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Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Finnieston

The Finnieston, 1125 Argyle Street, Glasgow G3 8ND


A journalist acquaintance of mine first used that word in the Finnieston context about 15 years ago. He said it was one of the only areas in the West End that hadn’t yet succumbed to the G word. Has it now, eventually, with Crabshak, Brass Monkey et al?

Pondering that question I entered the newest arrival, The Finnieston (why hasn’t someone though of that name before?), and almost tripped on the down steps- a dangerous thing for someone in my condition. I stumbled because, unusually, it is set a couple of feet below the level of the street, Argyle St, facing Kelvingrove St, in the incongruous cottage that used to house a café. I believe the owners of this new venture are the folk behind another of the (relatively) new wave round here Lebowskis.

Quite enjoyable this lowered perspective, feels more cosy. And the low ceiling, at least in the front part of the establishment, enhances this feeling. This wooden ceiling is how one could imagine a galleon’s to have been, and the nautical theme is writ large in here. An anchor etching on the window by the door and images of the seashore and landed catch on the wall in the back area complete this.

The white walls and higher ceiling there create quite a different atmosphere from the bar area. This is a strictly foodie zone, which although clean and fresh lacks the welcoming nature of the front.

Out the back there is an attractive smoking/al fresco eating area with smart white furniture and a Moet Chandon umbrella but so far I haven’t been out. Twice because it was just too cold, and the last time because the bar staff informed me it was too messy for patrons to use. Strange. Unless there had been a mad party the night before, a lame excuse.

That disappointment aside, most of the fittings feel right, with a few unexpected bonuses. Stained-glass insert partitions – normally only seen in traditional booze palaces – for one, and pew seating around two of the tables, for another. The rest of the seating is bluey turquoise within booths, the accompanying wooden tables are very well varnished and black wall tiles are equally well-sheened.

As I said, everything fits. Apart from the books on a shelve. What’s the problem with that, goes with a ship’s cabin feel doesn’t it? Not if they are Readers Digest condensed books they don’t.

Clientele-wise, as is the nature of this corner of the West End, there’s a fair mix of ages, something The Muse appreciated. Maybe my lectures on the benefits of eclecticism are getting through.

At the bar itself they have a decent wee range of beers, early teething problems with pouring nozzles seem to have been overcome. First time I tried to order the Samuel Smith’s stout but they couldn’t supply it so had to go for a West Red instead. Now the stout is up and pouring, there’s the West Brewery offerings and some Blue Moon, as well as various session ales. And their Finnieston Lager which a barman informed me is brewed in Germany, maybe he meant the aforementioned West, with its German connection.

They concentrate, though, on spirits, quite expensive ones, and cocktails. As to be expected in this a seafood joint, have I mentioned this already? I’ve had the soup. Enjoyable. (That shouldn’t go beyond my brief as a pub reviewer). Along with the soap (of the day) I had water in a jug with brandy glass. Nice touch. As are the test-tube-thin ½ pint glasses. As are the head-high till screens.

But returning to the food (am I allowed?), it creates a problem in here. For the drinkers, that is. Their space gets squeezed. I’ve noticed it on a Saturday evening, the only real standing area is by the bar, and stools are a premium. You could sit at a table but the feeling is that these are sequestered for the eaters.

This feeling is confirmed by a Yelp entry I saw recently. I don’t normally pay any attention to these pseudo reviews partly because most of them are rubbish and partly because I know how Yelp works, removing unfavourable comments once a pub or restaurant pays advertising. But this one was worth noting. A group enjoying drinks for a number of hours at table were moved on from their seats because diners had arrived. No reservations had been made and no proper explanation was given by management. Result: justifiably disgruntled drinkers. Profit was obviously the motive but goodwill and reputation have suffered.

I suppose the perpetual jazz and the numerous wine buckets had given the game away already, the money to be made from fine food and wine is the priority. Not unusual, but what matters is how this affects all the other patrons.

Still, The Finnieston does have a drawing power just because of its cosy appearance. On a recent visit of mine, two ordinary passers-by stopped and peered in, and one said: “Looks like a good wee pub”. The other nodded. They moved on but will surely return.

If that’s not recommendation enough I’ll leave the last word to the ‘hardest man in Finnieston’ aka (after my departure) ‘the new man about Kelvingrove’ aka @sundancemckid, who summed up the place’s attraction with the tweet: smart enough to feel fancy, but still relaxed enough…

That’s good enough for me.

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