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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

1901 Bar & Grill

The 1901 Bar & Grill, 1534 Pollokshaws Road, Glasgow, G43 1RF

One of the challenges facing a bar investigator is to unravel the complex strands that constitute the pattern of pub ownership in Glasgow. Who owns where? who has shares in that place? which is a Free House, which is a tenancy, which is managed? Etc

Working in Nico’s, one of the early style bars, in the 90s, first alerted me to this opaque world. The main man there, who was also involved with the Cul De Sac in Ashton Lane, ran the show, paid the wages and marshalled staff and stock. But he didn’t own the joint, no. The mysterious guy who lived upstairs did, Walter. So I learned, eventually. If you asked questions, they asked you why. And I can’t even get close to remembering the obscurely named ‘leisure’ company that appeared on my pay cheques.

I won’t say that ownership can come and go depending on a good or bad night at the casino, as is the case with some Chinese restaurants, but you would never find out if it did.

Today’s pub scene, now dominated by the chain operators, differs from those simpler times, but it is no less labyrinthine. Take Graham Sutherland for example. He was employed as a consultant by pubcos such as Punch for a number of West of Scotland pubs, his family used to own the Drum & Monkey in the city centre, and he owns the Urban Pub Co, whose portfolio of leased pubs includes The Wise Monkey at Kelvinbridge and the south side’s 1901, both acquired last year. He also launched El Sabor, the tapas joint, and is now seeking investment to move back into Freehold pubs.

A busy man evidently, but maybe spreading himself too thin, if The Wise Monkey is anything to go by. I reviewed it last year and I wasn’t too impressed. Even now the signage is still temporary and the interior generic and uninspired.

The 1901 Bar & Grill could be different. On my first visit I was struck immediately by how established it looks, a total contrast with Wise Monkey. On a corner site on one of the south side’s main arteries, Pollokshaws Road, it is a rare licensed outpost in this relatively dry area. The Old Stag Inn is the only other pub nearby.

Ironically enough, the tenement in which 1901 resides (and has done for eleven decades now) was a fine example of the tenement builder’s art, called The Old Swan. The Art Nouveau interior was one of Glasgow’s best but is deceased. However the building lives on, like many other Glasgow tenements, after rehabilitation in the 70s. The original name for the pub was The Old Swan Inn, named not after the tenement but the old hostelry that had sat here in the days before trams and other mechanised transport. For all I know the Old Stag has similar antecedents.

The Old Swan pub was re-christened, firstly The Stout & Ferret, then the 1901, but despite the new-ish name the air of Edwardian stateliness remains. This gentility extends to the present interior of black, dark browns, cream and white, in which an umbrella holder, a proper wine rack and broadsheet newspapers laid out for customer perusal show a definite intention to create a substantial, almost elegant, presence.

The back bar area, has attractive little recesses, housing the till and other necessaries, this feature probably a longer fixture than the other Sutherland inspired improvements such as stripped back wooden floors and the division between the bar and the dining area. In some ways this partition is old-fashioned but it is a brave one. As was the decision to set a demarcation in food prices between the two areas, allowing customers to feel spoiled in the dining room, with a better, more expensive menu to fit special occasions.

The Chargrill menu is said to be a favourite and a concentration upon decent fare is continued in the bar, which has been awarded a Cask Marque. On my visit I noted Bitter & Twisted and the Timothy Taylor brewed Landlord. Prices are reasonable too, Belhaven Best, for example, at £2.60.

Even on the quiet afternoon I passed through, you could almost tell that the previous evening had been busy; it just gives off the air of somewhere maintained by regular custom. A popular local spot with a bit of class, further confirmed by the smart banquettes and the green, leather sofas in the overflow area.

After a pleasant service from an attractive young lady – no sniggering please – I moved to the enclosed outside area, a feature also instigated by Mr. Sutherland, to further enhance the feeling of quality. Decent barriers, and reasonably comfortable tables and chairs create a relaxing spot on this wide pavement, ideal to watch life pass by in this particular corner of Glasgow.

Only problem was that some tradesmen were putting up boards to extend the black signage round the whole exterior. And they were making quite a din with their exuberant sawing, without actually achieving too much.The signage lettering, though, is pleasingly retro, and the 0 in the 1901 appears as a glass half-full with red wine.

Suddenly their scaffolding was gone. Round the corner. I followed them to take some more photos for this very piece. But the two workies didn’t take too kindly to this attention, even though it was the building I was interested in. So I took my shots and was away pronto. Perhaps they thought I was a DSS snooper. Oh well, just another challenge that faces an intrepid bar reviewer.

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