Cardiff is clearly becoming the place to be for cocktail-lovers, with new bars the Alchemist, Gin & Juice and Rum & Fizz all opening in the past year, making for some stiff competition. The most recent addition to the scene is Deaths & Entrances, a new venture by the team that brought you the Dead Canary.
Tucked behind St David’s 2 on Barrack Lane, it requires a beady eye to spot the birdcage signifying the entrance to the Dead Canary, which then leads to the staircase of Deaths & Entrances. Once inside, it’s clear that Deaths & Entrances is smaller and more modern than its parent bar, although it still feels like something from another era; Dylan Thomas’s era, to be precise, which is evident in the retro cocktail posters, framed poems and the painting of the man himself on the walls (painted by Deaths & Entrances’ very own bartender). Perhaps the biggest clue is the bar’s name, which is the title of Thomas’s best-known book of poetry. Instead of bottles stacking up behind the shiny tiled bar, there are old-fashioned glass cabinets with green bankers’ lamps and candles to create a low light ambience. Despite the vintage feel, there are also nods to a more millennial décor style, with fairy lights, potted plants, the odd pineapple and geometric lights, all making Deaths & Entrances perfectly Instagrammable.
What about the cocktails themselves? Refreshingly, the poetry stays on the walls and doesn’t stray onto the menu, which consists simply of lists of ingredients or ‘flavour profiles’, with all of the being cocktails priced at £10. Some of them are straightforward – quince & cognac – and others require a bit more research. Luckily, the staff are attentive and immensely knowledgeable and are happy to take time to explain any of the more obscure elements, like lacto-fermented plum and peach or Agricole. Death & Entrances’ cocktail style is experimental and original with a lot of attention to detail, leading to the inclusion of more unusual ingredients like meadowsweet and galangal. You could almost convince yourself these are health drinks, thanks to the turmeric, beetroot, and pea shoot on the menu.
Despite the uncommon ingredients, the cocktails’ presentation is kept simple and lowkey, with no gimmicks like elaborate flowers or smoke, just mouth-wateringly bright colours with a single chunk of ice – you won’t find watered-down slushies here! It’s obvious that at Deaths & Entrances, it’s all about the flavour, and those flavours are perfectly combined. Their basil and vermouth thirst-quencher is herby and refreshing, while a sweet pear cocktail is given a heady kick by an award-winning whisky. A hibiscus and rum drink has an intensely smoky flavour, and the plum and peach cocktail is fruity with a sour tang.
The service is very friendly, and the staff have mastered the art of knowing exactly when to approach without needing to hover. Comfort-wise, the seating could be a tad better. There’s a choice of standard table-and-chairs for four, stools at the bar, or small coffee tables for two with banquette seating on one side and a pouffe stool on the other. However, this means having to lean across the table or shout at your friend, as the seats are just a little bit too far apart for a casual conversation. Other customers seemed to be dealing with this either by sitting on the same side, or by manspreading around the table.
As a staff member mentioned, Deaths & Entrances is intended to be a contrast to the Dead Canary, enabling customers to start in one and move on to the other. This contrast is apparent if you pop downstairs, thanks to the very different atmospheres in both bars. Deaths & Entrances is the more elegant and grown-up of the two, its smaller size making it feel slightly secret and exclusive and the Dead Canary is cosier and more relaxed, with comfier booths and armchairs. The gorgeous cocktails and sophisticated, stripped-back approach at Deaths & Entrances could easily lure me back for another drink, but for longer-term comfort, the Dead Canary is where I’d settle in for the night.
Deaths and Entrances is officially opening its doors this Thursday, 31st January.
You can find them on Barrack Lane, CF10 2FR, adjacent to the Dead Canary.