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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.