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Monday, 10 December 2012

Linthouse - The Vital Spark & The Gazelle

The Vital Spark, 1155 Govan Road, Glasgow G51
The Gazelle, 1213 Govan Road, Glasgow G51

This is what I love to do. Forget the pubs everyone knows about and hunt the bars that rarely feature in any guide, online or otherwise. All pubs need custom, some more than others and I’m always in favour of redistribution.

Linthouse is at the dark end of Govan; most non-locals will only know it as the area into which they emerge after driving southbound through the Clyde Tunnel. By dark end I don’t mean the grimmer end, because you can’t get much grimmer than Govan these days, but at the obscure end, G’s little brother.

As such you would expect some dark little boozers hidden in the back streets but secretive bars hardly exist any more, even here. So both these places sit on the main street, Govan Road. They are only one hundred yards apart but are taking very different routes into the possible future of pubbing for non-city centre urban joints.

The Vital Spark succeeded Fairfield’s a few years ago. The former place was quite well known and its presence is still apparent on Google Maps. The new(ish) name may be a nod to the famous shipbuilding tradition round here. Incidentally, that tradition, fragile as it is now may even be broken entirely if BAE Systems choose their Govan yard as the one of three to close.

Just how many shipworkers use the Vital Spark is unknown but it is a welcoming place despite having only one window. I would guess the original interior is long gone and in its place is a slice of suburban clubland. Plenty of cream, sofas, fairy lights, mirrors and soft furnishings scattered throughout.

It’s as if a whole street of neighbours got together and placed their various pieces of cut-price bling into one big room. Sounds rather naff but it isn’t. It has a genuine warmth and inclusiveness and accompanying the pooling of furniture and fittings are the neighbours themselves.

Couples – young, middle-aged and older – along with singles of both gender come in every day of the week to support the place. And the way they chat to each other and the bar staff it appears like this is a community effort, a venue they all have a stake in.

Fanciful? Perhaps just an over-optimistic appraisal but when one sits there at 6pm on a winter Wednesday and the music throbs out one could believe anything.

West along the main road to The Gazelle and things appear very different. The small high windows only reveal a harsh light similar to the kind of lighting you get in gent’s conveniences. Not a good start. But this forbidding frontage is worth penetrating.

Inside, is one of the cleanest pubs I have sat in (forgive the pun). Every surface shines and that includes the wooden floor which would be an envy of any home. The only rival to this level of cleanliness is the District Bar on Paisley Road West at the other end of Govan Road.

And underneath the impressive glass and dark wood gantry, mixer bottles are arranged in incredibly neat rows, this reminiscent of the tidy bar work you find at The Laurieston. The striped two-tone banquettes make for comfortable and stylish seating and even those windows are complimented with high quality roller blinds.

You can sit and enjoy The Govan Press on those banquettes or at the bar on a high stool while other single drinkers accompany their dog while it sips from its own shiny bowl. The Gazelle nods towards other aspects of pub life with karaoke and quiz nights, and satellite football but this kind of conviviality is its speciality.

To the left of the main bar is a lounge decorated in scarlet and cream (looks better than it sounds) and this could be a great wee place for more private chats or modest functions.

The Gazelle was previously the well-renowned Stuart’s restaurant of 1960s vintage. Back then, the rage wasn’t for floor-to-ceiling windows, so you can get misunderstandings today about joints and their true nature when so little of the interior can be seen from the street.

This is a leased tenancy – the present occupant only there a couple of months – and this leaves it at a further disadvantage from free houses like The Vital Spark, in terms of flexibility, breathing space and a sustainable profit. But, regardless of type of ownership both these bars will struggle for at least the next decade.

You don’t have to think about any of these things to visit either of these bars. Just do it. And help those less fortunate. After all, it is the season for it.