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Sunday, 8 November 2009

10th Anniversary for Republic Bier Halle


The Republic Bier Halle in Gordon Street, last week celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Unusually for such birthdays it does seem as if this famous venue has been around for longer than the advertised timespan but we’ll take their word for it.
Since revealing its subterranean minimalism to Glasgow in the last year of the last millennium the Bier Halle has been a firm favourite on the city centre bar circuit. While its basic look and image may not be quite as cutting edge as when it opened, the bar and its spin-offs have given one great legacy to drinking in this country, being the first venue to offer a large range of beers under one roof.
The owner, Colin Barr had been a well-kent face on the Glasgow nightclub and bar scene since the early to mid-eighties. His previous ventures had included nightclubs such as Volcano, and The Tunnel and he had been involved in the beginnings of the realisation of the style bar as a concept in this city. By the late nineties he was looking for a different direction, the antithesis in fact. The inspiration came from Barr’s visits to middle- Europe, specifically the vast Bier Halles that part of the world is famed for. Rows and rows of wooden benches; punters served by attentive, ever-busy serving staff bearing foaming Steins; no-nonsense venues geared only for the appreciation of beer.
Barr transplanted and translated this concept to a moderate-sized basement site in the city centre. He brought the wooden tables and benches, and added neo-industrial touches like rocks on the walls caged with wire mesh. A utilitarian look to contrast with what had come before in Glasgow. But it was, of course, a style in itself, anti-style if you like.
From the beginning though, the main attraction was the huge range of schnapps and, more prominently, beers. Over 130 from across the world was the original offering. It was fun to close the massive beer menu, think of a country, any country, and then open the menu to find, yes, that they were selling at least two beers from that country. It was a chance to see a Jeroboam of beer sitting on the end of the bar; an opportunity to enjoy beer as you would wine, comparing regions and subtle flavours, savouring not guzzling your drink; and an introduction, personally, to the delightful fruit beers of Belgium.
Maybe it differed from the large, bright, raucous halls from the Germanic part of Europe I myself had experienced while on holiday, but it was our version and it worked.
Riding on the success of the Bier Halle, Barr introduced another outlet, this time on the south side of the city, Bier Halle Stube on Kilmarnock Road. In the meantime other outlets had arrived offering the same wide range of beers. The Beer Café on Candleriggs boasted eleven draught beers and over 50 bottled. Pivo Pivo (Beer Beer!) on Waterloo Street went further with over 90 beers on offer. Both suffered though from rather uninspiring, generic interior design and the latter was diminished rather than enhanced by being part of the office after-work circuit.
Despite being at the vanguard of a new type of drinking in the west of Scotland, by 2002, a combination of wider market conditions and the expansion of the G1 group, Barr was forced to re-appraise his portfolio. Stube was sold off, along with a number of other interests.
For a time in Glasgow then the only bar openings seemed to be either the G1 Group or even larger chains such as Wetherspoons. However, independent operators have since returned to the development game, with new concepts or re-imaginings of old-ones. Barr himself opened his first real restaurant venture with Salty Dog, a seafood and cocktail bar. Despite this, itself, being a forerunner in the emergence of cocktails across the city, this was sold on too. But ever the resilient operator, Barr has returned, in recent years, to adding to his Bier Halle mini-chain. Republic Bier Halle West took over the old Oblomov premises on Great Western Road, Kelvinbridge, and Republic Bier Hof opened in the student drag of Sauchiehall Street. Both are rather constrained by their environments. Hof by its student area, where discounting and volumes seem to be more important than discernment, and Halle West, in which the mahogany interior speaks more of its past incarnation rather than the Bier Halle project.
Despite these shortcomings it is good to have at least couple more pubs where you can enjoy a decent range of beers. And that is probably the living legacy of the Bier Halle decade. Bars where fad is not the thing, an aping of previously successful styles neither. No, places where service and range and quality of product are the key.
Now this message is finally getting across in Glasgow, with the last 3 to 4 years with new ventures such as Chinaskis, Black Sparrow and Citation being notable examples.
The one outlet that does though seem to spring directly from the Hoffe example is West at the Templeton Building near Glasgow Green. This restaurant, bar and in-house brewery produces its own range in accordance with the German beer purity law, brewing light golden lagers to dark wheat beers. This place’s authenticity is such that Mr. Barr himself can be seen endorsing it on YouTube.
Ten years of Republic Beer Halle has brought us much fun and beers. Okay, the slow table service sometimes lets down the concept, the range of drinks is not what it once was, and the unisex sinks in the WCs can be confusing – but maybe that was because I’d had one too many Tuskers from Kenya or Crocodiles from Sweden. But anywhere that has introduced me to Raspberry Frambozen well merits a birthday celebration.

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