Swansea: everything you need to know

The town Dylan Thomas described as 'ugly lovely' is set to become the most happening place in Britain. Maybe. David Atkinson reports
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Wales is hip - it's official. Newport is the new Seattle - thanks to the pronouncements of Neil Strauss, New York's number one rock 'n' roll critic - and weird and wonderful bands such as Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Super Furry Animals have sprouted like mushrooms in Pembroke Dock and Bangor. But Swansea? Get real.

Could Swansea ever be a breeding ground for cool? Well, cool can grow in the most barren of places. Tomorrow, the long-awaited film Twin Town receives its gala premiere. "This film will put Swansea on the map," proclaims Kevin Allen, brother of Keith and Twin Town's writer/director. "It's a kind of acid love-letter to my teenage years spent in the city. It saddens me that Wales still has this stereotypical image. There's a youth movement out there which has nothing to do with daffodils and mines."

The film is already assured cult status, having been billed as the "Welsh Trainspotting". Its pill-popping protagonists are car-stealing, drug- peddling, havoc-raising twin brothers, played by Llyr Evans and Rhys Ifans, who turn to hedonism to escape grim urban reality - antics inspired by the generation hanging around Swansea's street corners.

Another two films, both set amid the terraced side streets of Swansea's Uplands area, are due for release later this year - Darklands and the Thelma-and-Louise-reminiscent The James Gang. Swansea could be about to be transformed from the place that Dylan Thomas once described as an "ugly lovely town" into the most happening place in Britain. Maybe...

Not everybody is convinced. "Swansea is the cultural desert of Wales," laughs Cardiff-based playwright Ed Thomas. Others say there's plenty of cool fun to be had in that desert sand. "I've lived in Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol, but Swansea has the nuttiest people I've ever met," says Paul Whittaker, 31, entertainments manager at Swansea University. "A lot of people go surfing and they're dead laid-back and chilled-out. People make their own parties in coves at the Gower peninsula and young people can bum off and camp for the whole summer."

Apart from the cove parties, Swansea has a thriving night-life. "There are two or three decent clubs with regular nights. There's so much going on, but there's not a lot of people to experience it all," says Whittaker. That might change if the great, the good and the trendy descend on Swansea. Main clubs are Funked Up, Britpop club Wonderful, and Space Base where the skateboarders hang out. Code Club, a recently opened cafe-bar and nightclub, plays host to Adventures in Sound, which attracts Swansea's coolest Saturday-night crowd with hard house and big beats.

Louise Davies, 19, a DJ at Code Club, remains sceptical. Chilled-out is not how she would describe the atmosphere. "I wouldn't call Swansea cool. It's getting rough and there's a lot more attitude, especially off girls," she says. "People come out for a drink and there's lots of fights. There are a few places to go. I go to the club Escape."

Not cool then? "It depends on the age," says Emma Billings, 23, a receptionist at Ty Llen literature centre. "There's a lot of potential but it doesn't always materialise. People are a bit slack. There are lots of good musicians in and around Swansea but things don't always come together. There are quite a lot of up-and-coming bands here. The Groundnuts and The Baby Cheeses are local bands playing punky music. They did a gig on Monday in a little club in Mumbles called Neptune, and it was really busy."

And Swansea is even showing signs of sartorial elegance. "There has been a massive boom in designer stuff," says Whittaker. "One shop, Tempo, used to do horrible sparkly shirts and flowery ties, but now they sell Paul Smith and Calvin Klein. Also, Foundation do the latest stuff in skateboarding and snowboarding labels. What other cities achieve in 12 years, Swansea has done in six."

Twin Town opens nationwide on 11 April.

Additional reporting: Cayte Williams

COOL SWANSEA: the seeker's guide

Where to eat:

Cafe Mambo, 46 The Kingsway. Tel: 01792 456620. Mexican cuisine, friendly service, cool decor and frozen margaritas. Enough said.

Where to drink:

No Sign Wine Bar, 56 Wind Street. Tel: 01792 655332.

Wood-panelled traditional hostelry with a maritime theme.

Where to go clubbing:

Escape, Northampton Lane, off Kingsway. Tel: 01792 417225. Entrance fee from pounds 6. Pumping techno, bar staff doing a roaring trade in bottled water and bouncers who look amazed when you're not carrying drugs.

Where to get culture:

Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Alexandra Road. Tel: 01792 655006.

Where to get fresh air:

Maritime and Industrial Museum. Tel: 01792 470371.

Waterfront location in the Marina Quarter.

Where to stay:

Fairyhill Hotel, Reynoldston, Gower. B&B from pounds 70 per night. Tel: 01792 390139.

Where to stay on a budget:

Seychelles Guest House, Oystermouth Road, Swansea. B&B pounds 12 per night - but just don't go asking for extra orange juice or toast the next morning.