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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Where's My Bloody Invite!? - The Dram Awards 2011

The recent Dram Magazine’s Scottish Licensed Trade Awards were, I am told, a good old shindig for all invited. A musical welcome outside the newish (Grand) Central Hotel and plush surroundings inside were only some of the delights waiting for those lucky enough to be included. The hotel itself has an interesting bar, Champagne Central, the grand but unimaginative name. It didn’t feature in any of the award nominee lists, perhaps because its teething problems remain (see my earlier blog). Anyway, as I mentioned in my Tweet on the awards I wasn’t invited to the jamboree. Evidently they wanted it kept to those in the ‘trade’ not including humble punters or critics. I will, however, try to keep my disappointment hidden within the following comments on the winners and runners-up. Moskito on Bath Street has been a thriving operation for over a decade, somehow managing to feature in the bar scene with barely a ripple of punter recognition. Its confines are best for a low-key night or after work drinks. However, it and its owners must be well-regarded by their peers and competitors, judging by their winning of the Benromach Award for Success in the owner/operator category. The Oak Tree, in Balmaha was runner-up. A good place by the bonnie banks in sunshine, but it needs to do something about its toilets, they get overwhelmed when the crowds appear. In the multiple operator category The Ubiquitous Chip group were victorious, a fair reward for their consistency and subtle innovation, which has continued despite the death of Ronnie Clydesdale last year. Part of the group, Stravaigin on Gibson Street, was unlucky to be just a runner-up, along with the Roseleaf, Edinburgh, in the Gastro Pub Award. Stravaigin’s extension and refurb has been a great success and they must have more than doubled their takings since, the drinking and eating side of the pub now given equal space. The winner, the Birds & The Bees in Stirling must be providing a great service to its customers to have beaten suchcontenders. Whiski in Edinburgh, on North Bridge Street, won the Glenmorangie Whisky Bar prize. I haven’t yet visited this bar but I like the 3 in 1 concept; a whisky shop, bistro and bar in the same location. This kind of business, combining retail with licensed premises is the way of the future for drinking establishments, following the lead of coffee shop/delicatessens that are proving popular everywhere. Kraken Rum sponsored the Cocktail Bar of the Year. The winner, Bath Street Pony, occupies a site that has housed many different bar ventures, The Brick and Tom Tom come to mind, of differing success. Pony seems to be on the right track and has obviously established itself as a cocktail or premium destination, something that none of the previous bars had done. To have beaten such contenders as Bond No. 9 in Leith – absinthe experts amongst other attributes – and Booly Mardy’s – which has probably the best team of bar staff in the city – in the cocktail category, shows impressive development. Staying with great bar/cocktail staff, the winner of the Apprentice of the Year was Niall Webster of Bramble. He is part of an outstanding team. My first visit saw me impressed by the mixing skill and retentive memory of the barman – not sure if he was head honcho Mikey – undiminished by the departure of my brother for being tired/emotional/drunk. You get used to these things. Two Glasgow bars were nominated as New Bar of the Year. Boudoir on Candleriggs is trying to re-invent the wine bar, with luxurious drapes and a connoisseur’s attitude to fine wines, and fine imported beers that go beyond your Tiger and Moretti beers. I remember a 750ml Duchessa from Italy at £16. Expensive yes, but good to see beer being treated with the same respect as wine. Limelight at Hotel Indigo, the other nominee, must be getting good press to have reached such dizzy heights already but it needs to buck the trend of unsuccessful hotel bars and a vicinity that dies after 6pm and at the weekends. It actually won the best design award as well as this other nomination but it may well be a look that is lost on everyone bar hotel guests. In some ways its not surprising that Oran Mor won the Sunday Mail readers Bar of the Year. Its sheer size and location mean plenty of punters who will then vote in greater numbers than most other places. However, it has lost what it once had, the feeling that it was at the centre of things. Six or seven years after its opening there’s still no background music to dampen the harsh cacophony of hundreds of conversations and the smell of stale beer round the bar area is a big problem. For late-night drinking I much prefer the small bar next door – it even has a DJ – or downstairs. The switch of the brasserie into an after-dark bar shows though that owner Colin Beattie is still innovating and listening to what his customers want. Something he’s been doing for countless years across the city, from Jarvies and Granny Gibbs in Yoker and Scotstoun, to the Liosmor, Ben Nevis and many more in the heart of the west end. He was rewarded with the Lifetime Achievement gong. For that longevity, contemporary bar design that doesn’t compromise locality, and his support for the arts as well as the hospitality sector, Mr Beattie was probably the most deserving winner of the evening

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