Update: Casa Bacardi has ‘popped down’. It closed in winter 2018.
A new bar has opened in Reading this week. It’s big, it’s brash, it’s backed by Bacardi. On opening weekend, I took a visit to Casa Bacardi, the new pop up bar at The Oracle, to check out the cocktails, the terrace and to see if it’s just one big walking advert. Find out how the bar looks and what the drinks are like with our first glance at Casa Bacardi.
What’s the deal?
Following the closure of Jamie’s Italian restaurant along the Riverside in July, the empty unit has been put to use as Casa Bacardi, a ‘pop up’ summer cocktail bar branded by the humongous rum brand, but managed and organised by WePop. They’re the company behind The Village at Station Hill and the Apres Bar.
Seasonal branded bars have been popping up in big cities for years now and there’s similar Bacardi bars in Birmingham and Manchester. Now it looks like it’s Reading’s turn on the corporate cocktail rodeo.
So, does it still feel like Jamie’s Italian in there?
Surprisingly, no. The new bar only takes over the top floor of the circular building and in many ways, it actually works better as a bar than as a restaurant. I hadn’t been to Jamie’s for more than a year (which goes some way to explaining why it’s no longer here, I suppose) and I’d forgotten it had a glass ceiling and just how open and bright it was upstairs.
That round glass ceiling lends a summer greenhouse feel, which sits well with the palm-leaf dotted Havana interior. As there aren’t so many dining tables hogging the floor anymore it also gives more breathing room to notice the view – assuming you’re not knee deep in Mojitos of course.
As it’s temporary, decor’s a bit sparse, but it feels sleek rather than empty. Furniture is a deliberately distressed mix of dark wood tables, leather bar stools and bright orange and turquoise oil drums. It’s playful, without being too try-hard.
There’s also still an outdoor terrace. It was always a bit too narrow for dining comfortably, but it’s perfect for mingling and looking over the glamourous vista of The Oracle logo. It’s feels pretty chilled out there, a step away from the bumping reggae-house soundtrack indoors. But, Reading’s answer to Sushisamba? Not quite.
And is it plasted in branding?
Well, yes. But that’s sort of the point really, isn’t it? The Bacardi name is dotted around on wooden surfaces, menus, tiles and embedded into glasses. But, aside from the impossible to ignore, six-foot-tall bat logo looming over the bar, it’s all pretty tasteful and not tacky. I felt like I was drinking in a minimal bar, rather than in a showroom.
How long is it popping up for?
In true transient nature, they don’t have an end date. The street food kitchen has a residency for three weeks at first, so it will be here at least until September. Probably longer, if the weather holds up and the building doesn’t get another tenant.
What are the drinks like?
There’s a simple menu of eight Bacardi based cocktails. They’re all familiar and straightforward – more Bacardi with mixer than complex mixology.
The classic, and the most common order, was the mojito, of course. Mine was strong, if slightly too sharp, but it went down well and matched the quality at Revolucion de Cuba.
The bartender also recommended the Green Line, which was a mix of rum and watermelon tonic with a slither of cucumber. A pleasant and refreshing summer garden drink, but a touch watery.
Overall, they’re all the type of light and sweet cocktails you order on the beach and can drink lots of. Prices are £7.50-£8, which is slightly less than similar drinks at bars like Revolucion de Cuba and All Bar One, and quality seems more consistent.
There’s also beer and wine if you ask, but it’s not on the menu. The bar is also card only.
And the food?
There’ll be a rotating kitchen residency, starting with London’s Lime Hut, who are doing fusion Caribbean tapas for the first three weeks. The menu includes small bites like sweet potato and kale croquettes and jerk fish tacos, although I didn’t get to try it on my visit as the kitchen didn’t appear open.
Apparently the owner of Lime Hut is originally from Reading, which is a nice connection, but it’s a shame not to see one of Reading’s home-grown street food vendors, such as Peru Sabor or even I Love Paella invited to run the kitchen, Maybe they’ll get an invite next time, when the kitchen rotates.
What’s the crowd like?
Young, energetic and looking for a new place to drink. Most of the crowd I chatted to while waiting for my cocktails mentioned it was good to see a new cocktail bar opening in Reading, especially along the river, where good cocktails are sparse.
I visited on a Friday and it proved popular with the post-work crowd, filling up at about 5.30pm with lots of 20-somethings in suits, and couples on double dates before thinning out at about 7pm. As I left, a second more night-out-focused crowd were arriving and two bouncers took their positions at the door. So, I expect it will become more energetic later on at night.
So, what’s the verdict?
You’ll like it if you’re a fan of the Beach Bar, the Apres Bar or Caffeine and Cocktails on a Saturday night. Casa Bacardi is fun, light-hearted and laid back, plus you can enjoy the sunset from that glass ceiling, but you’re never more than a foot away from a Bacardi logo. When the sun is out, I could happily spend an hour here after work, rum cocktail in hand.
Reading Council rarely approve licences for bars these days, both The Botanist and Revolucion de Cuba went through rounds of changes before they got approved, so it’s interesting to see a bar open along the prominent Oracle Riverside. I hope the success of Casa Bacardi means the unit continues as a bar, because, frankly, we really don’t need more casual dining chain restaurants, and it turns out that part of town could really do with a more exciting place to grab an after work drink than Las Iguanas or Slug and Lettuce.
If what you want is a really good quality cocktail or a more exciting rum selection though, you’ll do better to head to Reading’s indie gem Milk Bar.
Casa Bacardi – permanently closed
Unit 1, Riverside Level, The Oracle Centre, Reading, RG1 2AG.
Open 11.30am-11.30pm Monday – Thursday, 11.30am-12.30am Friday – Saturday, 11.30am-10.30pm Sunday. View website.
Hello! I'm Claire, the founding editor of Explore Reading. I'm a Reading native and former digital director of Time Out Shanghai. I founded Explore Reading so no one can say, ‘there’s nothing to do in Reading’, again. When not editing Explore Reading, I'm probably drinking a Manhattan.