretty random (and I don’t think the originals of any of these are in the museum over the road).

I thought the food (and drink) in the old CAI was overpriced and a little fussy. Brains have completely changed that, with a no-nonsense menu that caters to the budget eater and the very hungry.

Breakfasts include The Breakfast (£4.95) and other items apparently marketed toward the hung-over; “sarnies” start from the £2.25 Chip Buttie; jacket potatoes and fillings start from £3.50. There are pizzas, grills and many “pub favourites” including fish & chips (£5.79), bangers & mash (£4.29) and lasagne. Curries are particular good value on Mondays, when they come bundled with a drink. The coffee is Costa Coffee, which can be bought in combination with a slice of one of the cakes displayed on the bar.

You may have already guessed that this is probably not the place for refined or particularly healthy eating. In fact, overindulgence is encouraged with The Hulk Burger (£17.95) constructed with three 10 oz steaks and all the works: at least 4,500 calories guaranteed. To get your head around this, if I (a 70 kg man) ate a large meat pizza (of 2,900 calories) it would take me approximately 7 hours to walk off the calories. This is competitive eating and The Hulk Burger comes with rules about no sharing, no public vomiting etc. However, it may all be a subtle ploy, as anyone eating this amount of fat-drenched dead cow in one sitting might subsequently decide to spend the rest of their days a vegetarian.

Music and events have been scaled back in The Institute, although Brains are hosting an acoustic night on Wednesdays and live bands on Saturdays. The old stage has been removed to accommodate more seating, and music will be set up to the left at the back rather than the right (if you know the place). It is unlikely that the art classes and other cultural activities will carry on as before.

The old CAI will be missed. It was a one-of-its-kind with the wide range of social activities and events it hosted.

However, the owners of this new Brains bar seem to know what they are doing. Much more food is going to be consumed here than in the former-CAI, for example; food that is competitively priced and ideally washed down with a pint or few of Brains.

Previous post on the Cardiff Arts Institute:

Cardiff Arts Institute
29 Park Place, Cardiff


  1. I think it looks like Brains are trying to create a generic offer that will appeal to the mass market and in return squeeze as much out of ever customer that walks through the door. My point would be that but does it really have the balls to create an offer that beats the competition surely we have enough of these kind of pubs in Cardiff already.

    It looks like old news and tired far from innovative it has taken the original notion and flipped it into 'The Vale of Glamorgan' it looks like they did their research at 'The North Star' and 'The Vulcan Lounge' crossed with 'Juno lounge' and Brains have finally decided to take on the Pen & Wig with food and drink offers which was one of the biggest bug bears of the previous CAI, but one of the things that Brains could have changed instantly. According to the press release it states that the other partners 580 and Something Creatives were in control of the design and events only.

    To me it feels like a replica of a lawyers office of course some will say 'It's fabulous darling' then chow down on their hulk burger..... but I doubt they will have 'Gruff Rhys' and 'Ellie Goulding' gracing the space in the corner for bands any time soon.

    Cardiff Blogger


  2. Good blog, but isn't that Michaelangelo's Creation of Adam on the ceiling? :)

  3. My daughter will be gutted about the lego wall going. It was her favourite pub in Cardiff :(

  4. I cannot believe this is now a brains pub! Very disappointing!

  5. Good riddance. Frequented by a mass of vacuous hipsters, this place was a shrine to the emptiness of late capitalism and the postmodern condition. My lasting memory of this place was going to a gig being watched by a handful of people, whilst in the upstairs room a bunch of posers projected their constructed identities onto one another at some twatty 'Music Geek' club, in which these knobbers brought some shitty beardy record along and used it to talk about themselves and their Christmas cardigans. If they were truly into music, wouldn't they have been down watching the live act? Fuck 'em all. Anyone who drinks Red Stripe is a mindless twat.