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Friday, 11 June 2010

How Was Your Night?

Chinaski's, 239 North Street, G3 7DL
The Avalon, 25 Kent Road, G3 7EH
Brass Monkey, 1004 Argyle Street, G3 8LZ
Lebowski's, 1008 Argyle Street, G3 8LX
Oranmor, 731 Great Western Road, G12 8QX

The first thing you notice about Black Sparrow is the folk outside on North Street pavement. Smokers of course. Kettled by branded barriers and warmed by the latest in outdoor heating. Reminds me of the early days of the smoking ban when driving along a main thoroughfare such as Dumbarton Road or Maryhill Road, and experiencing some sort of reverie noticed people standing on the pavement outside buildings, groups all along the streets, and wondered why. Then I would remember the reason. It wasn’t a fire drill.

I think the owners would like to have an area out back just like the neighbouring Chinaski’s. On a recent Friday night visit to that bar I noticed heavy wooden picnic tables set out behind Black Sparrow. They were unused, possibly due to licensing problems. If so, a pity for the proprietors, because Chinaski’s smoking provision gives it a distinct advantage. Set on two levels the area comes into its own on balmy evenings, becoming almost a bar on its own. But this night was far from mild and the apparent removal of part of the roof and windbreak – again maybe licensing issues – increased the chill factor. We retreated indoors faster than anticipated, cigar only half-finished.

Why do I like Chinaski’s? Begin at the door. It’s a very discreet, seemingly narrow entrance redolent of a continental or American back-street bar. The service is quick and knowledgeable, the food above average for a bar and you can eat at the bar itself without being made to feel awkward. The aforementioned smoking area is in the top five for the city, a perfect use of space. Clientele-wise the mix is good, a non-threatening crowd of different ages, safe but interesting; urban professionals, creatives, students and ageing loungers who’ve been tossed like flotsam by the ebb and flow of Glasgow’s nightlife for too many years.

Chinaski’s may have been the first bar in the city to go with the cushioned bar counter and full glass gantry. It certainly was one of the pioneering bars to prove that a credible joint could exist outside the town centre and the traditional west end. And it did so inheriting a site that had seen the failure of Bar Jedi and The Halcyon Bar. On the downside the toilets could be revamped, they’re too small and a bit untidy. And although I’ve praised the crowd here, sometimes familiarity can breed a cliquey feeling. Also, it can on occasions be slow to get going but that’s maybe a reflection on me, running out on the place before it gets the chance to warm-up, and when it has, I’m somewhere else.

On this occasion I’d gone round the corner to The Avalon. A far more traditional-looking place and been in existence a fair few years longer. Last time I visited, some three to four years back it had been busy with locals, regulars and middle-aged shoppers who had lingered longer than intended. That biz had disappeared tonight. Only three other blokes in the main bar and about the same number of couples through in the lounge. They were listening to a stout crooner with a witty introduction to each song in his repertoire that ranged from Michael Buble to Judy Garland.

Apart from that it was all pretty depressing, this quiet on a Friday. Still, the bar staff were good and chatty, wasted on a dead pub. Just like the singer. He should try for the next BGT, if that’s the acronym for the programme watched by those who don’t go out on a Saturday. I promised my companions for the night – who included LJ – a pick-up in pace so we headed west.

It was their first time in Brass Monkey, Argyle Street. My review was enthusiastic some months back so they expected quite a lot. They peered in the big windows before entering the busy space inside. The party had started before us it seemed. Plenty of folk inside and a DJ at the corner of the bar playing 80s indie. My pals moved to one side and before I could move after them an acquaintance cornered me. I hadn’t realised he drank here. For almost half an hour he went on about one of his business ventures – importing vintage Volkswagen Beetles I believe - while I was missing the atmosphere and a round I’m sure my mates got squeezed in during my absence. Eventually I prised the guy out of my personal space and sought out my pals to get us moving again. I took some satisfaction that they seemed reluctant to leave.

Lebowski’s was even busier. 80s music again, this time the DJ playing with house music. Jingo, Ride a White Horse and one track we couldn’t name were the stand-outs. This place continues to thrive and deserves it for being one of the forerunners in design over the last five years – exposed stone, designer wallpaper et al – and for helping the resurgence of G3, just like Chinaski’s. And it too is named after a drop-out character from popular American fiction.

I picked up a flyer for Boho. The re-launch supposedly. That may mean it has got back its 3am licence. The last time I was there it was a pedestrian 2 o’clock when we were ushered out. Talking of flyers, Gazelle nearby is advertising club passes available behind its bar. It and the other bars close by, Neighbourhood, The Ivy etc are competing strongly for the Finnieston pound, offers abounding. Food and drink offers all week, booth hire, free WiFi. Neighbourhood even puts its inside furniture outside on good days. Leather(ish) couches sit on the Berkeley Street pavement in a move that at first glance, in certain areas, would look like flitters or irresponsible tenants had dumped their unwanted settee.

Just as we were deciding on what was next I got a text from The Muse. She was up in Oranmor with work colleagues. A swift taxi followed my companions’ agreement. We missed the pre-midnight queues outside Oranmor upstairs to get in quickly but no sign of The Muse or her friends. Some time later I discovered they were next door in the Cocktail Bar. To get there you have to go outside to the separate Great Western Road entrance to the Brasserie. It caused me some confusion at the time but is a sensible move to avoid the small cocktail bar being flooded by numbers coming through from the big main bar.

In there it was busy enough anyway. I compared notes for the night with The Muse and her women. Evidently they had been talking to Jim McDonald from Coronation Street – sorry but he is better known as the character than the actor – and had got photos and autographs. I couldn’t contain myself. There might even have been some other thespians lying around the bar somewhere, what with Oranmor’s theatrical connections but I didn’t look, nor inspect the place closely enough for a decent review, that will come anon, when things are less blurry. What is memorable is the five floors you have to travel up in the lift to get to the toilets, a strange thing to do in a restored church. And the toilets themselves are a bit dishevelled, as if after a certain time of night the staff stop checking them.

After a lift to the main road near our home The Muse and I walking the couple of hundred yards to our door came upon a staggering guy in his twenties, Fila tracksuit on his top but only boxer shorts as company for his legs. My partner had her eyes on the guy more than me; I was probably searching for my notebook to jot down his observations upon the evening. “Give me your phone and everything you’ve got,” he demanded in a not too convincing tone. I must have paused at that, but then we were past him and onward again. He took a swing at me I’m told by The Muse but he was that far wide with it I didn’t notice.

Anyway, home safe and fit enough to write again.


  1. I think The Gazelle is now deceased

  2. Hi Cosby

    Thanks for your comment. Re. Gazelle the information I had was that it was shut during the week, only opening at the weekends. But going past there on Wednesday night it was open for business.