It takes a pandemic to realise how much we’ve missed our nights out.
After more than 18 months of lockdown and restrictions, the reopening of pubs and clubs and restaurants has been a welcome relief.
Walking back into busy venues feels both strange and familiar, and for those behind the bar it is long overdue, after enduring an unprecedentedly difficult year and a half.
But even with the tills ringing again, night life working requires a special type of person.
Here are just a few of the people behind the good times in Swansea – and who are owed a bit of payback now we can return to something approaching normal.
Read more: See our Swansea headlines on our dedicated homepage
Steve Lewis: Jack Murphy’s / Coyote Ugly / Basement Jacks / Marco Pierre White’s
For me it started when I was 15. I got a part time job working in the Woodlands in Clydach. I realised pretty quickly it was where I wanted to be working.
Before Sin City I was working at the Grand Theatre putting on The Zone, and Beatbox, and concerts in places like the Brangwyn and the Patti Pavilion. I was involved in nights at Escape and ran Face Off, all of which are pretty legendary in Swansea.
We’ve now got sites in Singapore, Dubai, Liverpool.
I just like creating the next thing, making something of nothing. I get a buzz from that.
And it lets me travel, which is what I enjoy, experiencing different cultures. All that time put in the clubs makes it all worth while. And I just enjoy being creative.
Bruno Nunes: Brewstone/Bambu/Peppermint/Bucket List
“I had an amazing mother who trusted me to leave home at 14 to work. It was north of Lisbon and from a very young age I learnt about the challenges of simple things like paying rent and buying food. I worked hard with little sleep, but it was a privilege to there.
“I was there for six years and then aged 20 I moved to the UK. It was great timing because I was working for a group which ran a Revolution bar in Reading. In 2003 they brought me to Wales, where I worked as assistant manager of Revolution here, and was general manager within a year. I met my business partner and we became housemates, and we’ve worked together for many years.
“An opportunity came up on Wind Street, and we opened Peppermint in 2010, and then another Peppermint in Cardiff. Then there was another opportunity on Wind Street. It was a poorly shaped building that was collapsing. We felt there was a chance for a second venture there, but to do something different, something fun where characters could have a good time. We put in a huge investment in that and opened Bambu. It is a high quality, safe environment, and that lead to us opening Brewstone in 2014 in Uplands. We took on a huge building with great potential. We saw what Noah had done with Noah’s Yard and we thought there was great potential.
“We developed the food business, which wasn’t easy, and we learned some hard lessons, but we were able to expand the following year, doubling the size. We are super proud of the operation, we believe it is one of the best in Wales. Businesses like us have a responsibility, and to be agents of change, and not to criticise our neighbours but be positive.
“We then took on The Adelphi on Wind Street, transforming it into the Bucket List. We love live music and went to Nashville to learn about delivering a great product.
“I just enjoy catering and entertaining people, and trusting other people doing who are doing that work for you. We have a beautiful working family of over 200 people, and I love being behind the scenes and seeing young talent come through, as well as the veterans. Almost 27 years later from when I started I am still learning, and I am enjoying the process. It is an irregular lifestyle, and you love it some days, but I have three daughters and I want to make sure I don’t miss out on time with them. You do more hours in this industry, three times the life time if you worked in the public sector, and that is the most difficult part if you have a family, but at the same time you have great people around you it is ultimately the chance to have an exciting working life.
“Covid has been hard obviously for everyone in the hospitality and tourism business, but 99% of our customers are amazing. You only get 1% who can’t accept the person behind the order pad or the till is a human being”.
Ryan and Lucy Hole: Secret Beach Bar & Kitchen / The Optimist
Lucy said: “We both haven’t got a GCSE to our name. It’s a case of hard work pays off. Even when we were younger we would sell sweets at school.
“You can always go back to education. I would love to go back now and have some sort of qualification in hospitality.”
Ryan added: “We were useless at school – from about 14 or 15 I didn’t have any interest in school at all. My parents were putting a bit of pressure on me and I was always like ‘I’m going to have my own business and don’t worry about it – I don’t need to get a job, I don’t need GCSEs for that’. We were really lucky – our dad had a newsagents and also his brothers owned Oldwalls and Fairyhill, wedding venues in Gower.
“We are both very creative thinkers – there’s no substitute for hard work and taking risks. It’s long hours, it’s unsociable hours. When everyone else is enjoying themselves on sunny weekends, bank holidays, Christmas, New Year – that’s when we’re really busy, we don’t get that time off. Be prepared to work really hard but it’s also really rewarding as well.”
Read Lucy and Ryan’s full story here.
Sililo Martens: Flickering Light/The Bookshop/Bar St James
“Having a Welsh girlfriend and four children, we decided to give Swansea a go as a base. After 15 years of playing professional rugby, I fell into fitness and designing commercial gyms, and also got into property. And then the property on Wind Street came available, and I thought if I could get a tenant downstairs and a bar above it, and get the formula right, it would work.
“I got Noah Redfern [of Noah’s Yard] involved, and we started Flickering Light as a bit quirky, and it did well and that gave me the drive to go on and own a second. If you get the operations and the staffing right, the formula right, it was a bit like copy and paste. Uplands was becoming a hotspot, with Noah’s Yard established there, and I decided a venue like the Bookshop would be an opportunity.
“I have travelled a lot with rugby and you would often get invited back to a bar or a hospitality event after games, but I would struggle to make a drink behind the bar, but I am more the business guy behind it. But I love seeing peoples faces enjoying themselves, walking into a venue, hearing the music. I put myself into the customer’s shoes. I want to build an atmosphere I would like, find a formula that works.
“Some people think that owning a bar is all about money, but there is the side that you have to deal with a lot of drunk people. They can quickly change from a nice guy after three or four pints all of a sudden. The Bookshop is sometimes a ‘starter bar’, with people coming there sober and then leaving a bit tipsy before heading on to Wind Street. Flickering Light you have people coming there who may already have drunk too much, and you have to manage that, and make sure everyone enjoys themselves in a safe environment.
“It has been a battle to stay afloat during the pandemic, and there are staffing issues now, with many having left thinking now they would rather work in an office. And we now face Covid passports for people to enter nightclubs, which is going to be crazy to monitor – I don’t know how that is going to work. But the positives of this business outweighs the negatives”.
Gary Lulham: Sin City / Jam Jar
I came to university in Swansea and I knew I’d have to get a job to support myself.
I’d been to pubs but never been to clubs before, and I went one time to Time & Envy and I loathed it. There were too many people and it was too noisy. I came away thinking I don’t like clubbing, and in future when I went with mates to a pub I would leave them when they went on to a club.
I knew I need a job and went to the university’s career office and ended up going for an interview in Time & Envy. In those days the interview was just, how many limbs have you got? Four? You’ve got the job.
My first night was a Friday when it was all inclusive, £10 and all your drinks were free, which has been outlawed now. But it meant the club made their money by not putting a lot of staff on, and that meant the queues at the bar were insane. I’d only had 15 minutes training, the place was rammed, and I was like a rabbit in headlights. When I was given a 15 minute break I thought I am going to walk out of here now, forget the money. The only thing that stopped me was a wonderful girl I was working with called Emma. She had been so supportive to me I thought I can’t leave her in it, so I stayed.
After the night was over the staff had a laugh and a chat on the balcony, and I thought, maybe I will come back again. By the time I left Time & Envy I was assistant manager.
I was then offered the deputy manager role at the Orange House. After a year, in 2007, when the talk was of Oceana coming, Swansea University Students’ Union got in touch with me looking for someone with city centre experience. They were investing in a venue, Sin City. Steve Lewis was involved that, running events, but not the bar, so I took that over. Around 2015 the students union offered me a role in the university, but I thought it was stupid of them to pull out of Sin City so I took it over.
Before lockdown we were doing really well, better than we’d ever traded. We were getting people through the door, and 2019 was the best year.
But you have to put in hard work to stay relevant and current and keep on top of musical trends and what the audience in Swansea’s wants. You have to have a relationship with local talent, and nurture that.
No one day is the same. People say that about a lot of jobs but it really is true. No working day is the same as the last. You need a broad range of skills. You can be in first things for a delivery, you might need to do some painting and decorating, you have got the admin to stay on top of.
But I do it because I like people. They are the bread and butter of the business, and I love seeing people enjoying themselves. I like being the cliche of the bar man with the tea towel at the bar, listening to people tell me their stories and their troubles.
It is a massively time-consuming job. I can be in at 7am for a beer delivery, and not leave until we close at 3 or 4 in the morning. It takes a huge amount of your life. In some ways it is very social, in some ways it is very anti-social. You lose your weekends and Christmases and holidays. Some people can’t handle that. It takes a very specific type of person.
Anna Redfern: Cinema & Co
I am really lucky with Cinema & Co, which encapsulates the experience for me. I think some people who come in recognise my face from Monkey and think it’s the same place.
When the property came up I thought it was just right. I love being a host and it was the right opportunity.
We don’t just put on films but also gigs and all sorts of events.
I enjoying making sure everyone is having a good time, and in a safe environment. I get a buzz from watching people enjoy themselves.
We recently had our first gig back at Cinema & Co since Covid, and people were shaking my hands, thanking me, and it was so heart warming. I’m a people person so I love it.
It takes a lot of time and effort, and there are fears and challenges, and the pandemic really pulled the rug from under our feet. Town has been really quiet, but hopefully people are going to come back.
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