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Monday, 30 August 2010

The Top Ten of Summer 2010

I don’t tend to like doing lists, the style here is more freeform and impressionistic, as followers may have gathered. As Dostoevsky said, when asked about his work, “My job is not to reason and compare, but to create”.
But something in the air this time of year makes me want to look back. A wistful time is late summer. Things done; things not done. You think of pubs, too…
And in the very process of turning those thoughts over, hey presto, they suddenly form a list. So its an organic process after all, he convinced himself…
This list of ten from summer 2010 comprises some new bars that have made a good impression, some drinking establishments that really come into their own in the long days and nights of summer and others that continue to pursue excellence.
As they say, in no particular order, here are the ten *

(1) The Drake, 1 Lynedoch Street, Glasgow G3 6EF - An optimistic new beginning for a location that has failed many times. Quirky design- including Easter Island heads on the toilet doors - that is fresh and yet still has that established, clubby feel. Beer garden is hewn out of the tiny area between the building and the back lane; the epitome of a suntrap.

(2) Souter Johnnie’s Inn, 47 Main Street, Kirkoswald, Ayrshire - Inn, coffee house, ice-cream emporium, topped with master-crafted thatched roofs. Despite the scale, this place is the village’s own, a meeting place for good drink and food . Grab a seat or a barrel at the back by the fireplace and the full-length Rabbie, and listen to the night. Even dedicated urbanites will stay well beyond their planned departure time.

(3) The Gun, 27 Coldharbour, Docklands, London E14 9ES -A revelation in a quiet end of Docklands. Two outdoor seating areas giving unparalleled views over the Thames oxbow and the Dome. Barbeques, weddings and all-day birthday parties all catered for in style. Interior as pristine as the antique firearms hung above the bar.

(4) The Quarter Gill, 232 Dumbarton Road, Partick, Glasgow G11 - Now party-central Partick. Old and young come together to sing and listen to karaoke or just drink. A cultural counterpoint to The Liosmore that has come back stronger after its re-brand. Even sitting outside in the sun no longer looks incongruous.

(5) The Bailie, 2-4 St. Stephen Street, Stockbridge, Edinburgh EH3 5AL - An outstanding introduction to the village-within-a-city that is Stockbridge. A darkened interior of black walls and red ceiling is welcoming rather than seedy and the island bar brings punters together. The best improvised smoking area of any basement bar hosts the overspills of gatherings from weddings to wakes. This place even smells as a good pub should.

(6) Waverley Tea Room, 18 Moss Side Road, Shawlands, Glasgow G41 3TN - Adjoined to nightclub Tusk, the awkward narrow interior of the Waverley has been offset with the now excellent two level outside seating area complete with ‘covered’ conservatory. Just a pity it overlooks nothing more than a sleepy side street. The best pre-club buzz in the southside.

*(7) The Inn at Kippen & The Cross Keys, Kippen, Stirlingshire FK8 - Two for one here because they sit virtually back-to-back and offer the ying and yang of countryside hospitality. The Cross Keys is an old, coaching inn (1703) with small rooms, thick stone walls and a humble entrance; The Kippen Inn is rural chic with abundant space and soft furnishings. The beer gardens are contrasting too, both excellent.

(8) French House, 49 Dean Street, Soho, London W1D 5BG - The Resistance, Francis Bacon and Mark Steel in a pork-pie hat come together to create a Soho focal point. With the sash-windows open and the half-pints flowing (no vulgar large measures here) the world and the French House mingle. Don’t know if the legendary, late dandy Sebastian Horsley drank here, but I hope so.

(9) The Thistle Inn, 74 Main Street, Baillieston, Glasgow G69 5SL - A great place to start a pub crawl through Baillieston and beyond. Interior has a touch of the mock-Tudor about it but don’t let that put you off, that or the reputed ghost. Beer garden is spacious and well parasoled. Eavesdrop for colourful stories from the night before, complete with the marks to prove them.

(10) Jinglin’ Geordie, 22 Fleshmarket Close, Old Town, Edinburgh EH1 - A place of rest half-way up the steep Fleshmarket Close. Still overshadowed by The Halfway House – even though it sits above and to the south of its neighbour – Jinglin’ does have the advantage of a designated outdoor area; shabby and amongst the ancient back area of medieval Edinburgh but that is the charm. A more edgy clientele than the Halfway, which can lead to some fun.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Any Port... Part 2

The Quarter Gill, 232 Dumbarton Road, Partick, G11

As I was saying…a good time to get out and away. Not far away though, across the road to The Quarter Gill. A place given its own facelift only two or three years back. A good attempt was made with discerning use of dark wood; fairy lights; ornate, contemporary wallpaper and an extended seating provision to attract a younger, slightly more style-conscious clientele. Nothing too drastic though, nothing that would alienate previous regulars nor detach the pub from its community heritage and connection to the locale.

The refurb was largely successful, attracting a diverse (in Partick that’s a relative term) range of punters. Any time I’ve been in the atmosphere has been appropriate for that particular time; midweek afternoon, quiet Sunday evening or New Year’s Eve – when a friend of mine made a celebrated big mistake with a large, local lady in red.

We entered this Saturday to be greeted by a sweating, heaving mass of folk which rivalled the frantic biz of the above-mentioned Hogmanay. I had squeezed in beside the bar counter beside a pillar bound in rope – a feature more suited to the establishment over the road - before I realised the reason for the buzz and heave: karaoke. Great. Out of the frying pan…

But regular readers will realise I’m not unduly anti-social (how could that be possible after all) but an early Sunday morning start was crowding into my head and no amount of singing nor liquor was going to shift it. I looked across at the help-yourself fridge of specialist German beers – Krombacher, Bitburger, Kneitinger amongst the number if my notes serve me well - installed in that afore-mentioned refurb and thought about selecting one, but the throng prevented even that option, so it was cooking lager and a short for The Muse.

After a couple of songs we retreated to the small side area; quieter with a decent number of tables. We couldn’t get a table but were happy standing watching the various acts and other goings-on. There were plenty of staff around too, the night’s popularity evidently anticipated. And talking of staff and observing let’s go on to the toilets. Here they are absolutely tiny. When in party mode you hardly notice and are even taken in with the sociability (yeah, honestly) small conveniences bring.

The female equivalents are even smaller, easily dominated that Hogmanay by the lady in red, who declared to everyone without eyes that her posterior was massive and they would have trouble getting past it. It was hard to disagree, I was informed.

But The Quarter Gill has re-established this area as a decent place to do more than just enjoy a quiet pint, karaoke or not. Sure, a lot of the punters will head into a club in town or along to Boho for the main course of their night but for some it would be right here. Kind of balances up the options for local folk, and we all know that balance benefits everyone.

No partying for us though, we were off within the hour to The Lismore/Lios Mor, again a short distance, across the edge of Mansfield Park. In some ways The Lismore and its sister The Ben Nevis are the inspiration for the transformation of The Quarter Gill and many other bars over the last decade. Traditional materials like slate, granite, copper and Scottish timber utilised within a contemporary design structure; modern Scotland encapsulated inside four walls. The high standards they set have inspired but they can also inhibit the design attempts made by other bars since.

Settling in to a corner seat in the lower bar, the relative excesses of the Gill were soon just a memory as the more sophisticated, even intellectual, atmosphere of The Lismore- established over many visits - re-asserted itself.

But it was quiet in here at back of ten on a Saturday night. No music, as standard. The only music here is fiddle sessions and occasional more official gigs outside during the West End Festival. Yeah, quiet tonight; boring, even. Just depends on your mood.

Our Bacchanalian instincts were on hold this evening, with no intention of taking it further. The party in The Quarter Gill would continue without us, it would continue whatever. And there’s no better recommendation than that.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Any Port... (Part 1)

Storm Queen, 243 Dumbarton Road, Partick, G11 6AB

Around a month ago the news was out that the Clyde Valley, one of Partick’s stalwarts had re-branded to become Storm Queen. A strange name for this bar and this part of town; a different style of moniker from neighbours such as The Smiddy, The Ettrick, and The Victoria Bar. I then learned this name had been used in a previous refurbishment by Scottish & Newcastle back in the 70s.Still it had to be checked out, to see if this really was a break from the past, and from the neighbourhood.

A Saturday evening on a busy weekend on Dumbarton Road, but that wasn’t immediately apparent walking down the amazingly steep Gardiner Street. Very few peeps about. And the same on the main road. Just a few stragglers returning from a day’s shopping.

The exterior of Storm Queen has been rendered black, the gold lettering standing out clearly. Inside, first impressions were that nothing much had changed. Tables and chairs and a couple of Chesterfields in the front part of the room, more tables and a stage further back. And the fake brick wall, an earlier and crude attempt at a design staple of today.

Getting the drinks in confirmed that things in that department hadn’t moved on from my last visit either. Careless service: two drinks, a lager and a G&T, and the barmaid still had to come back to me after pouring the beer to check my tiny order. And then once she had the drinks in her hands she forgot where I was standing. There are still very few professionals working in Scottish bars.

We took the recessed double seat, which faces the counter, and watched the evening progress. A group of around 8 people gathered, split, then reformed, and so on into the night. A cosmopolitan mixture of folk that we learned later were celebrating a reunion. More people joined the group as a wee band warmed-up beside us.

The feel of the place had seemed to go upmarket since my last visit when a guy was singing ‘My Way’ on karaoke. Not so unusual you may say, but it was the Sid Vicious version. I enjoyed that, I must say, though some people around were just glad he hadn’t attempted ‘Friggin’ in the Riggin’’.

Storm Queen –research has suggested the name is of a famous steamship, rather like the rough and ready Jeannie Deans on Argyle Street - is steaming on a course well away from neighbours like The Partick Tavern and the sadly diminished Ettrick.

As we left, another well-kempt couple arrived, and the band, including a rather incongruous saxophone, were on their opening bars. As good a time as any, I said…