Any comments on the blog, propositions (legal, of course), ideas for places for me to go see, please get in touch at and don't forget to follow me on Twitter

Friday, 7 November 2014

A Commonwealth Crawl - Part 3

The Pig & Whistle, 68 McNeil Street, Gorbals, Glasgow
The Oak Bar, 774 Springfield Street, Glasgow G31 4HL
The Bells, 990 Tollcross Road, Glasgow G32 8UP
The Waverley, 1034 Tollcross Road, Glasgow G32 8UW

The target this time was Glasgow Green, the piece of parkland designated for use by the city’s inhabitants for centuries. And in times of general squalor and overcrowding a very welcome relief and place to breathe.

For the Games it is the National Hockey Centre at the east end of the Green that is the focus and thus the nearest pub is in the Gorbals. The joint in question is the Pig and Whistle. To get to it I got off the 75 just before it crosses the Clyde and walked east for five minutes along Ballater Street.

The tenements have almost all been razed from the Gorbals and this pub is housed in a low-rise building that looks, at most, 50 years old, in a street unrecognisable to old Gorbalites.

I was joined at this stop of my journey by LJ and 48-Inch Chest (44 isn’t very impressive these days). We expected to find a hybrid of various styles adapted, modified and deleted, so to speak, over the last three or four decades. Instead there is a coherent, traditional interior of dark wood with a long counter in the main body of an upturned L. At the far end is a seating area and around the corner a wee snug.

What appeared to be the aftermath of a funeral or some other cross-generational gathering was drawing to a close this early evening as we ordered and moved along through towards the back, leaving space for those around the bar.

About to take a seat there I noticed another set of doors that led to a great little enclosed and sheltered outside area. It still being pleasant out we settled down for our smoke of choice. Soon we were joined by two attractive ladies in their early 30s. They entertained us with various anecdotes of recent holidays in the sun, specifically Magaluf.

Not that they were actually talking to us, their voices were that loud and close that even eavesdropping – a skill of mine – wasn’t required. All of it is unrepeatable but it was of research value for my two companions who before this were looking for ideas of where to spend their summer holidays. Both assured me, later, they would be onto their travel agent first thing Monday with a definite destination in mind.

Another voice joined in – a pal of the girls – from beyond the fence enclosing this mini beer garden. Declining to come round through the pub and join us she chatted for ten minutes to the two of them about various things – bling, make-up, plans for the night ahead.

When she left one of the girls beside us said, “She’s a real cow, that one.”
“Backstabbing bitch,” agreed the other.
To be honest I wanted to stay for the next episode but my two friends reminded me of the task still to complete. So we left.

Initially we had intended to get a taxi east but we began walking anyway, hoping to hail one as we moved. Over the Clyde and into Bridgeton, in the sunny remnant of the day we strolled, after ten minutes forgetting the taxi idea.

Bridgeton isn’t a thriving district, hasn’t been for decades, and a sign of this is the complete absence of any kind of hostelry apart from the main artery, London Road. We reached that road sooner than expected and kept going towards Parkhead.

Even a small Orange march didn’t stop us. We had the time to detour through Dalmarnock and look at the area that’s been most affected by the Games.

The athletes’ village, The Chris Hoy Velodrome, the Emirates Arena and various new roads are all here and at much cost to the locals. Apart from the massive loss of housing and residents moved from streets they’ve lived in for generations, those that are left have had local shops and services closed meaning a long walk to Bridgeton.

Even more serious is the closure, to make way for the Village, of the Accord Centre for vulnerable adults and their carers. But don’t worry; they have these shiny new sports centres to use for their recreation. Unfortunately, unlike Glasgow Green, they are far from free

As mentioned above, those two new centres are key Commonwealth venues, as is the neighbouring Celtic Park. So I should really have picked three pubs but Turnstiles, The London Tavern and The Springfield Vaults were closed, either for good or because the main football season was over.

So, we walked halfway up Springfield Road to the Oak Bar, this being the only bar within 500 metres of any of these venues. The Oak would sit near the top of most people’s lists of forbidding exteriors and there was some reluctance from my pals to entering.

However, there was no more than five seconds of lingering looks from the folk inside, and within a minute we had our pints in our mitts. We were in the Lounge Bar area but never have I seen less of a distinction between that and The Saloon Bar, which you walk through to get to the Gents. The only difference apparent being the younger ages in the saloon.

Those toilets are very basic but I’ve seen far worse, particularly in coastal resort bars in France or Spain. There is a wee bit of stained-glass partitioning on the wooden bar counter in the lounge but this nice detail is undermined by the counter being a two-tone affair, as if it’s been repaired numerous times after a hatchet attack, heaven forbid. Ignore my flights of imagination, there will be another, more boring, reason.

Some folk might also dislike the stone floor but it fits with the pub and is far better than carpet, which hardly ever works in any decent bar. LJ and 48-inch chest were enjoying their time here and were more reluctant to leave than they had been entering earlier. But I insisted on the time schedule. It was after 8.

Once we had left the Oak Bar they even suggested another in The Five Ways or The Anchor Bar just up the road on Gallowgate but here we split. They were off to meet some others in and around High Street while I was going further east.

Near Parkhead Cross, the 61 arrived at my stop. The last of the these roads was the route to the last Games’ venue – Tollcross Swimming Arena – and its nearest pub, The Bells.

Reaching there just before 9 I ordered quickly in a pub that was moderately busy. With the light only beginning to dwindle what features are of note could be seen clearly. These include what looks like a decently-aged gantry, stained glass booth partitions and a well-maintained wooden floor.

The Special was off so I picked the John Smith’s instead, a bad choice. I moved around the interior looking for some more interviewees, despite the earlier strife in Montfords. In doing so, I noticed the space outside to the back. Enough space for a beer garden but not capitalised upon.

While I’m still looking around, an old guy nudges me and asks – “Do you work over the road?”
“I work over some road, yes.” I grin.
But he ignores my glibness and continues – “In that swimming place. We get some of them in here occasionally.”
“Very occasionally, I’ll bet.” He sort of nods and takes a sip from his dark pint.

“A quiet lot.”
“But they were handing out all their leaflets and shit. Smiled at us and left.”
“Unsociable bunch, then?”
“Yep”, he sniffs. “This kind of life is beneath them.”

I don’t know how to beat that. He’s summed it up. But I try.
“You know their boss is a Yank wrestler?”
He nods. “I’ve thought about that. We can’t even trust one of our own to run the damn thing.”

“Aye, David Giffen is…
“I’d have that cunt on that shiny floor and show him wrestling. I’d thrash him easily, he’d be weighed down with those saddlebags full of cash – fucking cowboy.”

I tipped my hat to the fellow and he kept me amused for another three quarters of an hour with his anecdotes, most of which I can’t repeat for fear of the libel polis.

That was the best of Bells for me – it got busier but it was a mild evening and I wanted a bit of alfresco. I’d overheard chat about The Waverley along the road and its area out back.

It was only a hundred yards away – a bigger bar with a younger clientele. The main difference is the outdoor facilities – loads of tables filling an area of about 200 square metres. No greenery but an abundance of fresh air.

Everyone else knew each other it seemed, but being the only stranger isn’t new to me so I drank in the atmosphere as the light and the adventure faded into a gentle haze. I had a few more and listened a bit longer – to the nearby conversations and my thoughts.

There had been eight (or was it nine?) bars and a great day/night out. I’d covered west to east, via the south and traced experiences possible to any Games visitor seeking refreshment near any venue.

A special day, then, but also really no different than any random cross section I could have taken to reveal the relationship between Glasgow and its pubs. And only one of millions of such tales of revelry across generations of Glaswegians. A sense of one’s own insignificance is invaluable for any reviewer/writer.

That last realisation prompted my departure. The number 2 bus, another cross-city traveller, sat with its engine idling a few streets away. It was ready for me and vice versa.


The Games are finished and the sports centres are open again. Leaving that revealing dichotomy aside, it can be said that the consensus is the XVI Commonwealth Games were well run and those involved had a memorable time. In those narrow terms, then, it could be called a success for Glasgow.

And Games’ grandees trumpet the achievements of regeneration, greater sporting participation, the enhancement of the city’s tourist potential and a myriad of other benefits detailed in their press folders.

However, many respected analysts dispute the scale and veracity of these achievements and other of us wonder why it needs a sporting jamboree to do these things that the city needs?

And why, in the process, were Glaswegians from some of the poorest areas of our city decanted from their homes and/or deprived of vital community facilities? As the husband of Margaret Jaconelli put it during the final throes of their eviction from the family home in Dalmarnock – “It takes them 40 policemen and chainsaws and this is what they do to Glasgow citizens just so some idiots get to run around in shorts for two weeks.”

He put it better in those few fraught seconds than I have in over 4,000 words.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

A Commonwealth Crawl - Part 2

The Park, 442 Paisley Road West, Glasgow G51
Montford House, 23-27 Curtis Avenue, Glasgow, G44 4QD
The New Oasis, 57 Dougrie Drive, Glasgow, G45 9AD

Ibrox and neighbouring Cessnock are deprived areas with some disgraceful housing stock. The back streets are lined with crumbling tenements, most of which are owned by disreputable, irresponsible landlords who treat their tenants dreadfully.

Due to council and central government inaction this state of affairs is repeated across many parts of Glasgow and while it remains any money spent on an outmoded sports event is surely frivolous.

I work in the district and have used all the local pubs, I believe, one of a handful of a large office complement to have done so. Almost all colleagues/neighbouring businesses only frequent the Co-Op and two semi-trendy sandwich shops. All too typical of the middle/semi-professional class not to spend their money in places they regard as beneath their status.

The closest pub to Ibrox stadium is The Louden Tavern. A massive blue booze emporium that goes in for hyperbole – “The Most Famous Pub In Scotland” and “The Quintessential Rangers Supporters’ Bar” are just some of the banners used by it and its two sister venues that make up a mini chain.

But for various reasons I couldn’t embark on this crawl during the football season so this particular Louden’s was closed. But only a five-minute walk took me into Cessnock and The Park. Like Louden’s it only comes alive on match days. I visited both last year when the other Rangers – Berwick – came to town and witnessed much singing and drinking but today there was none of the former and little of the latter. “Only early” one might say, but this is the norm for The Park most of the time.

It’s big inside but very gloomy with a bar counter too small for the interior. A pool table does nothing to lighten the mood and the range of drinks is relatively small. Saturday night will be an improvement but only marginally. The pub sits on a corner with waste ground to its right and a sorry, little landscaped garden to the rear.

Space for a decent beer garden, sure, but where’s the money for it? And amidst the decay and poverty of Cessnock the thought of such is almost in bad taste.

There are better pubs around here, The Kensington and the pristine District Bar most notably and I passed them both in the number 9 along Paisley Road West heading east. My next connection was in town – the number 75 heading south from Glassford Street.

But time was getting a bit ahead of me so when I got off the 9 and jogged to the appropriate bus stop I took the chance of gaining some minutes by jumping three buses down to a number 7 which advertised Hampden as one of its stops.

“Great”, I thought, “I’ll make it to the next pub a few minutes earlier than hoped and maybe enjoy the luxury of lingering.” Not to be. I realised this as soon as we forked right towards Victoria Road. Hampden would be a stop but only an approximate one well to the west of the stadium, the wrong side.

It takes a rapid 15-minute walk to get to the right side and to my designated pub, Montford House. There’s another pub almost equidistant from the stadium, The Beechwood but the Montford is closer and slightly more welcoming.

Not to say it’s striking or of architectural note, as you can see. The interior is no more remarkable, generic with carpets and pale wooden fixtures. Both outer and inner were far more impressive when it opened as a free house in the 1960s. Now it’s denuded and owned by Belhaven

It’s meant to be comfortable and conducive to moderate consumption of drink and, more importantly, in this sort of joint, food. Burgers, fish and chips, steak sandwiches, fajitas, lasagne and garlic bread. All selected from laminate menus. Maybe there’s even a curry night?

There’s a split-level with a lounge area up top that is only distinguished from the other area by higher-backed booths. There is more than just plain-fare food and drink marketed here, sport on TV, or more specifically, football on TV. A lot of pubs are the same, some are just more blatant about it.

Today it’s the English Football League Play-offs. But the World Cup pennants are out too, branded with various sponsor logos. The mostly middle-aged men in here don’t seem the type to be turned on by pennants but they are intent on the football.

I order a bottle of beer and a small brandy and settle to watch a bit of it myself. But I’m up on my feet when I remember what I’m here for. Time for a Vox Pop. The first guy edges away towards the window as I take a seat at his booth. His 55-year-old mouth is open and ready with some exclamation but I get in first –
“What you think about The Games, pal?”

It’s as if I’m punching him in the face. Startled pain. “Uh…?” He looks around for help. No-one is looking. I feel like easing his discomfort but know my role. I stare at him.

“What you want me to say?” he blurts.
“I don’t want you to say anything.”
“OK, then.” He is looking relieved. But this is no good. “No comment” isn’t enough.

“What about Chris Hoy not making the effort to compete in his home Games. Any thoughts on that?”
“Aye, well, guy needs to… you know, cash in while he can…”
This bloke is warming to it. Time for more probing.

“Are you a fucking journo?!”
Somebody has been watching me at work. I half turn towards the seating from which the cry has come. “Do I look like a sorry category of vermin?!” I retort, regretting immediately the comparison – sorry, rats and your cousins.

I look fully at the new guy. Him and his two buddies are hard-faced and smiling simultaneously. Disconcerting.

Sliding out from the booth while checking my two drinks are virtually done I walk over to them. Because they are between the door and I. There’s no sound as I leave, only the football commentary at another crescendo.

There is a 75 in less than ten minutes and I’m rattling up into Glasgow’s surrounding hills. As this is a continuation of my earlier route the frequency isn’t a surprise. Glasgow’s travel service is fine for getting into and away from the city centre but for anything else it is quite useless.

Castlemilk is my target now, the closest habitation with a hostelry to the Cathkin Braes mountain biking venue. Near a shopping centre I get off, and down the hill and at the back of it is the New Oasis.

Probably only the locals and John Gorevan, pub historian, know of its existence in this quiet street. But unless you are offended by an OAP hanging about the door in his Adidas tracksuit you should go in if nearby. If you do a big interior awaits and white “butcher” tiling under and behind the counter, put there years before it became trendy.

Whether its most recent refurb was in the ‘70s or early ’80s may be discerned by design experts from the faux gas lamps and disproportionately large fans. The battered look of all the seating confirms that it’s been a long, long time since the pub has been decorated and/or refitted.

But so what? The, mostly, older guys in here like coming, and the trophies on display indicate that it’s a social club as much as a bare place of refreshment. I recall a snooty review of this place on Yelp, or similar parasite site, in which an out-of-towner ripped into the place rubbishing its punters and the smell of its toilets. Ignorance masquerading as refinement. Don’t bother returning, pal.

I was happy to lean back and relax and savour my pint of Special at a point more than halfway through the trek. I didn’t talk to anyone about the Games. They won’t affect anyone in here, even though they will have all paid in at least some way towards the extravaganza.

There could be strong views in here or just indifference. Anyway, life in and around the New Oasis will continue roughly as before.

Once I’ve finished my pint, I linger outside for a couple of minutes, looking north down onto the late-afternoon city. A grand view. The strong sun delineates between concrete and sandstone, wasteland and park, high-rise and tenement. I pull myself away from any sentimentality and start walking towards the main road and a bus downtown to Glasgow’s oldest place of recreation.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A Commonwealth Crawl - Part 1

McNabbs, 1552 Dumbarton Road, Glasgow G14 9DB
Butchershop Bar & Grill, 1055 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow G3 7UD

Glasgow and sport have a bad relationship. We residents of Scotland’s largest city aren’t bad at watching it but pretty pitiful in actually doing it. For instance, can you name the last professional world-class footballer born and brought up in this town? Kenny Dalglish? No-one since. In 40 years. And in other major sports it’s even longer.

It may be the aim of the Commonwealth Games organisers to increase sports participation and improve these kinds of dire figures but I haven’t seen it particularly emphasised and decisions such as closing Scotstoun Sports Centre from June 27th until August without organising adequate alternatives are indicative of the real priorities of the council and the CG organisation.

But it’s not about action it’s about THE MESSAGE and that is, supposedly, a healthy and wealthy Glasgow of today and the future. A message so transparently bogus and full of bad faith that it needs to be challenged or ignored, whatever one feels is more effective.

For that reason I set about subverting the spin of officialdom with a tour you won’t see in any promotional guide.

The Glaswegian’s default point of contact with sport is the pub, watching it on TV. So, I picked a number of pubs that stand nearest to the main Games venues – Ibrox, Scotstoun, Kelvingrove, Hampden, Cathkin Braes, Glasgow National Hockey Centre, Chris Hoy Velodrome, Celtic Park and Tollcross.

I planned having at least a pint in each bar. Not unlike other crawls I’ve done and described before, only a little longer and this with a more discernible theme. It was completed in a oner but for ease of reading it’s been split into three parts.

Scotstoun Sports Centre will be hosting the badminton and is the furthest west of all the venues thus closest to the new Bar Biographer HQ. A frequent bus service made this first stop easy to reach but things would get harder.

Granny Gibbs is virtually equidistant from the sports centre as McNabbs but I chose the latter because I haven’t yet featured it, even though it is the closest pub to my old abode.

The place has a bit of an unfortunate reputation, unfair even. The first time I asked a local about it he called the place McStabs. When I laughed half-heartedly and asked him why he recounted a tale, possibly apocryphal, of an unlucky punter attacked by a knife-wielding thug. He lay writhing near the counter only to be given seconds by another, seemingly unrelated assailant.

Nasty stuff and a reputation encouraged by darkened, blinded windows allowing passers-by zero view of the interior. But if they were to enter instead of just passing by they would find a surprisingly comfortable interior with plenty of wood finishing. A wee haven of a place entirely unthreatening.

McNabb’s is thus good for a winter’s night when it has the required cosiness but comes even more into its own in the high summer, when the tables go out onto the wide Scotstoun pavement and drinkers and the afore-mentioned passers-by interact with what you could call gusto, if you weren’t from round here.

But ordering a quick half and half in order to get the engines running early – midday – after another, ahem, assignment the previous evening I was surprised to have to twice explain their spirits range to the barmaid. She thought the Jameson I requested wasn’t there despite the infallible presence of the bottle on the shelf over her left shoulder.

Not the first time I’ve educated a bar person and won’t be the last. I don’t mind and I do it for free but it’s minus marks for the bar.

Only one of the reasons, then, that I didn’t linger, the main one being the seven bars – at least – that lay ahead. So, I was onto the number 2 bus, within 20 minutes of entering McNabb’s, heading east along Dumbarton Road.

Sitting directly opposite the reinvigorated Kelvingrove Lawn Bowls Centre on the outskirts of the oh, so hipster Finnieston is the Butchershop Bar and Grill.

I hadn’t been a fan of its name (see my whole post on the of the use of the term “grill” in bars and restaurants) nor its marketing message of beef cuts and hatchets, merely because it had been done many times before.

On the up side their take on contemporary crispness – bare wooden floors, exposed stone walls and other minimalism – does convince more than most. And they have toned down the bovine branding.

I travelled with the intention of an alfresco drink but clouds greeted me and the outside area was unappealing. However, since this visit they have introduced new decking furniture, which is very attractive and will help to draw more attention to the place.

There was no need to educate any of the staff here, they know their mixology but I only felt like a pint of what LJ calls “cooking” lager. Early on Saturday afternoon it was quiet and not a cocktail atmosphere but therein lies Butchershop’s problem because despite its impressive drink list, expertise and good look it hasn’t yet become a destination bar to rival joints like The Finnieston and the Kelvingrove Café.

Location might be the issue but perhaps the Games will change all that and I notice the operators have placed the event at the heart of their marketing campaign.

“Best of luck” I muttered, sauntering away from the bar and towards the door. “Thanks, buddy”, came the reply, unaware of the scope of my good wishes or the journey before me.

The next leg began on the Underground after doubling back to Kelvinhall station. Three stops to Ibrox.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Lists are for the Guidance of Wise Men and the Direction of Fools

The List magazine guide to eating and drinking in Glasgow and Edinburgh fails to provide an unbiased or comprehensive guide.

Forgive me the title paraphrasing and allow me a confession: I, too, use guides.

Now that unburdening is out of the way let me explain. For overseas trips and impromptu city visits they are necessary, merely to avoid hours of wandering around looking for any decent watering holes that would ensue if one arrived directionless.

Where there is time for a decent amount of research I do just that, drawing on a wide selection of sources and opinions. My own experience is the best source I know but until cloning becomes free on the NHS my singular presence can never be enough to stride every corner of the globe.

When it comes to nearer home I do look at bar guides, sometimes to fill gaps in my imbibing knowledge but mostly to compare notes, to see what others think of pubs I like and dislike. It can be quite diverting.

For a few years The List has been probably the best-known eating guide in Scotland. It has ambitions UK-wide but it can’t match, sorry, the big marketing budgets of English-based competitors. And this is shown most clearly when you look at the List’s online presence.

But I used to look forward to the latest hard copy List Guide, or magazine, as you could call it with validity before the true arrival of the internet.

The guide’s concentration upon restaurants meant that my interest was merely frivolous but in recent years, with the blurring of lines between eateries and drinkeries, The List started a new section on pubs and bars. This direct move into my territory ceased the offhand way I would look at the annual publication.

It quickly became clear that The List reviewers were selecting bars from a narrow range, largely ruling out traditional bars. A few were included but even this small number decreased until this year only a handful from Glasgow and Edinburgh are reviewed.

Omissions from Glasgow include The Horseshoe, The Scotia, Liosmore, The Laurieston, The Steps Bar and The Old Toll. Within this number are interiors showing the best intact examples of Edwardian, Art Deco and ‘60s design you will find in virtually any British pub. And they aren’t mere museum pieces, good times can be enjoyed at any hour they open their doors.

Only two venues are reviewed east of High Street – West Brewery and The Vintage, these being included only for their craft beer. Meanwhile, two absolute period gems The Railway Tavern and The Portland Arms don’t feature because they are too far east and too working class.

In Edinburgh there are also many great bars ignored. For example, the magazine mentions how vibrant Leith is as a focus of hospitality but in this area alone, stalwarts such as The Central Bar, Carriers Quarter and Port o’ Leith are missing.

And, popping downtown to the New Town and Stockbridge, no reviews of places like The Bailey, Star Bar and Kay’s Bar. The latter’s omission is particularly noteworthy. This tiny mews bar with a unique appearance and atmosphere featured before in the magazine but not this time.

Two other distinguished names The Sheep’s Heid (possibly the city’s oldest) and The Canny Man (possibly the city’s haughtiest landlord) were also previously included but not now. No list of Edinburgh pubs can sensibly omit such idiosyncratic items as these, their distinguishing features going beyond the latest bar fashions.

This fixation with fashion may be explained by my suspicion that a majority of the reviewers are wannabe hipsters who don’t have an appreciation of what actually makes Glasgow and Edinburgh the drinking cities they are. They have no perspective on the development of nightlife on a timespan beyond last year and are then unable to define a city from any other.

So we get a list of bar reviews that could just as easily be describing a joint in Birmingham or Buckingham as in one of our two largest cities. Maybe that’s what they want, an identikit, chain-city where they and fellow pseudo trendies can play unmolested by the rest of the population?

Their narrow focus and lack of knowledge manifest themselves, for example, in an ignorance – wilful or not – of any kind of bar scene in Glasgow’s East End and in their treatment of an area such as Finniestion. For The List and its writers the district is just Glasgow’s version of Shoreditch/Hoxton.

Its industrial legacy and claim to be the last part of Glasgow’s west end to be gentrified mean pretty much nothing to them and they seem to have no knowledge that Finnieston has always had plenty of bars – before the ratio of traditional to contemporary pubs was 9-1 and it’s now vice versa.

Aside from the content of the magazine, it claims that all review visits are incognito and that inclusion is not secured through payment. A strange claim that when you consider the consistent inclusion of certain joints and the equally consistent exclusion of similar places bars and restaurants.

And from Edinburgh’s famous Rose Street the Abbotsford is featured while the equally impressive Kenilworth is not. One wonders why until you notice the large ad placed by the pub group owning the Abbotsford, the Guildford Arms and others, all of which are included in the guide.

Bar/nightlife guides are useful and fun and, hopefully, free but unless you are a recently-bearded clone who thinks the best fun to be had when the sun goes down is a few craft beers at the opening of the 38th Brewdog outlet, steer clear of The List.

Sunday, 30 March 2014


Hyde, 9-17 Partick Bridge Street, Glasgow G11 6PN

It took a while but Hyde Bar and Restaurant, at Partick Cross, and its ambitious terrace have finally arrived. The stop-start nature of its development even caught me out but now it is here to be enjoyed.

Planning a forthcoming London trip it soon became obvious just how many pubs, clubs and restaurants have custom-built smoking/sun terraces. Glasgow has only a handful of venues that have gone out of their way to construct semi-covered areas where one can sit outside for as long as one feels, smoking or not.

That is one of the reasons I shadowed the progress of a development down the Partick end of Byres Road. From the beginning of its planning, the terrace was both a key part of its publicity and its aims as a venue. The phrase “south-facing” has never been more relevant for a Glasgow bar.

Despite the nearby presence of The Three Judges and Butterfly & Pig the imminent arrival of Hyde on Partick Bridge Street seemed like a step into the unknown, a claim staked on virgin territory. I looked forward…

And waited. The weeks became months as progress stalled many times. So long, now, that I can’t even remember if it was two or three years ago. Facebook profiles, blog mentions, street rumours and recruitment drives all supposedly heralded its arrival but the actual construction failed to keep pace and then ground to a halt. Another dream that ended, so it seemed.

Then, some two months ago I was passing and noticed work had begun again. Inside as well as out. I stopped and peered in an open door. A young bloke in a hard hat was working. He caught my eye. I turned to go.

“Can I help you?” he enquired. More of a statement than a question. In an Eastern European accent.
“No,” I replied quickly and moved to go. In two or three steps he was beside me, his expression blank. Perhaps he thinks I’m from a rival operation, I thought. Or even an opportunistic thief?

“Just having a look,” I said cheerily, “nice place!”
“Yeah?” His tone remained defensive. I nodded, thinking of what I could say next to defuse the situation…
“You think so…?” A smile grew. “I designed it all. Everything.”

I nodded, while inwardly doubting his story of a multi-skilled 19-year-old assuming control of the interior design, civil engineering and architecture of a six-figure project. But I applauded his chutzpah. Again inwardly.

Before I did actually leave he showed me the width of the place, at least double the amount of frontage I had expected, and assured me it would be opened within 10 days. My scepticism was again warranted as that time came and went.

Some time later, during a long shift of my second occupation - The Muse’s driver, she shouted as we sped like light through Partick Cross. I didn’t turn my head, even for an instant, so used am I to her outpourings of passion but her utterance contained a word I knew that made me pause – my thoughts, not my pressure on the accelerator.

She had said “Hyde!” Now, my second thought concerned that outstanding international arrest warrant I may have mentioned in an earlier blog but where was there to obscure myself if danger was imminent? So, I reconsidered and remembered the mythical opening promised for so long.

“What about it?” I asked as nonchalantly as I could.
“It looks like it could be open.”
I paused. Gulped quietly. “Nah, can’t be…”

Much later that night I heard the door crashing open. Must have been after 3am. The chuckling came later, around ten seconds later. That was the last I heard before the morning. Two jobs are tiring.

And in that morning The Muse was triumphant. She and her lady friends had been some of the first to enter its doors. While I had snored. The irony was huge. But I swallowed it with grace and smiled while she described the interior.

Cream banquettes. Black banquettes. Elegant booths upstairs. Vodka. The mezzanine. The partially-bricked wall. Vodka. Splashes of red here and there. Eclectic pieces of furniture. Gin. Innovative lighting. She went on and on…

As much as anything else, to stop her I said, “I NEED to go.” She looked at me as if I’d just suggested we move to the Crimea.

But I have managed to go. On three occasions at different times of day and night, for flavour. It is looking promising. Unlike many new bars this place actually needs the large windows. To do the interior justice and to allow its scale to be appreciated.

Other than that observation it is hard to pin down a stream of thought behind the look and this is not here a bad thing. An indulgent mish-mash you could call it. Normally this is a minus but not for Hyde. Because it is an attempt to create something that is good and pleasing, not just something that will work. A subtle difference and it shows a commitment often lacking.

The Muse hadn’t mentioned the smaller upstairs bar. It has the feel of a more private gathering, while the adjacent gallery booths allow you to overlook the main lower area, which has a gothic appearance that should have been continued upwards instead of the industrial grey ceiling and girders.

A minor error that may be offset by the intriguing wood-panelled approach to the restaurant in the south of the building, off of which are various doors to toilets and staff areas.

And if you are looking for the best area to ensconce yourself for a long stay, I’d say take the recessed seating under the mezzanine. A good place for planning and scheming while sipping and sighting.

Cocktails are now de rigueur for any new opening and Hyde, at least swerves from the norm with items such as the Hyde Breakfast Martini and the Daisy de Hyde. More notable still are the craft beer cocktails – variations on a theme, topping up traditional cocktails with various beers. Try the Pamlpehyde Caledonian.

All of this without yet mentioning the sun/smoking terrace – Hyde’s USP. Simple but elegant furniture comprising half a dozen tables and chairs will allow a good few to enjoy what could be the best elevated bar view in Glasgow, rivalled only by the rooftop vista of 29/One Up.

If the sun shines I can see one having to get here early for a seat and who knows whether the owners will allow standing drinkers on the terrace. Should such problems arise then it is a good sign for the bar whether business is guaranteed by crowd-drawing food, pre-Sanctuary clubbers, casual afternoon visitors or Hyde proving to a be a night-time draw by itself.

Successful or not, features such as the terrace will keep me coming back as regularly as time and other bars allow.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Two Stirlingshire Inns - The Gargunnock Inn and The Drymen Inn

The Gargunnock Inn, 6 Main Street, Gargunnock FK8 3BZ
The Drymen Inn, 5 Stirling Road G63 0BW

Mostly, it’s the biggest mouth that has the least to shout about. In these days of intense promotion, social media, multiple media platforms and barrels of bullshit this truth is easily overlooked.

The Drymen Inn in the village of the same name opened a couple of years ago with much noise. Marketing, some people call it. I call it waffle. But all new establishments believe they have to do it.

However, they should put the first things first, ie run a decent establishment with good booze and food, sympathetic service and high standards of cleanliness. Success flows, mostly, from these essentials not a clever social media strategy.

The large windows of the inn are the thing one notices initially. I sigh when I see them, because virtually every new pub or restaurant deploys them but most people are probably quite impressed by the huge expanse of glass so we can ignore my input as being unrepresentative.

What we couldn’t ignore was the state of the glass when the Muse and I last visited and sat in the conservatory section. Noticeably smeared and streaky. You can forgive condensation because that can appear despite your best efforts but the mess here was down to a basic lack of care. And the adage of a joint only being as good as its worst cleaner was proven.

And, sadly, this neglect continued on the tables and the floor, with crumbs everywhere, accompanied by dirt and, presumably, animal hairs. We had planned to order food but after seeing this mess we limited ourselves to drink.

This slovenliness is disappointing because it detracts from the eclectic interior that has various sections of interest including a wood burning stove and stone pillaring. It manages to achieve that sought-after amalgamation of contemporary and rural with a fair degree of style. Even if there is a slight flaw in layout with far too much room behind the bar itself. Maximise punter space, designers!

So, despite the bad start to our visit we gave the Drymen Inn a second chance. Because of the decent interior, the attractive outdoor furniture and…well, that’s the kind of people we are – exacting but fair.

But, eventually, we couldn’t ignore other faults that appeared. The service was friendly enough but disinterested. As if they weren’t really bothered if we were there by the window or not. Even when I came to settle our bill.

At least we had each other to talk to but the single man sitting at the bar could have done with some chat but the two bar persons were too busy talking to each other and then with a couple of other off-duty colleagues who appeared halfway through the afternoon.

And while I waited to pay I noticed the large glass gantry of their premium drinks. Not appropriate, I feel, for a rural setting and it hints too loudly at profit margins.

We left a little deflated. A joint not living up to its billing as the flagship pub/restaurant in a village dear to us – we exchanged our vows only two hundred yards down the road.

A village we know less well, just ten miles to the east is Gargunnock. Its eponymous inn has been operating for hundreds of years, its profile reflecting the modest size of the local population and the village’s fair distance from Glasgow.

It is far nearer to Stirling. The main road to that city, the Gargunnock Straights, was known for being the proving ground of boy racers as they displayed their bravado by nudging speedometers higher and higher. Perhaps they still do.

If you enter from Main Street this is the original inn, part of a row of whitewashed buildings dating from the 1600s. The pub/restaurant of today has extended back to more than double the original space creating a long, thin layout.

This interior has no less than four different sections, all interesting. The front (if it is the front) is two old rooms with a real fire. Sitting here you can easily imagine the centuries rewinding - you’ve just arrived after a long coach trip or handed your horse over to the groom to take it to the stables, while you warm yourself and look forward to a hearty stew and a warm(ish) bed. Serving wenches are optional.

Further in is the first bar area complete with dining tables. Here they serve good food, simple pub grub but done very competently. The kitchen hatch is on one wall for those of you who like to feel close to the chefs while they work.

The third area is a hall with another fire and comfortable seating and off this is the public bar, which includes another bar counter, jukebox, and pool table. Perfect for a more relaxed afternoon or evening drinking a session lager or 13. While the hall is more the place for after-lunch/dinner coffees and the newspapers.

Beyond the hall is the back door leading to the sizeable car park. When you look at the inn from there it appears to be the front, perhaps being the entrance that most locals use? And they do use this place very regularly. As they should. It deserves their custom and that’s the best you can say about a pub.

The present owners, the Bedwells, have continued the good work of their predecessors maintaining a place that gives credit to its village, and I’m sure that won’t change, no matter how loudly they shout.

Friday, 31 January 2014

2014 And All That


In this big year for Glasgow and Scotland with the Commonwealth Games and the independence referendum, here’s a look at these events and their impact upon the nation and the licensed trade.

This piece began a few weeks ago on the rural back roads of Northern Ireland. I was lost, it was raining and my recently re-heeled boots were somehow letting in. The car and my companions, including even The Muse, had abandoned me an hour earlier as I insisted on finding an elusive and secluded watering hole of yore and of some repute.

I had mislaid the directions received from a bloke on the ferry from Cairnryan but I was determined to find this place, even if it meant getting wetter and colder and the roads/lanes getting even narrower.

At a bend, just under an arch of dripping ash trees, something struck me. No, nothing solid. Nothing automotive. A thought. More than that. An internal command. Stop searching for the past. Look ahead.

Simple. Straightforward. And it is an easier action, really. We’re made to look forward, our heads face that way. Yes, there is comfort in the past but it is often illusory and involves a re-writing of one’s history. So, while in this progressive state of mind there is no option but to examine 2014 and its promise.

It could be a big year, so they say. The biggest in 300 of them, or 700 if you look at it another way. Aye, the Referendum. This is not the forum to discuss it other than to observe that in 1707 the Parcel of Rogues sold Scotland for money and now, according to latest research most of the population would “sell” or “buy” independence merely on how it affects their pocket. No mention of national pride, self-determination, or allegiance to past martyrs to the cause. Very sad.

And Glasgow hosts the Commonwealth Game, meaning it has its hands on the biggest sporting event here for… er… 28 years. Put that way it doesn’t sound as impressive, does it?

We have been told that the Games will benefit the city in many ways. The health of the population will drastically improve, world status will be bestowed, total East End regeneration will occur and tourist money will pour in - in trillions. That’s it. Nothing more than those pretty modest objectives.

Six months from takeoff and even those limited ambitions look, well, ambitious. Agreed, Glasgow will receive more global attention than in a normal year but with the status of the Commonwealth Games as a whole diminishing and its very continued existence placed in real recent doubt, a well-funded and imaginative marketing campaign could have achieved that increased attention on its own and at a far lower cost.

Glasgow has a record of relatively successful self-promotion from innocent efforts such as Glasgow’s Miles Better to morally dubious re-brandings such as The Merchant City. There has been a too heavy emphasis on high-end retailing as if Buchanan and Ingram Streets can be enough to drive a whole city while the rest is neglected. Meanwhile, aspects of our culture that didn’t quite fit with Glasgow’s shiny remade image, such as our traditional pubs, were neglected or purposely sidelined. Glasgow and Scotland do bars and hospitality well, yet the powers that be felt that our drinking culture should be hidden and certainly not celebrated.

Things may have improved since politicians finally realised that alcohol “problems” were fuelled by home drinking not in pubs and clubs but I have yet to see a decent, coherent, campaign promoting Glasgow licensed venues during or before the Games’ build-up.

In this absence I’m intending to do my modest best with a couple of ideas to help the still-beleagured industry. Watch this and related web spaces.

As for East End regeneration, Dalmarnock, the district with the most Games’ building work, has been eviscerated leaving wide-open spaces adjoining the massive new arenas. Some of what has gone is no great loss but the local community have lost a number of amenities and have to travel to Bridgeton for essentials such as a Post Office.

The Emirates Arena and Chris Hoy Velodrome (yeah, the same Chris Hoy who, with impeccable timing, retired just before his “home” Games) are to be used by the public after the Games but charges will have to be reduced before locals can experience them. And the Athletes’ Village ability to form housing after August may have been compromised by the, allegedly, cheap plumbing.

The tourists will need places to eat and drink while in the East End but – correct me if I’m wrong – no new cafes, restaurants or pubs have opened. The pub bit isn’t surprising when you remember the council’s restrictive policy on new licences. Meanwhile, the restaurant owners in the Merchant City lick their lips at the thought of inflated takings. Not to mention the hotel chains poised to raise their tariffs by percentages running into the thousands.

Money will be come, undoubtedly, but to the wrong people. To the same people as before. Rebirth of neglected areas will be stillborn without a radical midwife, prescribing redistribution. Not only financial, but of opportunity – educational and social.

And there’s more sport… A golf event up in leafy Gleneagles in which some generous people have volunteered their labour to help out holding scoreboards, raking bunkers, corralling the crowd… wait, I hear they are having to pay for the privilege. Paying to work?! Run that by me again. They are paying to… Alongside the 24 golfer millionaires who won’t pay for a thing.

But it’s not all doom and inequality. I look forward to new bar openings such as Hyde (wait a moment, I mentioned this last year too) with its daring sun terrace, one of the very few that have been purpose-built. And any other new pubs that are similarly exciting or do something a wee bit different.

I continue to hope that we allow ourselves to celebrate our drinking culture and tradition instead of our usual self-flagellation and that pride in what we are translates into a burgeoning hospitality sector for Scots and tourists to enjoy, whether this September sees independence or not.

And on that fateful day and night I have another choice to make - other than the private one in the polling booth – the bar to pick in which to celebrate the new age or drown in sorrow.