La Pantera was started by a group of pals who wanted to bring tacos and mezcal to the people of Cardiff in a casual setting with an informal attitude to service.
Having worked at some of the city's most popular bars and restaurants for over a decade, we identified a gap in the market for a bar that specialised in Mexican spirits and primarily Mezcal. Our goal was to educate our guests on the often misunderstood agave spirits; without pretence and only if they wanted to learn. A weekly changing cocktail menu that contained agave-based twists on classics was a great tool for this. Basically, we wanted you to be just as at-home when learning why a Tobala from Puebla tastes different to a Tepeztate from Oaxaca as when you’re kicking back with a pint of Dark Fruit watching some wrestling.
For the food side of things, we wanted to bring people a weekly changing taco menu that had no restrictions on what ingredients we could use and so the ‘Unauthentic Taco’ was born. Nothing was off-limits, from mussels to big macs and crab cakes to onion bhajis. You name it; we will, or already have, put it in a taco.
So on the 6th of February 2020, we opened La Pantera in our small space above the Night Cafe on Quay Street. It was a great time indeed. Reaction was great amongst the people of Cardiff and beyond, we made some great pals and threw some great parties. Times were good, or so we thought.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK we were forced to close our doors like the thousands of other businesses across the country. We’d be lying if we said that we weren’t really bummed out. We thought our dream was over after only 6 weeks. So we stayed at home for a few months, did zoom quizzes, baked banana bread and pondered our next move.
At the start of June, we decided to start opening for takeaway from a door in the downstairs of the venue. Initially, this was just to cover some costs, but man did it blow our expectations out of the water. The support from our guests was unbelievable. There were days where we’d have queues of people going down the street, waiting to grab some tacos and a slushy, and go and sit in the park with their grub. We continued doing our thing with takeaway for 2 months until bars and restaurants were allowed to open again in August. And that is when the madness really started.
Takeaway had gone so well for us that we were offered the opportunity to expand and take the whole venue we were in. We tripled in size overnight. We took a week off to refurb the whole downstairs area and get everything ready for our grand reopening in August. We’re not sure we could put into words what those first few weeks were like. Partly because we were in awe at all the support from all the lovely people that chose to frequent our little backstreet cantina and partly because of all the tequila we’d been slinging down our throats. Numerous opening hour changes due to COVID, (we even gave breakfast a go) changes to track and trace and distances between tables, all were bumps in the road that we’ve managed to overcome.
To say that we have done it the hard way would probably be a pretty big understatement. We really could not have done it without the support of everyone, from friends and family, guests, industry pals, brand reps and suppliers. No matter what happens in the future, it’s been a laugh.