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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Parkhead Shuffle

O'Kanes, 174 Westmuir Street, Parkhead, Glasgow G31 5BS 0141 550 3154
The Prince Charlie, 89 Westmuir Street, Parkhead, Glasgow G31 5EU 0141 554 0420
The Old Black Bull, 1318 Gallowgate, Glasgow, G31 4DR 0141 551 0400

I was halfway through my journey. From one train station, Shettleston, to another. The trip had had its interest already, some new places surveyed, and some old re-visited. They had been on and around Shettleston Road, now I was on Westmuir Street approaching Parkhead Cross. It was late afternoon and the light was going. A decent half-mile walk had got me here and now it was time for my next stop.


O’Kane’s the name of the pub. Punter power got this pub returned to its original title after a name-change to the Two Bells. A plain exterior and the first pub I’ve entered through a front fire-door, the actual main door seemingly out of use.

As in most East End bars there’s not a huge range of trendy drinks like craft beers, obscure malts or exotic spirits but there tends to be a good selection of draught beers, lager to heavy to special to light and with a Sassenach like John Smith’s thrown in.

I went for a half of 60 shillings or light. Lighter in colour and strength and very smooth and drinkable. A drink hard to get in the city centre. The half got a raised eyebrow from the lady host and I almost took out my medical diagnosis to explain my wimpery. But what was the point? I just admired the extra shiny beer pumps instead. Quite remarkable they were, “like fucking mirrors,” as Billy Batts from Goodfellas said before he got stamped to a pulp.

The interior in O’Kane’s is a square room roughly sectioned, with a few tables mostly against walls. Over to my left as I stood at the bar were tables near to a wall. Seven or eight folk sat at them. They looked like an extended family, because there wasn’t much chat but they were comfortable and content with each other.

What was strange though was the way they all sat with their backs to the wall, all of them in a row together, not facing each other, but all facing out towards the rest of the room, the bar and me. I retired to the toilets and here I discovered a business opportunity. Supplying U-bends to Glasgow pubs. This was the third pub today with a leaking U-bend, the dirty drips ending up in a old bucket underneath. Not very nice, but where there’s muck there’s brass…

The Prince Charlie

I left the happy family to it and crossed the road to the next beckoning lights. The Prince Charlie. Significantly with no Bonnie. A wider frontage to this one with a deep lounge-bar half to it that was deserted as lounges often are. The other half was reasonably busy for the time of day, demographics mostly in the 54-63 grouping (honestly, I’m not looking to get in to marketing).

Another long counter here, on the left as you look from the door. Long, because I reckon in a traditional bar like this and most of the rest in the east end, quick customer service is the priority over any ideas of style or maximising floor space. The longer the counter the quicker the service, as long as your staffing is adequate.

At this time of day, 5ish on a weekday, speed of service isn’t an issue, the drink in my hand within 30 seconds. Vivid green seating grabs one’s attention in here, a sheen off the leather. This mainly because of the harsh strip lighting that’s been a common denominator in pubs all day. Pub operators should know by now that bright lights and imbibing don’t go together. A far cry from around 100 years ago when bar designers actively factored in the effect of lighting on their interior and elegant fittings.

This wasn’t going to be a long stop. A welcoming enough place but things were happening elsewhere, I was sure.

Parkhead Cross

Out on the street again, walking up towards Parkhead Cross. I paused, thinking about turning left onto Tollcross Road, an area with a couple of unvisited joints. Instead, though, I kept going west. Parkhead Cross like many old meetings of the way in the East End has seen better days, the tenements frayed a little and shops mainly consisting of take-aways, beauty salons, solicitors, bookies etc The pubs, so far, the handful there are, are also well past their heydays.

Round onto Gallowgate I peeked into the Anchor (very quiet) & The Five Ways ( a reference to the amount of roads that meet here), whose claim to fame is that John Gorevan, Glasgow’s pub historian, describes it as “still the clattiest pub in Parkhead”. Quite an accolade.

The Old Black Bull

I crossed to the other side of Gallowgate and entered the famous Old Black Bull. A pub of this name has been here since 1760, but despite this it does not qualify as Glasgow’s oldest because the original was demolished.

Most pubs, no matter how ‘traditional’ will have had refurbs of sorts at some point in the last 30-40 years but in here, even though this is the ‘new’ Old Black Bull, I don’t think so. The red beams seem to have been here from the start, and the layout is completely unaffected by any recent trends, just a long counter on one side of the room.

Quite a few locals were in, including an older chap with three Asda bags clinking together unmistakeably. Probably getting in a draught drink before the real session later with the contents of his bags.

Off to my left, sitting at a table, a younger guy, rather dishevelled, was holding this big blue board. It looked like a wibbly, bendy thing you could play tunes with a la Rolf Harris. But to make sure, I whispered a question to a guy on my right, asking what the board was. “A dominoes’ board” was the answer. This showed up my lack of knowledge on pub games, a gap certainly. My guess, apart from the musical one, might have been shuffle, sorry, shove ha’penny.

A few minutes later and I was down to the dregs on another of my half pints. I Needed to check out the toilets, for the U Bend survey, and a review isn’t complete without this aspect.

Walking past the cubicle I nudged its door, I have to check out every inch you see. It gave a little, obviously unoccupied.

I did my business at the trough, washed my hands, observing an intact U Bend and moved back towards the toilet exit. This time I pushed open the cubicle door fully, to check on the plumbing and cleanliness.

There was the guy, the board fellow. Trousers at ankles. With maybe another kind of shuffling going on. He didn’t seem to register my presence, me probably getting more of a shock than him.

I was out of there like a flash, mortified. Because I hadn’t even apologised to the guy. No stopping either for the last of my drink, out the door and into the night. I had more work to do, you see. Bridgeton Cross was next. The walk ahead a long dark mile. I would spend the time thinking of a business plan and a name. How does BBUB Plumbing Services sound?

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.