Let me tell you about The Bay. You can find it on Aberystwyth's sea-front, a windswept Victorian promenade bordered by hotels and guest-houses built back when the town thought it was going to be the Brighton of Wales. The Bay itself may once have been a hotel, though I've never heard of anyone staying there. Mostly, it's a pub. Traditionally, it's a dive. Not the bad sort, but the kind of disreputable bar that a certain kind of person is drawn to and everyone else stumbles into at the end of a long night for one last drink before it closes. It was renovated recently I think, not that you'd really notice.
I like it though. On a packed night it has an atmosphere that is getting harder to find. There's music, but not too loud, and although you don't have to shout to make yourself heard, the ambient noise is enough to ensure your conversation remains private. Ideally the lights would be lower than they are, but it really doesn't matter too much. The drinks are relatively cheap, the clientèle a mix of students and locals both of which have been coming there perhaps a little too long. You can expect perhaps slightly more than the average number of punks and goths, but not so many that they take over. There's a battered old pool table in the back room, the idiosyncrasies of which can be exploited by those of us who have played on it often enough. Perhaps most importantly, despite an often sociable if slightly seedy atmosphere, it's the pub where you can reasonably drink alone without being hassled.
It also has a cellar bar. Well, you could call it that anyway. Generally it's just referred to as 'The Bay Basement', probably because it alliterates. Underground, but on the sea-front, that alone is something I like about it. Difficult to explain why. Anyway, the downstairs area is usually a dance floor these days. A couple of years ago it was always closed and never used. A few years before that I hear it was a reliable night club for those with less than mainstream tastes. You used to have to access it from the outside, but that's been discontinued. There are stairs at the back.
There's another room down there too. Not one you'd find unless you knew it was there. The doors are disguised, not deliberately – the walls are painted a dark blue-black and the lights are always down, so any door would be difficult to find – but I didn't spot it when I first ventured into the basement. The room can be rented for private functions and shows. One day a week the local folk club meets to listen and play. I've been a few times with my house mate, an American girl with an absolutely amazing voice. Its a perfect venue for that sort of thing – the sort of room that maintains a smoky atmosphere despite the ban on smoking. Off to one side are seats and tables, usually with candles lit. The lights are very low, giving the impression that it's firelight alone.
The other night, I was feeling pretty low. It's been a long few weeks and I've been working too many hours and sleeping badly. My house mate was playing a gig at The Bay and invited me along. I decided to go, the bay is a good place to be even if you feel antisocial. I got there a bit late, but decided to order a scotch before I sat down, it felt right. The performances were excellent, beginning with a heavily pregnant and soulful blues singer, followed by my house mate who sang a light-hearted jazz set, then finally B L U E B1rd a local folk singing duo consisting of a beautiful young woman in a red summery dress and a tall sarcastic Irishman. Quite obviously a couple, they sparked off each other throughout, the net effect was one of the most intimate and uplifting concerts I've been to for a long time. I looked around the room, the audience was eclectic as you might expect, old and young, academics from the university, locals from the town, a children's illustrator sitting next to a local politician. What was important though was that no-one was any of those things. In The Bay, you can leave that aside for a moment and just enjoy whatever is in front of you. If it happens to be a strong spirit and good music, the so much the better.
Maybe that sounds sentimental. There are places like this all over the world. Anywhere there are people, there are people who need to get away from whatever they do during the day. Places like The Bay let that happen. That may be why I like it.