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Saturday, 26 June 2010

Underwater Karaoke

Cyan Bar & Rest, 14 Stewart Street, Milngavie, G62 6BW
Maryhill Tavern, 1850 Maryhill Road, G20 0HD

In my office we replace the scanner/printer cartridges every fortnight or so. Every time it’s my turn (messy job you see) I always seem to have the cyan colour. But I’d never really taken notice of the exact tone that the name signified until a new place opened in the suburbs.

Milngavie to be exact; “Down in the village” as the locals describe it, in the back square, Stewart Street. I know the town from teenage years, the wee circuit starting in Illusions, ending in the Cross Keys or The Black Bull. This site, near the taxi office and the chippy was not in drinking-use back then, but in the years since a Mexican bar and eatery named Sals Famous did well for a time, providing a slightly more sophisticated experience.

Cyan Bar & Rest may be attempting similar. Futuristic white-moulded furniture occupies both areas, the restaurant and the bar. The bar area comes first, the floor also white with large square tiling. The bar counter itself continues the white theme and with the white walls also, there is a uniformity bordering on the bland, the monochrome needing a contrast somewhere. This may come with the blue-cyan by any chance?- Absolut bottles sitting in two regular rows in an Ikea-ish unit on the wall behind the bar. Nothing else catches the eye on this back bar counter.

We take our drinks to the low sofa seating at coffee tables in the corner, passing a stack of home interior design magazines, not reading material you would expect in a traditional bar, but in keeping here. The colour cyan, I am told, is one of a spectrum of colours such as teal, turquoise and aquamarine. The remainder of the place’s name, Bar & Rest (deliberately shortened) reveals the intent. This is a place of repose, recuperation and relaxation, a spa in a bar. The Muse confirms this with her analysis of the lemon hand cream in the Ladies, definitely the kind of product found in restorative institutions.

I can get the sanctuary idea, a place to retreat from the stresses of outside, but can’t quite go with the association of alcohol with massages, facials and bodily rejuvenations. And the smooth luxury effect is undermined by a decimated bunch of lilies and missing tea lights on the coffee tables. The abstract art on the walls of both the bar and restaurant areas signed Roscal provokes some interest, making the observer feel somewhat foolish on discovering later that the canvases are merely the doodle work of the owner, David Cowan.

In the ceiling blue halogen lights are designed to continue the cyan theme but they are sore on the eyes and do not soothe. But they do get us talking about colour again, and I say I initially thought of sea green as the closest to cyan. “And you could be under the sea in here” I say to The Muse. And that gets her thinking, bringing in Jules Verne to the conversation. Maybe that’s the future suggested by the predominant furniture. Sci-fi novels. This could be how living-quarter pods set deep beneath the waves or floating in the ultimate darkness of outer space will look.

The restaurant area, apart from the furniture, is more of this century, warmer with reds, wooden floor and roses on the tables. The menu, incidentally, is rather simple bistro-style, with emphasis upon finger food and family-friendly favourites. But I’m sure it is presented in an up-to-the-minute fashion. And from what I’ve heard since, it is steadily prospering, and satisfying the locals, a prerequisite in the ‘burbs.

At least four of the tables are occupied through there on this Saturday night. Quiet certainly, but not alarmingly so, as it is in here. The high bar-stools remain empty for the hour we remain, apart from a staff member finished for the evening. Two couples sit round the corner from us and that’s it apart from the young blood of four late teens early twenties who arrive late-on, looking like it’s their first time here too.

Part of the problem is that the standing space between the tables and the bar isn’t properly defined, discouraging that option. It’s like a big white canvas that everyone’s afraid to spoil with their dirty feet. Maybe the large space will be filled when it gets busy, but when will that be?

And what will the drinkers be listening to? We had jazz for the first half hour of our visit but it’s been replaced by some unremarkable soul/R&B. The soundtracks here are supposed to be customised for this venue by one of the companies that do this nowadays. Whoever is compiling or operating the sounds has had a failure of nerve, thinking the clientele couldn’t handle jazz all night.

The owner appears, fresh from a stint in the restaurant. I’m sure Mr. Cowan is a nice guy but tonight, dressed all in black, his presence is doleful. Maybe takings are down or he is unimpressed with the turnout in the bar. But I’m afraid his presence isn’t going to get any more punters in the door. The staff member is still sitting on the stool, he’s not helping either. There’s reasons why establishments ban their staff from drinking in their own place of work. One of them is that their presence in a quiet bar just emphasises the lack of paying customers.

Overall, Cyan may be the shape of things to come. It certainly looks different from most bars around today, but its overt smoothness is a little too much, like a face botoxed too often, sometimes ‘lived-in’ looks so much better, makes everyone feel more comfortable.

For the bar component of Cyan to be a success it will have to attract a good mix of drinkers young and old, and encourage diners to come through for a nightcap. This isn’t yet happening, as we find out. We have moved on to the Talbot Arms round the corner in the pedestrian precinct, a traditional boozer with wooden floors, dart board, club noticeboard and old furniture. Old-time’s sake even though it wasn’t officially on the old pub trail being a little out of the way and seen as completely old-school. Fifteen minutes into our drink and we see two couples from the restaurant at Cyan walk in and settle down to finish their night in the Talbot. More work is required at Cyan.

Our night is not over though. The Muse mentioned earlier that she was feeling peckish but we were put off asking for a wee nibble in Cyan by the owner’s countenance. So it is a detour from the straightforward route home to Glasgow’s unluckiest postcode. It will be Maryhill, round here you won’t get something this late.

Chinese it is, one of a variety of choices at the north end of Maryhill Road. While we wait we cross to the Maryhill Tavern. Even by local standards this is a modest-looking pub, under a two-storey house rather than a tenement. Next door is Jumping Jack’s – not related to the Sauchiehall Street club – which goes in and out of business and now seems totally extinct.There’s hardly a fraction of the pubs there used to be on this main thoroughfare, sign of the change in ways people, ahem, relax.

The Muse is a little nervous as we sip our beverages. “What’s the problem?” I ask, “this is a community pub.” She chokes on her G&T. And in some ways it is, in that it’s peopled by locals who all seem to know each other. I point this out but it’s not reassuring my partner, who brings in the cliché about contempt and familiarity.

Undeterred I’m getting into the karaoke that’s going on, unusual for me. After a couple of songs I tell The Muse I’m impressed with the standard of the singing, and the seriousness with which each participant is applying themselves. “You know we were talking about undersea worlds earlier,” she replies. I nod. “Well, I wish some of these folk were singing underwater.”

In the Chinese, our order is not quite ready, must be a backlog. Suddenly the karaoke rivalry I’d detected earlier spills into the takeaway, inter-spousal rivalry at that. The worst kind. Threats are being issued, countered, then increased in volume and tone. Now the mobiles are out and the woman is bringing other people into the argument, her in-laws it appears. Her man had, one way or the other, removed her from the karaoke stage and now there is hell to pay.

The Muse moves away from the trouble, but it quickly disperses into the street and out of earshot. The little serving lady, who is dwarfed by the high takeaway counter, has seen my lady’s discomfort, and tells her, “We don’t often have that kind of thing in here.” A likely story.

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