We’ve got some big love for Porter’s. It’s a Cardiff bar that features live music, comedy, cabaret, and Wales’ first and only dedicated, full-time professional theatre. It’s just turned three years old, and it’s where we held the party for the first We Are Cardiff Press book!
We’ve wanted to feature the bar for a while, so sent reporter Ellie Philpotts along to interview bar owner and all round great guy Dan Porter for us.
By Ellie Philpotts
If you live in Cardiff, have visited Cardiff, or know Cardiff at all (which I’m guessing you do if you’re reading this), you’ll realise just how many positive traits this city has. Of course, modesty might not be one.
From coffee shop culture on every corner to charming boutiques; lively nightclubs followed up by slightly tamer art galleries, Cardiff has it all. And it’s fair to say that more than a few of these are independent.
However, one venue in particular has been catching my eye recently. And it goes by the name of Porter’s.
The energetic bar can be found nestled on Harlech Court, Bute Terrace. It’s quirky, charming, and the vibe is lively. Basically, it’s the place to be for a unique evening out in the Diff. Wanting to find out more, I popped along for a chat with Dan Porter (as you may or may not have guessed, the name behind the business).
This is him!
Here’s what went on.
Ellie – Hi, Dan. Thanks in advance for letting me hang out in here, and for putting up with my questions. Let’s start at the start – could you tell me a bit more about Porter’s?
Dan – Sure. We’re an independent Cardiff bar featuring live music, comedy, cabaret and Wales’ first and only dedicated, full-time professional theatre. Miraculously, we just celebrated our third birthday!
Ellie – Many happy returns. So how do you think Porter’s has changed since 2012?
Dan – A lot. The original plan was for it to be much smaller and calmer – actually only about a tenth of its current size and ten times less raucous.
Ellie – How did you start the process of setting up your own bar? It sounds like a big leap which I’m sure lots of work has gone into, especially as you started totally afresh.
Dan – Yeah, I’d never done anything like this before. I worked as an actor for 12 years but fell out of love with that so have gone back to, perhaps, my first love- bars. I thought about the kinds of venues I liked to go to when I was ‘acting’, so devised a business plan based on those (and the feelings and memories they evoked). I spent a lot of time thinking about the whole thing. Then one day I saw this building all boarded up so I had a look around and thought ‘Sod it. Go for it’. I left my agent the next day. That was about three and a half years ago.
Ellie – Cardiff has a vast live music scene. What was it like trying to break into that?
Dan – As much as we love music our original plan wasn’t to concentrate on music – there are so many great bars in Cardiff who do that so very well, such as Full Moon, Clwb Ifor Bach, Gwdihw etc, that it made no sense trying to compete with the experts, so myself and my business partner David Wilson, a theatre producer, set about trying to make Porter’s different – concentrating on comedy, theatre, film, cabaret – playing to our strengths. Of course we dip our toes in the musical waters of Cardiff which are very vibrant and we like to support and promote as best we can. We now put on quite a bit of music and get multiple requests daily from acts wanting to play. We wish we could book them all.
Ellie – There are plenty of bars dotted around Cardiff, a mix of independent and chains. What does it take for one to stand out – do you need a Unique Selling Point?
Dan – It helps but I have no idea what ours is! At Porter’s, customer service is at our heart. We like and support ‘ideas’ and don’t take ourselves too seriously. Our motto is ‘Good People, Good Times’, so that’s what we try to stick to. The basic rules are ‘You can be or do whatever you like here as long as it’s legal, safe and doesn’t threaten to impact negatively on anybody else’s evening’ and ‘Treat people as you would want to be treated’. It’s also worked for us to establish a personal, personable front-facing figure (me), so there’s not that facelessness. We also never charge on the door.
Ellie – Seems like it’s working! If you’re feeling extra-nice, do you have any tips for budding bar entrepreneurs?
Dan – Yeah, don’t do it! Really – it’s hard work and nowhere near as glamorous or lucrative as I thought it would be. I thought I’d be like a Welsh Stringfellow but the reality is a million miles from that. (I am of course very glad to be doing what I am doing – the alternative of working for somebody else doesn’t bear thinking about).
Ellie – Do you think Porter’s would do as well in other cities? What made you choose Cardiff? (I mean, Cardiff is pretty great. I can see why you would want to be here. But still.)
Dan – Cardiff is my home. Always will be. We considered expanding to other places and had opportunities but it’d be hard to translate the same honesty elsewhere and places like this probably already exist in the places we’d consider. All I wanted was a nice bar. I think I have that so I guess I’m happy.
Ellie – Fair enough, I’m sure Cardiff residents will be happy to know we’re keeping you for ourselves! Us at We Are Cardiff held our book launch party at Porter’s earlier this month, and it’s clear to see you guys are passionate in supporting small arts venues. Why is this?
Dan – It’s important. There’s a big independent scene here in Cardiff – of which we are a small part – and the whole thing needs supporting. Places like Depot and the other street food ventures and all the independent bars and arts organisations that are trying to do great things are the lifeblood of the city. Cardiff’s definitely blossomed in recent years and that means a lot to me as a proud Cardiffian.
The Other Room team
Ellie – So can you tell me a bit more about The Other Room, the adjacent theatre? I think it certainly adds another unique touch.
Dan – The Other Room only opened in 2015, but it’s hit the ground running. Before, the annex area was like an escape room, which was great, but we wanted to revolutionise it further. About 18 months ago we began a conversation with Kate Wasserberg, Artistic Director, who came with a great vision – a high quality, full-time professional pub theatre – that complemented ours and The Other Room opened in February to great and continued acclaim. The work that has been put on so far (6 productions to date) has been astounding and that is down to Kate and Bizzy Day, Executive Director, and their amazing team and supporters.
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