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Friday, 8 July 2011

The Star Bar

The Star Bar, 537-539 Eglinton Street, Glasgow G5 9RN

They used to be just about as legendary as The Horseshoe’s lunches. Three courses for £1.99!!! I remember seeing the amazing signs outside the place in the days before I was entitled to walk through its doors. Even then, without any conception of cost of living, bills and other financial burdens, I was taken aback. Another thing that was noticeable about The Star Bar back then was the amount of local workers coming and going from the premises, a real hive it seemed to my impressionable eyes.

Never having been a resident of the South Side my visits as a bona fide drinker have been irregular but on my occasional visits I have seen that, like many pubs, less and less working people were popping in. This is partly explained by how little business seems to be going on round this part of Eglinton Street.

Even the bus drivers after finishing their shifts at the depot on Butterbiggins Road are largely absent, a change in culture or maybe more are using the uninspiring Depot Bar on Victoria Street.

The Star’s location is eye-catching though, sitting at what is locally called a gushet, where two roads meet as in a V. I’ve commented before on certain bars that sit at gushets, The Brass Monkey in Finnieston being one. In that piece I likened it to New York’s Flatiron Building, but the Star’s building resembles that landmark even more than The Brass Monkey’s.

I recently re-visited the Star Bar on a warm day where the door on the Eglinton Street side was open (the Victoria Road side door not) to allow in a bit of breeze. It somehow added to the easy feeling inside, having the street sounds and smells brought closer. It almost made you forget how much this part of the city has declined since the days of the Plaza Ballroom. So much so that the other local bar, called the Maxwell Road Bar at the moment, seems to have irregular hours and may be near to closing for good.

The public bar of The Star preserves some of the atmosphere of the 60s, when the Plaza was at its zenith. The small tables, brown check lino, old curtains over the tile-paned windows and the suspended canopy over the bar counter all speak of that time.

Because of this it does remind you of The Laurieston a mile or so back down the street towards town. The Star isn’t as well maintained though. It’s clean enough but it seems the money hasn’t been there over the years to preserve the place fully.

Not that the owners since 1984, Giovanna and Paul, haven’t done their utmost to keep the pub at the heart of what community remains round here. Friday and Saturday nights see the live bands KT and Faberge, and Kaviar perform respectively and The Star hosts many regulars’ birthday parties and other celebrations.

There’s also board games and domino sets lying around, props to get people talking to each other as much as anything else. The bar staff keep the friendly vibe going too, chatty without being nosy. Many will like the Barrs bottles used for mixers too, a nice touch in these days of strict branding.

In here everything gravitates towards the corner of the room, the wedge-end where the TV sits. So much more interesting than a square room, it seems like the corner is somehow the centre of the space.

And what of the lunches? Inflation seems to have affected even these. Lunches from £2.50 say the signs. For that you get homemade soup or fruit juice; main course of things like Roast Beef, Scotch Pie, Roast Turkey, Sausage Hotpot, all with the trimmings of your choice; pudding of creamed rice or jelly with fruit (tinned). If you want breaded fish or ashet pie there’s a 50p supplement. I call it profiteering.

But wait! Those signs I remember of £1.99 lunches were contemporary with pints priced around £1. So if my memories are actually correct (readers, please correct me if £1.99 is wrong) in that time the lunches have increased by 25% when alcohol prices have gone up threefold. Says something about the various Chancellors of the Exchequer over that period of time.

I went through next door to the Lounge Bar, this extension provided by the progressive 1940s proprietor James Haxton who realised that women needed a comfortable area in which to enjoy their drink and chat. (Thanks to John Gorevan, the Glasgow pub historian, for this fact. He also notes that The Star was called Ye Olde Quadrivium and The Eglinton Bar in the era before WW11).

The Lounge has more comfortable seating than the Public Bar, dark leather booths featuring. It’s darker and warmer in here, just what you would expect in a lounge I suppose. But also more generic, less singular than the room next door.

More folk were having the £2.50 lunches in here. Most of them pensioners. It seems they can afford them. Perhaps they have index-linked pensions or other such complicated financial arrangements I care not to understand.

Either that or they are following the saying “to eat, and to drink, and to be merry, for tomorrow they will die,” – my apologies for amending Ecclesiasties. Whatever our age, it’s a good motto to live by.

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