Creating a micro-pub: ‘What could go wrong?’

Ahead of its five-year anniversary, Cathays Beer House owner Martin Holmes discusses the quirky micro-pub and his journey creating it

Martin Holmes standing outside the Cathays Beer House
Martin runs the pub almost entirely by himself. Photo by George Phillips

Martin Holmes, 55, fell into pub work by accident. After taking voluntary redundancy from boring admin jobs, he covered shifts in a pub his wife worked at. This led him to another pub in Cardiff where he met a co-worker who had his own brewery and wanted to sell beer.

They decided to branch out on their own and create a micro-pub. They found a location, Crwys Road in Cathays, and were ready to sign contracts when Holmes’ business partner pulled out. Holmes, much to his wife’s frustration, decided to carry on. 

“I’d always wanted to run a little bottle and can beer shop,” he said, “something a little bit quirky and unusual.” Holmes, who was 50 at the time, wrestled with the idea. He questioned whether to commit to this mammoth task by himself. “If I don’t do it now, I never will. What the hell! What could go wrong?” he laughed.

Holmes overcame delays, exhaustion, and a stint in hospital and opened the Cathays Beer House in December 2018.

Listen to Martin Holmes introducing himself and the pub 
Emotional hardship

Originally from Essex, a relationship led Holmes to Cardiff in 2000. Sadly that ended but he decided to stay in Cardiff to be close to his son. “I’m more happy here” he reflected. If he hadn’t moved, the pub wouldn’t have happened and he’d still be in London.

The pub is open six days a week, with Holmes running the pub entirely by himself. He reflected that these long hours can hurt his relationship, some days not seeing his wife until 11pm. This is counteracted by the large number of friends the couple have made through the pub.

A community feel

Holmes wanted to create somewhere “about community and about friends”, a place of familiar surroundings and people you know. 

The lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in 2020/21 was a challenge, with Holmes and his wife Diane suffering abuse over enforcing rules they had no say in. Diane was assaulted, which Holmes said really upset and depressed her, and she no longer helps out behind the bar. Holmes was shocked at people’s attitudes, he was only trying to provide a service to people – being open was harder than the actual lockdowns which he described as wonderful.

If I don’t do it now, I never will

Holmes can certainly be described as alternative and the pub’s decorations mirror this. He prefers “a little bit quirky” and likes to be a “little bit of an outsider”. Although his ideal pub would be painted black, blasting rock music all day, Holmes wanted his pub to be attractive to as many people as possible, adding, “Anyone who’s an outsider or feels they’re a loner can come in here and be welcomed.”

Thinking of the future, Holmes has no desires to stop and would happily go on well into old age – something he’ll have to get past his wife, who would like him to stop in a few years. “We’ve got so many people that rely on us,” he said, “I’ll be letting people down if I do close now.”

The Cathays Beer House celebrates its fifth anniversary on 6 December 2023, with a sold-out party taking place.