The Quebec. This iconic public house was situated at the rear of the infamous Custom House pub, just off the top of Bute Street in Cardiff. It was on the corner of Crichton Street and Wharf Lane.
The Quebec hardly ever gave any trouble to the patrolling police officer yet outside its doors, prostitutes stood on each corner and wandered up and down advertising their wares. Cars trawled the streets, the driver’s keeping a wary eye out for a police uniform. It was busy, very busy!
It was a tiny pub compared to many others in the area and painted bright blue. It was a Brains pub and run by a husband and wife who, at the time, were as iconic as the pub itself.
There are two reasons given for the term ‘iconic’ to be linked to the Quebec. One perhaps is worth dismissing, that it was the worst (according to many) pint of Brains Dark beer in the city, many comparing it to vinegar.
Why did people travel for miles to visit the Quebec? The draw was the jazz guitarist who played there, the legendary Vic Parker. Everyone wanted to see Vic in action on his guitar, including many a Bute Street (Tiger Bay) police station beat officer. From cool jazz, gentle blues and even, once in a while, some local folk songs, Vic was a superstar to many. In fact, when the Panda cars came onto the streets in 1968/9 it wasn’t unusual for the driver to give Vic a lift down Bute Street to his home (including PC230’A’).
Patrolling top beat men at the Bute Street police station would often pop into the pub and wander through to the stairs to the cellar at the back. On the stairs they would be fed a ‘swift half’ by the landlady. At around closing time an officer would every so often walk through the pub as an assistance to the licensees (if they wanted it) to enable the bar to be cleared.
During the week Vic Parker usually played his jazz guitar on his own, being fed any beverage he wanted by his adoring fans, including on several occasions visiting police officers just going off duty. At other times the jazz boys would move in to accompany Vic and the music was sublime.
Outside the pub during the evening was a world that is now gone, a world full of colourful characters, street happenings and a vibrant atmosphere.
The close pubs, The Custom House, The Crown, The Charleston, the Quebec, the CIACs, (Rugby Club) the Showbiz, The Ocean Wave, the Glamorgan, the Glendower etc., all drew in the onlookers, drinkers and punters.
Chris Hodgkins, British Jazz Trumpeter, said in 2015 prior to a concert celebrating Vic Parker’s life, ‘I used to work with him in the Quebec every Monday and Wednesday. We had a little duo, just playing standards, and he would sing in a Cardiff accent. When you’re young you forget so much. You can be handed the keys to the kingdom and you don’t notice. Working with Vic was like that – he was in his late 60s then, one of the nicest guys you could meet.’
Those glory days and the buildings are now gone. All in the chase for modernisation. Just memories left behind, and no-one can take them away.
- Abridged from the book The Final Years of Cardiff City Police.