Thursday, 12 January 2012
ALLEYWAY TO HEAVEN
Many of my best memories come from times spent in alleys. In my youth I would often walk home via as many alleyways or lanes as possible, seeing how much of the main roads and bright lights I could avoid. I even raked some back-of-premises bins in desperate times in the mid 90s.
These were the days, or rather the evenings, before the Bar Biographer was born. As was the night running into the early morning in the lane behind Oran Mor when, behaving contrary to my usual predilections, and amidst pouring rain, a sodden mattress, various other bits of broken furniture, toxic waste and kitchen slops, I met a gorgeous, passionate brunette and we damn near consummated our never-to-be relationship. I refuse to say any more about it, other than state the fact that bar reviewers can have their hearts broken by more than just a beautiful pub interior.
Adding to the list of alley adventures there was the time in Barcelona, once again after a nightclub’s chucking out time, near the Placa Reial in the Barre Gotic. This escapade involved a prostitute pestering me for sex for a full thirty-five minutes while I waited for friends to emerge from the underground club premises. It soon escalated into a stramash that unfolded down several dark alleys and included her pimp, a large stick, local residents emptying buckets of unidentified liquid down three storeys and officers from the Policia Nacional, when I realised she had somehow extricated a 20 Euro note from my front jeans’ pocket.
The situation was resolved but not to my satisfaction. Still out of pocket, as it were. However, on returning to my hotel, I did have a faint recollection that I had, in fact, spent that last note buying a round for a group of impressionable – I’d hoped - women.
At present only a handful of establishments in Glasgow utilise this superb brand of location by placing themselves in the streets behind the streets. Universal, in Bath Street Lane; Stereo on Renfield Lane; the famous Horseshoe, Drury Lane, along with the bar formerly known as O’Henry’s; and of course, the bars that make up Ashton Lane.
But these are almost exclusively old developments on lanes that have become regular thoroughfares, no real mystery to them and hence not much romance or atmosphere either.
Edinburgh has a few notable pubs in its Old Town closes, The Jolly Judge, Jinglin Geordie and The Halfway House. The New Town has its counterparts hiding in various mews. An eclectic bunch featuring Kay’s, The Star Bar, The Outhouse and others. These too, though, are places of long-standing.
What I would like to see is the use of some narrow, ancient, decrepit, forgotten alleys like you get in the aforementioned capital of Catalonia. There, you walk down one narrow street into a narrower alley then into an even narrower back alley, and just when you are thinking of turning around you find the best wee cocktail bar in the world or a 3 Michelin-starred restaurant.
I know there is a problem of city architecture here, old streets and wynds having been cleared by the City Improvement (!) Trust over the years, but I don’t care. I’d send in the bulldozers and the excavators to reverse these changes if thats what it takes.
Failing that there are interesting little ways off Trongate, and other central areas that could be ripe for little joints. Free houses with just a hatch or single door and room enough for just a handful of punters.
Clubs have been leading the way, opening up in unlikely back street settings: Buff Club, SWG3, The Glue Factory and The Flying Duck are notable venues.
In the meantime, while I plan my approach to our city planners, how about some bars opening in Anchor Lane between West George Street and St. Vincent Place? Take a look down it next time you’re near Queen Street Station. You can picture the scene, a new city-centre oasis of attractive bars, a wellspring coursing with people of all ages having a good time; because I’m not the only one that enjoys hanging-out in alleys.