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Saturday, 8 January 2011

Christmas Chronicle - Armstrong's, The Dram, Cail Bruich Restaurant, Sloan's Bar & Restaurant

I had decided to leave out any Xmas period review as I thought my previous piece on festive socialising had adequately covered the phenomenon. But on second thoughts, here on Old Christmas Day putting away the tree, I’ve decided to recount my festive bar going before the memories become consigned to the slop-tray of history.

Christmas time isn’t for discoveries of new drinking joints nor, necessarily, visiting old haunts. It is time for realising what pubs actually are: landmarks and comfortable (hopefully) places of refreshment that reflect their local surroundings and history. And a time when you realise their purpose: meeting places for reflection, relaxation, gossip, jokes, romance and everything else under the moon. Thus, form and function in harmony, the Holy Grail for both publicans and writers.

Christmas Eve
Although it isn’t the night it used to be, The Muse and I have established our own little tradition for Xmas Eve. A wee, cheap bite and some drinks through till the early hours of the big day. This year Kid N was in-tow, but his food preferences are simple: Burger. Upstairs at Stravaigin was the choice. One course each. After the good food, and Kid N’s departure, we moved through to the new main bar for cocktails. Nice, if quiet, atmosphere, was slightly spoiled by the staring habit of a certain regular, a Soap actor I believe. Ease off, wee man. Anyway we enjoyed our French Martini (sorry, I know it should be an aperitif) and our Tom Collins.

Next it was up to The Dram, on Woodlands Road, previously the famous Uisge Beatha. It’s been dramatically refurbished. Opened up – huge windows - and rendered contemporary. Stylish and practical, but now merely generic. Gone is the feel of a dilapidated Highland lodge, as is its uniqueness. Two drinks and then a call came in and we were headed to the heart of the west end to finish the night.

Wednesday 28th
Despite early starts all week I was determined to experience some Xmas-to-New Year midweek vibe. Armstrong’s on Battlefield Road may be new to me. If I have been before, it was in the days prior to my recording of my greatest hobby, probably when it was called Satchmo’s. There was a reasonable buzz within, this helped probably by its proximity to the Victoria Infirmary. The local feel is palpable, down even to the pecking order at the bar. Despite that qualification, it’s worth a visit, pool tables and an exemplary beer garden adding to the attraction.

Off then back towards town to the recently re-launched Victoria Bar. My full review of that joint will be up soon, but in brief, the rebirth deserves success. Of course, its address near the heart of old Glasgow is a help, but the pub has more than just location going for it.

Ok, there’s no autonomous bar within this place, and you can’t drink in there without a table and a meal, but permit me to mention Cail Bruich, on Great Western Road. It was the venue for our family meal on Scotland’s most famous night. The menu, concentrating upon seasonality and Caledonian produce is very ambitious, but it delivers on the expectations, due largely to the skills of head chef Chris.

Meal and complimentary drams over, it was across the road to Bobar. The time was early to mid-evening, pretty busy with a mixture of full-term revellers and those popping in before or after the main event of their nights. Good mix of ages too. A few of us took the cocktail option and a Bellini and a heavily spiced Bloody Mary met with approval. But the star was the Sloe Gin Fizz, the plum flavours giving this the most famous of highball drinks an appropriately winter slant. Around ten o’clock I went against type and headed for a house party, leaving the remainder of Hogmanay- on- the- town, with mixed emotions.

Sunday 2nd January
After our different Hogmanay I was itching to get out and about. We were intending to meet pals who, from last information received, were progressing from The Titwood towards Shawlands. In the meantime, we popped in to The Georgic. Last time in this old-time howf, one of the south side’s best, there was a distinct smell emanating from the toilets. This time it was one stage worse, the toilets seeming to be solidly backed-up, if you know what I mean. The regulars didn’t seem to notice but we headed through to the relatively fragrant lounge bar.

As it happened, our comrades had taken a detour via Battlefield but eventually we rendezvoused in The Waverley Tea Rooms. Up to its usual high standards was the Tea Room, but my enjoyment was spoiled by some wag comparing my appearance to that chap off Grand Designs. Most of our group headed into Corinthian around midnight. Only the main bar and casino were open, illustrative of how a large venue in Glasgow will struggle to get near capacity most days of the week. It was certainly busier on Hogmanay my sources tell me. Jam-packed was the word. Though the immature nature of some parts of the clientele dampened the fun.

Monday 3rd January (Afternoon)
Rumours had reached me mentioning a phenomena called the (December)/January sales. Conceding defeat without a murmur, I accompanied The Muse to Buchanan Street. In the event, I got the bargain, within the hour. Toasting early victory in The Vale, I received not only hard looks from the barmaid after paying with a Magarret (50 pound note) – a Xmas present, I swear – but some unusually duff information from one regular on defunct pubs in the vicinity.

The Social – as popular as ever - had no tables for an afternoon snack so One Up filled-in. First time I’ve been in before 9pm,so strange to have such space. Good £4 or £5 one course offers though. We finished in Sloans. I preferred it as The Bastille but things are improving here, especially the covered, heated courtyard. Unfortunately the upstairs Snug wasn’t open, the bar staff giving the impression it rarely makes an appearance. A pity. Please don’t advertise what you can’t deliver. The Muse told me to forget it. And enjoy, what proved to be, my last festive drink.

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