Not a Harry Potter bar – The Cauldron: Exeter’s enchanting wizard-themed bar
Any Harry Potter fan worth their salt (and pretty much everyone in Exeter, unless you’ve been living under a rock) knows that JK Rowling studied at Exeter University. Her love of the city is reflected in her books, with various locations easily recognisable in some of Exeter’s landmarks. Did you know, for example, that the inspiration for The Leaky Cauldron is popular student haunt; the Old Fire House? Pretty sure undergrads don’t drink Butterbeer, though…
With Harry, Hermione and chums still as popular as ever, it’s no wonder that news of a new Harry Potter inspired bar coming to Exeter’s own version of Diagon Alley (Gandy Street) was greeted with unprecedented enthusiasm: details and rumours spread like wildfire across Facebook and Twitter, and Exeter’s legion of Harry Potter fans were chomping at the bit to get in there. The team of Directors behind The Cauldron received emails and messages from far and wide volunteering to help set it up and even offering to work at the bar for free.
The Cauldron opened to the public on 25th August, and I decided to pop along a few weeks later, after the business had bedded down a little. Before my visit, I checked out their Facebook page and I have to admit was slightly put off by some of the scathing reviews from the opening weeks. Complaints about queuing in the rain plus to problems with orders: it seemed there were some early teething troubles at the venue.
The thing is, the Cauldron opened in a hurry, without the soft launch or trial period that bigger chain venues have both time and budget to run. This, coupled with the hype surrounding the bar, meant that they had an awful lot to live up to and some people experienced a few opening period bumps and left disappointed.
General Manger Neil Perry was quick to point out that it is a work in progress:
We got the keys on a Friday and we were open the following Friday. We were working twelve hour days to get ready. The original article about the bar opening had gone out with a specific date and we had to honour that.
With just seven days to turn what was once Exeter’s kooky Cuban joint, Cuba Cantina into a magical medieval wizarding world, the team had their work cut out for them and I think they’ve done an amazing job.
Neil was also keen to highlight that The Cauldron should not be called a Harry Potter bar.
Warner Brothers have been in touch, and despite being very supportive, they made it crystal clear that any use of the Harry Potter brand could result in a court case. So the team refer to the bar as a medieval style ‘witches and wizard’ themed novelty venue.
And it is a very novel experience. The Cauldron is three (soon to be four) floors of creativity and quirks. From the outside it doesn’t look particularly magical: just a single fronted glass facade and a sign above denoting ‘The Cauldron’ in rather small writing. But once inside, some serious styling sorcery is revealed.
The main room downstairs is styled like a medieval inn (thankfully minus the spit and sawdust), with a row of tables and benches and a small bar at the end with cast ales from the South West in full view. In the corridor there are three flights of stairs with footprints going all the way to the top, the walls are covered with creepy artwork and on each floor there are two or three little rooms furnished with tables, chairs and comfy sofas. Each room (currently there are five open) has a different theme including; dragons, potions, the common room and a library. I had a sneaky peak on the fourth floor into the rooms that aren’t yet opened, the blue (horoscope) room and the attic room which boasts a fantastic view over the rooftops of Exeter and will potentially be used as a VIP room.
If that isn’t enough, moving portraits in framed LED screens, acted and shot by the team can be found throughout the venue. The Cauldron have gone the extra mile and have added an augmented reality app to the experience. If the recent Pokemon obsession passed you by and you haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about, let me explain. Augmented reality is the latest big thing, blurring the lines between what’s real and what is computer-generated. Adding graphics to the natural world as it exists. The app was created by Rokk Media and easily downloaded onto a mobile phone it had all the visitors (including me) wandering around holding mobile phones up against pictures and furniture hunting for computer-generated images and collecting clues.
While the decor is wonderful and the app is entertaining, don’t expect a gastronomical revolution on the food front. The weeny kitchen means a basic menu: a carb lovers heaven with simple and honest food including pizzas, Mac n cheese and cobbs filled with everything from quinoa to beef stew. Neil pointed out: “we wanted to offer a menu that could be easily created in the kitchen, in keeping with the medieval style of the bar and simple but tasty”.
There will be a seasonal menu at Christmas and a new menu in the new year. The drink offering is slightly more elaborate: a variety of cask ales are available, plus an extensive list of easy to drink and easy on the eye kitsch cocktails served in novelty science apparatus.
As a novelty bar, The Cauldron is a promising addition to Exeter’s already eclectic nightlife. They’ve had a few teething problems but there’s a great team of hardworking and passionate Exeter creatives behind the project and I look forward to watching how this quirky, independent venue develops over time.
Things you need to know
Opening times: 12pm-11pm Sunday-Thursday / 12-1 Friday and Saturday night
Food served: 12-3pm and 5-9pm
Dress code: casual dress, witches and wizards welcome (obviously)
This Article was originally published in Exeter Life Magazine.Tags: bar, cocktails, Devon, Eating out, Exeter, food, harry potter