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Sitting opposite the glittering lights of Cardiff’s winter wonderland, whirring with festive glee, sits a rather unusual gem. Cardiff Arts Institute, ‘like being pissed in a Saatchi Exhibition’, is a brand new establishment offering a completely different experience in Wales’s capital.

Independent pub group 580 Ltd and Something Creatives spotted a gap in Cardiff’s live music and arts scene. Taking note of the handy location on Park Place opposite Cardiff’s national museum, with the groggy plod of students heading into town, they decided to invest in a new venture.  CAI opened on November 5 this year, and is a veritable hub of creative outpouring with live music, food and decor that’d make Laurence Llewelyn Boleyn blush.

The view from Cardiff Arts Institute

Fiercely innovative, with ‘Forever Evolve’ etched on their internet manifesto, CAI replaced Incognito’s, a club/pub/restaurant, which closed last year. It is set back from the busy road in a terraced Victorian building.

The venue is split across three levels, with a staircase leading up to the ping pong room, and a vibrant array of decor. With porcelain horseheads, colourful neon signs, displays of flourescent marigolds and glass cabinets full of ironic trinkets, the interior definitely has an affinity with various boozers in Shoreditch. Down from the long and well-stocked bar sits an area sporting live music by night, and an eating area in the day. CAI is strong on its interactive features and likes punters to feel involved, with lego boards mounted on the walls.

Leah Thompson, 32 and Tamsin Berkley, 35, were enjoying a catch-up drink after work. Leah has lived in Cardiff for four years. She said: “I was here on the opening night – it was jam packed. I came in, went straight to the lego and spent half an hour playing with it. I like it here – it’s really different, and much better than Incognito. I walked in and thought – wow. The space has really opened up. There’s definitely the market for somewhere like this in Cardiff.”

CAI hosts a wealth of live music, putting events on throughout the week and at weekends. The nights boast a spectrum of music genres – from electro, house, funk, dubstep, indy, rock and jazz, to swing. Wonky Disco is held on Thursday nights and recently featured Cardiff electro group The Evils, while the lively Glass Diamond and eclectic band Opa!  – playing ‘Balkan beats and Kleizmer cuts’ – have also made a cameo. According to Deputy Manager Dan Johnson, 23, it was London-based trio The Correspondents who really got the crowd going for gold.

Dan lives in Cardiff Bay and oversaw the opening. He said: “It wouldn’t be fair to compare CAI to Incognito – towards the end of its life, Incognito lacked that zainy atmosphere. It was quite cheesy – a very dated pub.” CAI featured in the Guardian at the end of last month, where it was described as a ‘hot new city haunt’.

Marketing Executive for CAI Matt ‘the Hat’ djs at the Institute regularly. He said: “Inspiration for the interior has come from places like the Lock Tavern Pub in Camden, and Start the Bus in Bristol. I like to play a bit of house, a bit of dubstep, just everything to try to encourage every sort of crowd possible.”

The music nights are only part of the story, however. Dan said: “Although the best events are the bands and DJs, we have quiz nights and musical bingo which are quite fun, run by a pair called Squeaky Hill. They attract quite a few students who want to get involved. Puff Daddy’s musical blingo is coming up soon – we had one back in November and it was very successful. There are lots of prizes to be won, and games to play. Records and roasts on Sunday afternoons are the ideal way to sooth a hangover. Our main competition are Buffalo and Ten Feet Tall, although the crowd there are probably after something more mainstream.”

The crowd flocks over from Cardiff's National museum for lunch

Ten Feet Tall is a popular live music haunt in Cardiff’s city centre. Manager Jonathan Dexter, 23, said: “I like the ping pong room up the stairs, it feels like somebody’s living room. I haven’t noticed any sort of drop off in our crowd here, though.”

With rumblings of an appearance by the Super Furry Animals on Boxing Day, CAI has a myriad of musical and events planned for the new year. With such a successful first month and a powerhouse of creativity behind it, it will be interesting to see how the indefinite evolution progresses.

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