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Friday, 29 April 2011

The Jigger Inn

The Jigger Inn - The Old Course Hotel, Old Station Road, St. Andrews, Fife

I have noticed an occurrence in Britannia’s capital. Sometimes awareness is no blessing. For republicans this is a difficult time but the Ed. insisted I do a piece in honour of the happy couple. So I turn to the one area that I have in common with the HRHs, a corner of Fife, specifically the Royal Burgh of St. Andrews.

The Royal Burgh

I don’t know whether either of the couple play golf but I did, and thus the Auld Grey Toon was a place of occasional visit, especially in August when the Eden tournament took place alongside the medieval Lammas Fair. It was a bonus, to some, that summer meant no students.

It wasn’t all golf and fairground rides of course. Pubs were frequented. The first I experienced was probably Ma Bells on The Scores, the road that runs west to east away from the rear of the Royal & Ancient clubhouse. It has the reputation of being a ra-ra joint but for me then it was just a normal pub. I remember the Scottish rugby team appearing one evening during their preparations for a world cup, their physical size up-close almost comical.

Nearer the town centre and Market Street, upstairs at the Victoria Café, was a favourite meeting point. It’s now one of the G1 group, but I haven’t seen the refurb. The Balaka India restaurant was also a place for late-night drinks, but the visitor has to remember that the town has no real clubs nor any great howffs, just joints dominated by the university or the golf.

Return to The Jigger

A couple of months back I returned with The Muse, and the centrepiece of our visit was The Jigger Inn, St. Andrews’ ultimate golf pub. We had sampled a reasonable coffee in the Rusacks Hotel after being chased out of their One Under Gastro Bar. Next we made use of the suntrap of a patio outside the Playfair Restaurant/Bar on North Street before making the stroll down to The Old Course Hotel.

This five-star refuge wasn’t our destination, rather its adjoining pub, The Jigger, which sits in the hotel grounds, alongside the most famous hole in golf, the 17th. The Jigger has a whitewashed exterior that contrasts with the ugly mustard of the hotel walls. Unsurprisingly, the carpet is green, but the irreverence of the staff does shock. Maybe it’s what turns on the tourists.

Not that there’s many of those today, the pub virtually empty, a massive difference from the high summer evenings when folk rendezvoused after their respective tournament rounds and gave shot-by-shot accounts of their day, after depositing their golf bag in the pile of them by the entrance. It could get messy though. One Sunday a pal and I had had a few too many and, after leaving The Jigger, proceeded to play the 18th on the Old Course. Halfway along the fairway a middle-aged gent came running out from one of the clubhouses and swept us from the course, shouting something about the sacrilege of playing the course on a day of rest. It was an interesting scene next morning when we arrived on the first tee to find he was the official starter for the tournament.

I ordered at the compact, staff-friendly bar, and we retreated to the far corner. This nook is surrounded by old photos of the golf courses, not views of the generic type seen in many sitting rooms across the world, but originals such as one dated 1850 in which there is a yawning gap where the iconic R&A clubhouse now stands. And the row of poor dwellings lining The Links road tells of humble days before the coming of the railways – the Jigger used to be the Stationmaster’s house - and mass tourism.

Our drinks were soon accompanied by a complimentary basket of sesame sticks. A nice touch, which along with the actually quite funny banter coming from the bar staff made us feel welcome. After my initial reaction against the perceived familiarity I was growing to like the inclusiveness of the chat here, as opposed to the type of staff conversations that are conducted to the detriment of good service and ignore the presence of customers.

The interior is smaller than I recall and I don’t remember the more private area to the right as you enter, with cosy booths and smoother furniture. Maybe the rich golfers from the US and other prosperous places appreciate this more luxurious aspect to the pub or they may prefer to mingle in the main area believing they are getting something authentic. Moulton & Brown soaps and orchids in the bathrooms certainly aren’t but in St. Andrews and other tourist-faced places across the world, authentic is virtually impossible to define, let alone find.

But going back, to a time before such frivolous questions were ever considered, I gave a silent toast to Old and Young Tom Morris, the patron saints of professional golfers, whose ghosts pervade the grey streets and the land around this pub. I would be lying if I said I also raised my glass, in advance, to the wedding of William and Katherine, but let the Royals and the royalists have their day, because after all, as I look out today, there are no street parties in Knightswood.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Mansion House Glasgow - Club, Restaurant, Bar, Karaoke

Mansion House - The Glasshouse, 20 Glassford Street, Glasgow G1 1UL

Mansion House becomes Glasgow's latest compendium nightclub and resturant and bar and karaoke and comedy club

Children have it better. I didn’t believe it at the time, but no one does. Selection boxes, free food, Happy Meals, school holidays, a perfect memory, tree-climbing (no, anachronistic. Ed).

To prove my point, think of games compendiums. Never was ‘a box of delights’ a more apt description. Open it up and your eyes devour the play possibilities. Bingo, snakes and ladders, ludo, jacks, tiddly-winks and other fun board games all in one place. The more intellectual versions contained games such as chess and backgammon, but these were too adult, too soon. The real fun began when you opened the box for the first time and anticipated the hours of gaming ahead.

Adults yearn, some secretly, some not so, for these halcyon days. But sometimes the grown-up, full-scale equivalent of a compendium appears, and makes adult-life more bearable for a while. That such things mostly involve booze and/or food tells much of our grown-up preoccupations, and that we concur with George Bernard Shaw’s maxim, that alcohol is the anaesthetic for the ordeal that is life.

Café Loco @ The Arches

Glasgow can be an infantile city at night, those over a certain age pushed out of the majority of city venues by the sheer weight of numbers of folk under about 23. So, perhaps it is surprising that the city has produced a number of venues that embody the spirit of variety and discovery. Some years back, Saturday night in The Arches, was Café Loco, a variety show you might have called it, with magicians, burlesque artistes, comics and musicians performing in the many different spaces within the massive venue.

Innovative and engaging though it was, its run was short, but sweet. Ever since I’ve been looking for something similar in Glasgow, but clubs here have remained stuck in the one bar (two of you’re very lucky) and one dance floor groove, the only variety coming from the DJ’s choice of sounds.

The Club/Pub/Restaurant Hybrids

Not until a few years into the 2000s and the emergence of large pub/restaurant/club combos did the possibilities of scale appear to create the opportunity for creative proprietors to develop something more in the night space. Arta, Tiger Tiger, Tusk and others had the size but stuck to the traditional bar, eating and dance areas with no variety of theme or content.

Strangely, it was casinos that provided a new template. They always had bars and restaurants alongside the gaming but the liberalisation of gambling rules allowed them to extend their ambitions. The Alea on the Clyde was a far larger affair than any of Glasgow’s previous casinos. Different levels, three large bars and a destination restaurant in a venue designed to be more than just a casino, rather a centre of nightlife.

Corinthian, a stalwart of the previous generation of large venues, was remodelled last year (as detailed in a previous blog of mine), and one of the most striking elements was the introduction of gaming tables on the ground floor. For the owners G1 Group, not only would the casino element bring in revenue of itself, but the licensing of the venue would change too. It is allowed open until 6am as opposed to 3am.

Different themed spaces throughout the building add to the variety. A subterranean club, a craft beer bar, a grand main restaurant, a whisky bar, a champagne and fashion bar, a piano bar and numerous private party rooms offer the visitor diversity in one place, whether for one night or several. Corinthian has built upon these options by now hosting fashion events, art exhibitions, seasonal celebrations, burlesque performances

Stefan King’s empire had, a year or so earlier, begun the multiformity concept with Hummingbird on Bath Street. The upstairs party pods are the main novelty here, themed rooms for private hire, with extravagant décor and fittings, karaoke kits, private drinks service, even fancy-dress wardrobes.

Downstairs there is less of interest, a neo-gothic hall and main bar and Balearic basement joint (now Diskoteka) constrained somewhat by the size and shape of the building, which is basically a townhouse.

From Tiger Tiger to Mansion House

This year’s version of a compendium venue is Mansion House on Glassford Street. Previously, the afore-mentioned, Tiger Tiger, this place has the advantage of a large building – The Glasshouse - a scale which dwarfs venues such as Hummingbird.

As Tiger Tiger, for over a decade, the venue was a huge bar/club complex with a downstairs dancefloor reminiscent of a student-union disco which didn’t fit with the high-roller pretensions of the rest of the place. Aside from the main bar area on the ground floor, most of the action seemed to centre around the VIP bar upstairs. Unlike most of these areas this was a large space with plenty of scope to include plebs like me who weren’t quite the glitterati.

However, fun wasn’t always on the cards in Tiger Tiger. On one Hogmanay, some slipshod door-policy had let in clientele intent on doing more than just celebrating The Bells. These folk had kindred spirits in the bouncers themselves, itching to pull the trigger, as it were.

The tension rose all night, not even the Hogmanay songs could dissipate it. But just as I thought we would see out the night without any real trouble, my cousin and I were involved in a cloakroom argument that led to us being violently ejected out onto the street by enthusiastic door staff. I ended up face down with what felt like half-a tonne of bouncers on my back. The pavement didn’t taste or smell too good. But having left the premises, I missed the best of the show, a full-on mass brawl between the whole team of bouncers and a similarly psyched-up gang of customers. Not long afterwards I wasn’t sad to hear that the door manger was allegedly forced to leave our fair city because of his rough treatment of the son of a connected man. Interesting times.

Mansion House is built

It’s good to report that with the re-branding these security issues seem to have disappeared and I can get on with the interesting stuff. On the ground floor there are two bars. First the understated Merchants that, although offering a cocktail list, concentrates more on craft and session beers. The décor is uninspiring, just a notch above a Wetherspoons offering, and although I like darkened drinking rooms, this could do with opening the valves on the lighting.

Through a curtain is the main offering, Jewel. This bar harks back to the feel of Tiger Tiger, with chandeliers, studded black leather seating and purple illumination. Unfortunately, it shares with Merchants the fake exposed brick behind the bar. This has been done to death by too many bars to mention. Both of them would have benefited from a decent attempt to construct a gantry, behind the counter in both looks too bare.

Jewel must aim to attract the cocktail crowd but its list - at fifteen and two champagne versions - seems to be no more extensive than any of the other bars in Mansion House. The large number of shooters on the list perhaps shows the intentions better, the effect rather than taste. On our first visit we sampled some of the cocktails, a Cerbera and a Long Cosmopolitan our choices. The mixes were fine, flavours as should be, but the service was less assured, as if the staff were not fully aware of the range they offered. There could be trouble ordering anything off-list.

In the basement they have a Jongleurs franchise. I haven’t yet been down for a show and no one was available to give me free peek downstairs but friends of mine who do actually believe comedy and nights out go together, tell me the recent line-ups have been good, and that local lad Scott Agnew is on next week – hilarious, they tell me. Whether that’s true or not, there is at least plenty of space down there, and hopefully no one will be ejected for heckling.

Unsurprisingly, The Glasserie restaurant makes full use of the large glass frontage overlooking, ahem, Glassford Street. Décor-wise the seating looks comfortable but they’ve overdone the pastel colours. It wouldn’t be straying too much beyond my brief to say that the menu is full of classic Scottish dishes like Cock a Leekie Terrine and Haggis Dumplings. More in my sphere is the wine list, notable inclusions being Chianti Piazzano and Rioja Cosecha from Saigoba.

The attractions on the first floor include Kanaola, Mansion House’s take on the tiki bar, the south sea beach bar theme phenomenon that has reached the UK years after it began in the States. Kanaola adds little to the collection but for some reason a Far Eastern influence creeps in.

Adjacent is Lucky Voice, the karaoke area. This too seems to be a franchise. Some of the remaining Tiger Tiger clubs have taken Lucky Voice, and you can in your home as well, for as little as £49.99/year! Other than the fact you can download the system on to your home PC and that it has over 8000 songs and touch screen technology I can’t see the innovation here, despite the impressive press coverage it has received.

But the numbers told their own story on my two visits with countless parties waiting for their sessions in the pods. We sat in the waiting room/bar wondering initially, what the fuss was, as folk congregated at the counter that looks a bit like reception in a sunbed salon. Once I fully realised, I shepherded our party out, to leave the singers to their fun, grateful the pods were soundproofed and neither Michael Caine nor Jane Horrocks had appeared.

You see, when I’m drinking I mostly prefer fully-canned music to any sort of untidy live stuff. And the final game within this adult games-boc offers vintage music of just that sort. Groovy Wonderland is the name. A bit obvious maybe, but it leaves you in no doubt what you are entering. An authentic 70s and 80s disco with flashing dancefloor, stainless-steel banisters, disco balls and booths straight out of Saturday Night Fever or Scarface. The music matches the look exactly, the selection can be a bit repetitive but it retains a good mix of the classic, the cheesy, and the hip – even the words should be of the era.

Groovy has its own extra selection of cocktails all served in large fresh fruits. I don’t know what the lady beside me ordered on my latest visit. She gave the barmaid a gesture of pints to the mouth much like English lager louts used to employ. No words were spoken but up came this strawberry or raspberry coloured concoction, which she proceeded to gulp. Good service that. I declined the chance to taste the mixture, however.

But whatever you fancy gulping, stand and watch the choreographed dancers or roller-skate girls doing their thing on the dancefloor. It’s illuminating. And you may stay for longer than you expect. We did.

So the latest in club compendiums offers you comedy to karaoke, cocktails to craft beers, retro to 21st century bling, relaxed fine dining to unrestrained singing and dancing. It might not take you back to childhood, but at least there are no rules to learn, because if you don’t know them by now, you never will.