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Thursday, 7 January 2010


How was it for you? No, not your presents. Your nightlife over Xmas. Not the greatest? Well, there are reasons for that…
The festive period offers the drinker a wide range of possibilities. But it helps if you have a plan, because this time of year, the crowds, the prices, the weather, or any combination of the above can ruin the rewards of spontaneity. And that’s before you even consider the stramashes which are unique to this time of year and which can occur any night, especially ‘Black-Eyed Friday’ the notorious evening when it seems that every office is having its Xmas bash.
What I tend to do – a plan formulated over many good and bad experiences – is to head to drinkerys I know will provide at least a reasonable night, and avoid clubs and cover-charging events unless politeness insists.
Sticking to the devil you know ensures a base line below which your night will not plunge. And if it does, your plan will ensure you have a fallback. Clubs are mostly better and cheaper away from the holiday period and why would you pay money to enter somewhere that is normally free. For example, Hogmanay in Ashton Lane is inferior to many other times of the year such as during the West End Festival or any good early summer evening.
I spent my Hogmanay in Chinaski’s. It was busy but not mobbed. We got a sprinkling of 80’s tunes, easy service, snacks at the bar, heated cigar smoking and a fairly priced Prosecco to toast the bells. It consolidated its consistent status as amongst the top ten bars in the city.
That’s what this time of year does; confirms your thoughts. So for me, Cottiers remains a smug, complacent venue, too full of knowing locals. Its fallen far from the perch it occupied in the 90s. The Common on Byres Road has made no discernible progress since it replaced Russell’s. This is surprising for a venture fronted by the Universal team. The Ivy continues to draw in a consistently large pre-club throng, its move from North Street not halting its momentum. It also offers the best mini-range of foreign beers I’ve seen recently. I will return to this in the New Year. And The Caernarvon remains one of the best for dropping in unannounced, as it were, for a cheap pint out of the bitterly cold weather. The welcome is genuine whether you stand at the bar or rest in one of its famous snugs.
Elsewhere, things continue in December as if it were an ordinary month. The Vroni’s/ All Bar One/ Rogano/ One Up/29 weekend circuit revolves as usual. Spot someone in any of the three former establishments and it’s a fair bet you’ll see them later, upstairs in Royal Exchange Square. They’re still down with the program up there, no matter what the disparagers say. On the Saturday we were there the new theme tune was Black Eyed Peas’ “Tonight’s gonna be…” Not quite cutting edge House but respectable. Some would say.
Christmas Eve remains a quiet night. A far cry from only last century when it was rivalling Hogmanay as a particular night of revelry. The best buzz we got was in the Lismore as we waited to head for a quick bite in Two Figs round the corner. This early evening anticipation grew as a mixed bag of folk began filling the place. Quickly though, it got quiet again, and we were happy to make our exit.
Up Byres Road it was, the evening ending naturally enough in Oranmor upstairs. There was a sufficient lack of numbers for the usual harsh cacophony of conversation – unmediated by background music – to be absent.
However, the Oranmor staff still manage to serve you soda water instead of tonic with your gin. This has happened on a few documented occasions both upstairs and downstairs. On these occasions our complaints were not favourably received either. Those perceived as half-cut invariably experience this reaction.
Downstairs at The Venue Oranmor, they seem to have relaxed their door policy, whilst down the road, its main rival Boho, was strengthening its dress code during the Xmas period. Yes, I did break from my careful plan, but hey, it was Christmas.
And this was an excuse I also heard on my only recent visit to the Ubiquitous Chip. A friend from overseas asked for a cocktail from the downstairs bar. They were met with the response that because of Xmas there were no suppliers thus no berries and other cocktail ingredients. It made me wonder that the new Waitrose just up the road was perhaps a mirage.
This example, and that of Oranmor shows that bars here are still well short of where they could be in adding tourist value to Glasgow and serving the locals properly.
So, for me, none of the rammies often associated with this time of the year but that’s not to say that those unfamiliar with the city at night were not all around me.
And whenever that thought occurs I recall an article from some years ago – possibly from the early days of M8 magazine – in which the writer gave some advice on where to go out at Christmas. They finished by saying that you had to bear in mind, above all else, that this time of year was for amateurs. A good thing to remember as you look back on what may have been a disappointing couple of weeks.

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