Credit: (left and centre) The Casablanca Club and Café (right) Nick Sarebi, Flickr

Owner ‘heartbroken’ as Casablanca Club in Butetown cannot afford to stay open

‘It is impossible to run a small business in that area,’ says woman who revived iconic venue

A VENUE in Butetown, established on the site of the iconic Tiger Bay Casablanca Club, has been forced to close just a year after it opened its doors.

“It is impossible to run a small business in that area,” said Leigh-Ann Regan, the owner of the revived Casablanca, who grew up in Butetown and Grangetown.

“The rates, pavement licence, insurance, music licence — it is just impossible.”

Shirley Bassey performed at the old Casablanca Club Credit: Rob Mieremet / Anefo

“We had hardly any mark-up. It was heartbreaking to spend so much money making it welcoming to everyone, both local and further afield. In the end we were just busy fools.”

The Casablanca Club first opened in 1965 in Bethel Chapel and was a key landmark in the Tiger Bay area. It was a venue at the heart of the diverse docks community in Butetown and attracted stars from Shirley Bassey to Aretha Franklin through its doors. Leigh-Ann’s father was one of the many who used to visit the iconic venue.

Bethel Chapel, the original venue for the club, was demolished in 1996, and Leigh-Ann opened The Casablanca in December 2022 on that site. 

The Casablanca was set up as a café and bar serving tapas, cocktails and a variety of other drinks. It was intended as a place for artists and creative people to meet and collaborate in Butetown, in the spirit of the former iconic venue. 

“One of the best evenings was with pianist Geoff Eales, who played for Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey,” said Leigh-Ann Regan.

One of the best evenings was with Geoff Eales on piano, who played for Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey.”

Leigh-Ann Regan, owner of The Casablanca

“We booked unknown talent to be seen by agents and studios, we held local councillor meetings, PACT meetings and meetings for TV and film production companies, women in film and TV events, monthly lesbian events, speed dating, quiz nights — we did everything.”

Leigh-Ann Regan also runs the Regan Management talent agency in Cardiff, which represents talent in TV, film, theatre, musical theatre and commercials.

Millie Rose, a singer and musical theatre performer from Cardiff performed regularly at the revived Casablanca

“I am absolutely gutted the Casablanca has closed. It was a venue I always looked forward to performing at because I felt everyone there genuinely wanted to listen to the music,” she said.

Leigh-Ann Regan said that upcoming changes to business rates and business rates relief in Wales influenced her decision to close the venue.

Business rates in Wales are set to rise by 6.7% on April 1 after the Welsh Minister for Finance, Rebecca Evans, did not freeze 2024/25 business rates in the December 2023 budget despite pleas from Welsh business leaders. Business rates relief was also axed, which is a lifeline for many small businesses.

Wales has lost over 1,000, or 17% of its licensed hospitality venues since the start of the pandemic, compared to a 14% drop in England and 13% in Scotland, according to data from CGA by NIQ and ALIX Partners Hospitality Market Monitor.

UK Hospitality Cymru is concerned that the new rates and cuts to business rate relief in April could see further closures further diminish Wales’ hospitality sector.

“The closures we are seeing are deeply worrying,” said David Chapman, executive director of UK Hospitality Cymru. “The stark numbers reflect the extent to which Welsh hospitality businesses have suffered since the start of the pandemic.”

The closures we are seeing are deeply worrying.”

David Chapman, UK Hospitality Cymru

“They will be concerning for our venues and the thousands of livelihoods they support across Wales.

“The Welsh Government’s decision to reduce business rates relief will simply widen the gap between Welsh and English businesses, worsening the situation for businesses.

“Our local communities face losing vital social centres and crucial jobs. The cutting of relief exposes the unjust, archaic business rates system which sees our bricks and mortar businesses pay way above what should be considered a fair share.

“We need immediate, increased business rates support, followed by fast-track reform, or more closures are inevitable.”