Built in 1903 for Brains’ brewery, this city-centre pub, four minutes walk from Central Station, is the most spectacularly decorated of any in Wales and is famous for its ceramics by Craven Dunnill of Jackfield, Shropshire. The façade proclaims the Brains name and gives a foretaste of the riches within. Here the L-shaped counter on the left is one of fourteen remaining ceramic bar counters in the UK and the design, featuring grotesques, is one of three made by Craven Dunnill: the others are at the Mountain Daisy, Sunderland, and the Gunmakers Arms Birmingham. The frieze is almost identical to that at the White Swan, Birmingham. There are also two original pictorial tiled panels, that in the public bar showing Cardiff Castle, and the one in the left-hand room depicting the Old Town Hall as it was in 1863. In the side entrance lobby is a rather crude, modern tiled painting of the Brains’ Brewery in about 1890. The impressive bar-backs remain in the public bar and in the lounge (to the right), but the counter in the latter is modern. In 1978 the pub was threatened by road widening but a vociferous campaign saved it and it reopened in 1986: the modern lobby panel of Brains’ brewery dates from that time. Popular as a gay pub in the evenings.
The Golden Cross has the most spectacular pub interior in all of Wales. Built in 1903 with excellent S A Brain & Co. Ltd. lettering on its colourful faïence exterior, which gives you an indication of what to expect inside. In 1978 it was under threat of demolition for road widening but a campaign saved it and then Brains carried out a restoration, reopening the pub in 1986. On entering you will see some spectacular Craven Dunnill decorative tilework on the walls of the main public bar in various shades of brown and green on the dado and yellow and green above, topped off with a colourful floral pattern frieze above. The tiles also run up the side of the open staircase. The long L-shaped counter is one of only fourteen remaining ceramic bar counters left in the whole of the UK and features grotesques on the frontage and is the reason for its inclusion on the National Inventory. There is another equally impressive counter in Wales at the Waterloo, Newport.
Other Heritage Pubs with a ceramic bar counter are the Black Horse, Preston, Lancashire
; Burlingtons Bar (at the Town House), St Annes on Sea, Lancashire
; Mountain Daisy, Sunderland, Tyne & Wear
; Red Lion, Erdington, Birmingham
; Polar Bear, Hull, East Yorkshire
; White Hart Hotel, Hull, East Yorkshire
; Garden Gate, Hunslet, Leeds, West Yorkshire
; Crown, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Other examples can be found at Horse & Jockey, Wednesbury, West Midlands
where a small part on the left has been lost; Castle, Manchester City Centre
; Hark to Towler, Tottington, Greater Manchester
where the bar has been moved; Waterloo Hotel & Bistro, Newport, Gwent, Wales
which has no public bar facility; and there is one in China Red which was the Coach & Horses, Dunswell, East Yorks and now operates as a Chinese Restaurant.
There are also two hand-painted pictorial panels – the large one in the public bar is of Cardiff Castle in 1903. In the left-hand room is a hand-painted pictorial tile painting of the Old Town Hall in 1863. It was one of two completed by Craven Dunnill of Jackfield, Shropshire for the opening of the pub in 1903. (There is also a tiled panel of Brains Old Brewery in St Mary Street, Cardiff at around 1890 in the left hand lobby but this dates probably from the reopening in 1986).
Other magnificent displays of tiled paintings can be found at Café Royal, Edinburgh, Scotland
; Mountain Daisy, Sunderland, Tyne & Wear
; General Havelock, Hastings, Sussex, East
; Central Bar, Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland
; Rose Villa Tavern, Hockley, Birmingham
; Dolphin, Hackney, London E8
; and St James Tavern, Soho, London W1
The impressive original bar-backs remain in the public bar and in the lounge (right), but the counter in the latter is modern. There has been some opening-up to the rear of the public bar and this area, which is popular with diners, has modern fittings. The pub has a good set of Brain's leaded windows. Please note that this is Cardiff city centre's premier gay pub in the evenings with live music late Sun. and late Wed. Open all day until 2am (3am Sat.).
In Cardiff there is one other notable ceramic pub frontage - Queens Vaults, 29 Westgate Street CF10 1DA (opposite the Millennium Stadium) with a bright yellow one including elaborate lettering of ‘Queens Vaults', 'Wines', 'Ind Coope & Co. Ltd. Entire', ‘Entire’ being a beer better known as porter.
(There was another at The Vulcan, 10 Adam Street, Cardiff CF24 2FH, with a lovely brown and green glazed ceramic frontage)