It’s not all that often you see a clothing store combined with a coffee shop, except for perhaps the huge department stores like House of Fraser. But when you think about it, it does kind of make sense – tired from all that hard work trying on clothes and choosing an outfit… pop next door for a refreshing cup of tea and cake. And while you’re sitting down perhaps you’ll decide to get that top you thought was quite nice but weren’t sure of after all – savvy business thinking.
Found in the Castle Arcade, Cafe Barker is competing with a bunch of other nearby arcade eateries, including Madame Fromage just down the road, Café Minuet round the corner and legendary New York Deli just over the road in the High Street Arcade. But somehow, Barkers has managed to carve out a great little niche in that it’s just a cool place to hang out.
I find it crazy to think that the café section of Barker has been in place little over 6 months. It feels to me like it’s always been there. But to give you a potted history of the other half of the venture, I got to chatting with the owner… none other than Mr Barker himself. It’s part of the iconic logo that adorns the shop front and the beautiful brown paper bags from Barker that it was established in 1970. But not in Cardiff, oh no, out in Blackwood in the Valleys. It was only in the 1980s that Barker came to Cardiff, first of all based in the original St David’s centre before moving into Castle Arcade in the middle of the decade.
Barker and his son also design their own fashion label, Two Stoned, which can be found exclusively in the Cardiff shop and online. And speaking of his son, Barkers is a classic family business. Owned by Robert, the accounts are managed by his wife, while his children and their partners also have roles within the shop and café. Robert even hopes that his young grandchildren will one day take up some kind of duty too.
The interior of Barker, both the clothes shop and the café, smacks of the hip industrial scene that wouldn’t be out of place in big brands like All Saints. In fact, Robert sources a lot of the furniture and accessories from the same supplier, looking out for quirky bits and pieces to give the shop a unique feel. The bricks of the café, interestingly enough are old, handmade in Merthyr, while the beautiful doors that link the clothes to the coffee are recovered from a chapel in Port Talbot. Robert is keen to promote the atmosphere of Barkers since he was told that it was almost more important than the food – that is to say, without the right atmosphere, even the best food just won’t work.
I could have spent a lot more time talking with Robert, who admits to spending a lot of time people watching in his own café – a perk of the job I suppose. He tells me that they seem to get an awfully high proportion of girls crying in his cafes, having just been jilted from their partners. Not a happy story, but at least she’ll get some tea and sympathy if she sticks around on those deliciously comfy chairs.
I hope you enjoy the photos, it’s a bit of a photographer’s dream in Barker – lots to take photos of and those beautiful surroundings to take in. Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments box below. And of course, you’ll find even more photos of Barker over in this Flickr set.