By Emily Turner
Cocktails have been around for centuries, are drank by almost everyone and are especially popular among young adults either on a more sophisticated evening, or just looking to get drunk (after working in a bar for a while now, the question “which cocktail has the most alcohol in?” is an easy way to let the bartender know your intentions for the night). However, after hearing about Lab22 and its reputation as “the best cocktail bar in Cardiff” I was keen to give it a visit. I’ve visited the bar on a few occasions now, both in a large party booking and with just one other friend, and I’m still unsure how I feel about it.
Most of the best Cocktail bars in Cardiff, as I’m sure any student reading this will know, are found around Mill Lane and at the end of St Mary’s Street, but not Lab22. Situated on chippy lane, an unexpected location for a high-end cocktail bar, you could easily walk past Lab22 without knowing it’s there, but I get the feeling that’s what the owners want. You walk in through a small door next to Greggs, but this is more easily found on a weekend or a match day when there is a bouncer (and usually a small queue) outside. If you’re not visiting on a busier evening then you have to press the buzzer and get welcomed in by a muffled voice over the telecom, giving it the feel of a speakeasy during the prohibition; this instantly makes you feel somewhat upper class and superior, but also could easily seem quite intimidating when you haven’t been before.
As you walk in, you’ll probably notice the interesting choice of a communal washing area which precedes the toilets, but ignore that and the overbearing gold décor, climb the stairs and you’ll be greeted by a surprisingly larger space than you expected. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a huge bar, but any bigger would ruin the intimate feel. The dark room allows for hints of gold and red, without being overwhelming, and the lights over each table mean that you get the sense of darkness and romance without feeling like you’re in some dingy underground bar. The décor is definitely something they’ve got right. Along with this, the bar also has inspiring life quotes dotted around it- things that, after a few alcoholic beverages, really make you (me) reconsider your (my) lifestyle choices. On top of all that, the bar has a cute little smoking area so you don’t have to trape up the stairs each time you want to partake in your “social” habit. It’s not the biggest area but it’s big enough for the bar, and whilst you’re out there there’s some pretty cool artwork to check out on the wall too.
The staff are undeniably great- some of the best bar staff in Cardiff. They’re friendly and welcoming and you can’t argue that they know their stuff when it comes to cocktails. One staff member, Elliott, has worked there for over a year now, and seeing as he has coined the term “#sexylab” then maybe if you call him that you might just get a free drink (no promises). But seriously, these guys are great; if you tell them what kind of drinks or flavours you like then they’ll direct you to those in the menu, and if you still can’t find something that takes your fancy then (as long as it’s not too busy) they’ll suggest something not on the menu that you might like instead.
The prices of the drinks are a little on the expensive side. On the main menu each drink averages at around £10, but there’s the “Perks after Work” which has cocktails for £7.50 each, or just £5 before 9pm, from Sunday to Friday. So if you’re just going out for one pint on an evening, why not pop into Lab22 and have a cocktail off of this menu for just a fraction more money but a change of scenery and a sophisticated experience?
It would also be worth noting that on a Monday night the bar has live jazz music, from the band The Bandits, which comes hand in hand with cheaper cocktails at £6.25 each. Along with these live jazz music nights, there is a live DJ on Fridays and Saturdays, this takes the bar from a chilled place to drink to somewhere great for a few drinks to get you in the party spirit before heading to a club on the weekend. For a more personal experience it’s also worth knowing that Lab22 offers a masterclass; at just £24.95 per person, you can make your own cocktails and learn about the history of them too. Lasting up to 90 minutes, with drinks included, it’s the same price as any other cocktail classes around Cardiff, so why not have it somewhere swanky?
The cocktails themselves are visually amazing- definitely Instagram worthy. Each cocktail has its own garnish, even the ones on the budget menu, but some can be a bit different to what you may expect. One cocktail, Tortelobos, came with two pieces of tortellini in the top of it, and another Smoke ‘n’ Cheese had some slices of cheddar on the side. Although this might be great if you haven’t had time to make dinner, it does seem a little pretentious and unnecessary. That being said, the flavours are undeniably great. I tried the Plum and Sand from the “Perks after Work”, and being that it was a whiskey based cocktail (a flavour that can be hit or miss for me), I could still taste it but it wasn’t overwhelming and I’d definitely order it again. From the main menu I also tried the Smoke ‘n’ Cheese, with a base of port and spiced rum, and although also a tasty drink, I’d recommend it for those who fancy something a little fruitier. I personally preferred the Plum and Sand; it was shorter and had a bit more bite, but that’s just a matter of personal preference.
All being said, Lab22 is a great place if you want to impress. I’d definitely recommend it for a friend’s birthday or for a treat when your parents come to visit and offer to pay. It’s not somewhere you can afford, as a student, to go every night, but it’s definitely more affordable than a lot of students realise for. For party bookings it’s also a great venue; big enough for a party of 30 or so and you’ll be well looked after. Once you accept that Lab is somewhere for bartenders to really show off, and that you might have a bit of food stuck on the side of your drink, you’ll see that the drinks really are delicious and more reasonably priced than you may have previously thought.