The oldest wine bar in Wales is raising a toast to a special vintage. The highly-popular Gales of Llangollen is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The anniversary also marks a 30-year association between Richard Gale and Michael Coxey, who is now a firm friend too.
According to Richard, the success of the business was in no small part due to the sound advice he had received from Michael over the years.
He said: “There is a difference between book-keepers and accountants – Michael is an exceptionally good accountant. He is a business partner in the sense that gives you good advice that is to your advantage and not necessarily to the tax man’s advantage. Michael’s expertise is invaluable.”
For his part, Michael said that Gales had been very good for the area. He added: “There’s nowhere else like it. It’s known throughout North Wales and people from abroad come in all the time. People now know of the wine bar worldwide. The wine bar was a very new concept when Richard opened for business in 1977.
Originally a farmer’s son from Dorset, it was also something of a departure for Richard himself. The wine bar is housed an 18th century town house while the adjacent annexe dates back even farther to 1676. Over the years the business has evolved and now includes 15 en-suite bedrooms for guests and a wine shop. With Llangollen being the home of the International Musical Eisteddfod, the reputation of Gales has reached far and wide. And the fine wine and bonhomie has gained almost legendary status with visiting television crews who invariably make a bee line to Gales if they’re filming anywhere in the vicinity.
There was no inkling of what lay ahead, though, when Richard took the first steps on his career path. After gaining a degree in mathematics, he became a “bean counter” with Heinz initially before working as a product planner with British Tissues.
Richard recalled: “I had always enjoyed wine, from university days and then I started to buy wine at auctions with friends and we always enjoyed wine. I used to go to the wine bars in Windsor with a friend of mine who was also working for British Tissues. He moved to live up here in Llangollen and I used to come up to visit the Wrexham factory. And whenever he needed to be in London he used to stay with us. I remember one night in 1976 we were having a drink while we waited for a table he joked: ‘the amount of money you spend in this place you might as well open your own wine bar’. It was actually a toss up between opening here or in Lyme Regis which is where my parents lived. The idea of establishing a wine bar in Llangollen wasn’t universally popular when it was first proposed. There was opposition from the Licensed Victuallers’ Association and a protest during a meeting of the local council. But after a tricky licensing session at the magistrates court, Gales was eventually given the go- ahead – and the rest is history. The locals thought we’d be closed in two weeks and they only gave us two weeks because we weren’t locals ourselves! It was a revolutionary concept for North Wales. There was a wine bar in Chester but this is the first in Wales as far as I’m concerned. Llangollen is so well known the world over. This is such a beautiful area, it has everything from an aqueducts, water, castles, abbeys, historic houses, a steam railways, everything. I love it.”