Dance club

The hidden space that once housed Wales’ finest dance club is being cleared for a new open courtyard

We visited the famous former music venue soon to become an outdoor dining destination in the heart of Cardiff’s arcades

Pigeons flit among the rafters. A Midland bank card that expired in 1999 lies on the dusty floor. The scene seems far from the heyday of what was once widely considered Wales’ most popular dance club.

We’re in the former site of the Emporium in Cardiff, a hidden space between the Duke Street and High Street arcades that has lain dormant since the venue closed in 2004. In its 90s heyday, clubbers flocked towards the Emporium, known for its Romanesque-inspired interior and a DJ booth hanging on one wall. It even featured in the movie Human Traffic, a tribute to the city’s club scene.

The site will eventually be used again around mid-2023, when it reopens as a courtyard surrounded by restaurants. With the asbestos removed and the building permit in place, demolition is due to begin imminently. The first floor and the roof will be removed to make the space open to the sky, with a new retractable roof. Scroll down to see photos from our last visit to the Old Emporium.

The Castle Quarter Courtyard project will include seven new restaurants in the arcades, four of which overlook the courtyard. A balcony will run around the outdoor space at the first floor level. Mansford – the developer that owns the High Street, Duke Street and Castle arcades – is investing an eight-figure sum.

Rental agent Owen Cahill of EJ Hales tells us they are in advanced discussions with restaurants. He says there will be a focus on independents, with a wide range of cuisines. The design was inspired by London’s three-storey al fresco dining venue, Kingly Court. “We want to keep the Victorian style of the arcade, and the courtyard will be a rustic outdoor space,” says Owen. “I expect there will be an element of street food.”

Destinations that bring together independent food and drink options seem to be springing up in Cardiff, from the Corporation Yard in Canton to the inbound market at Capitol Center. “People want different experiences rather than standard restaurants,” says Owen.

Why did it take so long to resurrect the site? “It’s landlocked,” he said. “We considered the student residential conversion, but couldn’t make it work. When Covid arrived, there was an opportunity to come up with a new idea.”