Drive through this small town on a weekday in daylight and it might seem like a fairly unassuming destination in the Swansea Valley. But this is a place that once boasted a bouncing nightlife scene that included a thriving pub culture, a huge annual festival and a notorious nightclub that made national headlines for its chaotic Saturday night drink offers and the carnage that followed.

Many of those who grew up in Pontardawe and the surrounding areas might have fond - or not so fond - memories of their first drinks in local rugby clubs and pubs in the town. You could start your night off at your favourite local and then go on to Mamas Paradise (formerly Paradise) nightclub or the late-night pub Kitty's if you wanted to party until the early hours of the morning. If all that drinking and dancing made you hungry - which it usually did - you could finish it all off with a greasy kebab from a nearby takeaway.

But visit Ponty today and you'll find far fewer options for places to drink and be merry. While there are still quite a few pubs on the scene with a host of devoted regulars, it seems Pontardawe has become less of a party destination and more of place to enjoy a meal or a few pints before going home or heading elsewhere to carry on the night. The difference could not be more stark considering revellers used to travel from across South Wales to enjoy a night out on its high street. Join our WhatsApp news community here for the latest breaking news.

Sion Patridge, 44, works at The Pontardawe Inn and described it as a "community hub"
Sion Patridge, 44, works at The Pontardawe Inn and described it as a "community hub"
Umut Akia, 33, owns kebab house Emma's in Pontardawe
Umut Akia, 33, owns kebab house Emma's and said he had to reduce staff members as customer numbers continued to dwindle
Natalie Davies and Edi Akici both work at Flames and Emma's kebab houses in Pontardawe.
Natalie Davies and Edi Akici both work at Flames and Emma's kebab houses in Pontardawe. Both businesses have reduced hours since the closure of local pubs and late-night venues

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Pontardawe is also know for its annual festival, aptly named Pontardawe Festival or 'Ponty Fest'. While it's not the large folk festival it once was - with marquees, a number of stages, and people camping the entire weekend - the annual weekender now takes place in pubs across the town with live music acts and it's one of the busiest times of the year locally. But the town's tradition of live music has landed some venues in hot water recently. In 2022, hundreds signed a petition defending live music pub the Other Place after the council ordered it to turn the volume down.

In recent years, pubs, bars and late-night venues including the Dynevor Arms, Kitty's and Bar 98 have closed in the town and some locals say younger people are now travelling out of the area for their nights out. You can get more Swansea news and other story updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletters here.

The popular Mamas Paradise nightclub in Pontardawe
The popular Mamas Paradise used to offer cheap deals on alcohol and would get very busy on the weekends
Inside Mama's Paradise
The club would sell drinks from as little as 10p

The Dynevor Arms pub has been empty since its closure and - in a move that seems to be a sign of the times- an application was approved in August 2021 by Neath Port Talbot Council to convert the building into a block of flats.

Pontardawe Town councillor Meirion Davies claimed one of the big issues with Pontardawe's nightlife scene was the ongoing problem with noise complaints. He said a "minority" of residents disliked the live music and noise from local pubs and tensions worsened after the lockdowns of the Covid 19 pandemic.

"Residents were against Kitty's and the Dynevor being there but when the flats planning application went in they were against that too. The money in Ponty has gone. The minority has won over the majority. As soon as the festival goes on, you watch the complaints coming in," he said. "I'm annoyed because in the pandemic, everything was quiet. Ponty was quiet and people got used to it. When Ponty started opening back up, that's when the complaints started coming."

Late-night venue 'Kitty's' closed in 2022
Late-night venue 'Kitty's' closed in 2022
The Other Place, Pontardawe
The Other Place, Pontardawe

Cllr Davies also said getting a taxi home from pubs in Pontardawe after 9.30pm was now more difficult. He claimed this was due to local cabs having to take younger revellers to Neath thanks to the lack of local late-night venues.

The loss of venues like Paradise and Kitty's has also affected local fast food shops and taxi businesses. Thanks to the lockdowns and restrictions of a global pandemic, a cost-of-living crisis, a suffering hospitality industry and the subsequent closure of pubs across Pontardawe, kebab shop owners Umut and Orhan have had a tough few year as business owners.

"Friday and Saturday it used to be non-stop in here but now I'm thinking no-one is here," said Umut Akia, 33, owner of Emma's Pizza & Kebab shop in Herbert Street. "The late night venues have closed in Ponty and everyone's going to Swansea or Neath now. Everywhere closes too early."

Umut said he had to reduce staff members and understood that both customers and business owners were struggling financially at the moment. Umut's uncle, Orhan Babahan, 44, owns Flames, a kebab shop located at the other end of Pontardawe's town centre. He was also forced to reduce his opening hours due to the number of pubs and late-night venues closing down over the years.

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Orhan listed off the many bars and clubs he once called neighbours but explained The Castle was the only pub near his shop that still remained open in 2024. "People aren't out so there's no point in opening," he said. "When I came in 2016, it was more popular. Emma's would close at 4am. Flames would close at 5am sometimes. Then Mama's [Paradise] closed and people didn't stay out as late." Last weekend, both Emma's and Flames closed at midnight because there were so few customers.

On what the future held for his business, Orhan said: "I think everyone is worried. We're tight on budgets to pay staff and drivers. Some weeks you don't make any money at all. Just opening the doors costs £500-800 a night."

Meanwhile, Craig James and his father Michael said they have seen a huge decline in business at their taxi service 'Pontardawe Taxis' since the closure of nearby pub Kitty's in 2022. The family business has been running for 26 years but in the past couple of years, the father and son have witnessed the drop in people needing taxis after a night out.

The business used to employ 14 drivers on a Saturday night to get everyone home safe, said Craig. "We now run one or two drivers as it's a ghost town. I had some of my best memories in Mama's and Kitty's and I do miss our nightlife here it's sad," he said.

Former landlord of The Other Place, Andrew Davies, 52, first started working on Pontardawe's pub scene when he was just 20. 'Nightlife in Ponty was amazing then," said Andrew on the atmosphere of the town in the '80s. "It was bouncing, you had all the pubs. You're talking from the Ivy Bush down, they were all open. At that point, you could go down to the nightclub [Paradise] where we would finish off."

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In 2004, after years of working in various pubs in the town, Andrew took the plunge and bought his own pub on Ynysderw Road. Andrew was hoping to attract an older clientele at The Other Place as he felt there was nowhere for that demographic to go at the time. It became a popular sports bar which later expanded with a car park and beer garden.

While he sold the pub after the pandemic for personal reasons, Andrew said he loved working on Pontardawe's pub scene for so many years but has seen big changes. "The nightlife isn't there anymore. You haven't got the footfall anymore because you haven't got the nightlife. I pray it's going to come back. I want the village to come back," he said.

Andrew described Pontardawe Festival as a vital lifeline for many of the pubs in the area. "It's a music festival for the village. That will make people survive for a year. If you speak to most of the pub landlords, when they get their quiet times that will get them through it," he said.

Despite the difficulties facing the nightlife scene in Pontardawe and other towns across the nation, there are some examples of thriving local pubs that are still able to serve the community. The Pontardawe Inn is one of the busier pubs left in the area and while it's owned by pub-chain Marston's, Sion Patridge and his fiancée Michelle Solomon live locally and run the pub together.

While other pubs have had issues with noise complaints, Sion said he had a good relationship with the council and took various measures to keep the volume as low as possible while still putting on weekly live music. However, he said he avoided hosting live music in his pub garden despite being licensed to do so to avoid "annoying" some people.

He explained the annual festival was a "different kettle of fish" though as it was a weekend of back-to-back live music, but said it brought a lot of business to his pub and the local area. As a dog-friendly venue located on a beautiful cycle path, serving classic pub grub and closing at 1am on Fridays and Saturdays, the pub has a laid-back feel that is less targeted towards hardcore party-goers than some of the pubs of Pontardawe's past.

The pub will host this year's first Pride Festival and Sion helps organise markets in the area as well as supporting local fundraising initiatives. "Ponty could 100% do with having some money spent on it. But from a business point of view, what we're doing here is causing us to be a community hub. We are the centre of the community," he said.

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