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Thursday, 22 April 2010

A Cambridge Punt

Mackintosh's, 101 Cambridge Street, G3 6RU

We were resigned to returning to Ladbrokes to watch the Scottish National. All the pubs we had tried – Drop on Waterloo Street, The Universal and Monkey Bar in Sauchiehall Lane - had the standard Sky feed into all of their many TVs. We required Channel 4 racing.

“At least we’ll get free coffee and soft drinks in the bookies” someone had said. Correct. But I wanted more. Leaving my companions I headed across Cambridge Street telling them I would return if unsuccessful.

Walking past The Cambridge Bar I could see no screens and didn’t bother to investigate further as the last time there I’d been unimpressed. At that time it was The Waldorf and I saw no reason why a name change, precipitated by a gangland shooting at its doorstep, would improve the joint.

All that was left was Mackintosh’s a bit further north along the street. Previously I’d just walked past this pub on my way from the office into town, not particularly attracted by its modest exterior and mock-Elizabethan lettering. I’d even popped in to the Thistle Hotel bar on one occasion and quickly regretted that decision.

I went for the public bar entrance. Bingo. Horse racing on the TV mounted behind the bar. After a brief check with the barmaid to make sure the race was coming on I was o phoning my pals to pass on the good news.

I ordered a lager while I waited. As expected the prices were good, around the £2.50 mark. What’s more there’s an extra feature to prop yourself up against. A standing prop in front of the main counter, perfect for elbows Somebody else was checking the race was actually on, confused by an English racecourse featuring on the screen. They were quickly re-assured by the barmaid that this was the channel she had been told to put on. Then out from somewhere hidden came a man dressed as a chef. “There’s no peas,” he said to a bloke sitting at the bar, then left from where he had come.

Looking around I could see the Tudor theme had continued inside with black wooden beams crisscrossing the ceiling. I’ve said before that in general I don’t like the ‘Ye Olde Public House’ look in Glasgow establishments primarily because no pubs here are old enough to be thus authentic. But somehow in here it works. Mainly because the look is not forced, nor overdone, as is shown with the Anaglypta and Artex walls. And because there is continuity with the history of this place in itself. I would put money on the interior looking just like this back in the early 60s when a certain Mrs. Mary Foster was the licensee. And according to research this is the only pub in the street that hasn’t changed name or shape.

Ah, sure enough, the barmaid was correct and the coverage switched to Ayr with five minutes to spare. There was a murmur of relief from the few folk at the bar and tables. The rest of my party then arrived and we all were served in time for the race start.

Some time after it was over I took myself to the toilets expecting, I suppose, the kind of inexorable decay you find in conveniences within pubs perhaps well past their heydays. But nothing of the sort in here; it was sparkling. Many years since a refurb but so what when it is this clean. Indeed, the way it looks it could be a template for the retro look of the future, especially the tiny sinks.

I left by another door that took me in to the lounge bar. The tartan upholstery in the booths there along with the old photos gives Mackintosh’s a good sense of place to go with its idiosyncrasies. I returned to the public bar to see the guy at the bar tucking in to his steak pie and mash, minus the peas. Hope he enjoyed it; we were leaving.

By the way my horse didn’t win. Still made money on it though. You can do the same with Mackintosh’s. Go for it each way as a place to stop by in a quiet part of town. You can’t lose.

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