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Friday, 24 April 2015

Free Strathbungo

The Rum Shack, 657-659 Pollokshaws Road, Glasgow G41 2AB
The Allison Arms, 720 Pollokshaws Road, G41 2AD
Heraghty's Bar, 708 Pollokshaws Road, G41 2AD
Kelly's Bar, 686-688 Pollokshaws Road, G41 2QB
The Salisbury Bar, 72 Nithsdale Road, G41 2AN

I neglect the Southside. Just like some people neglect an unassuming cousin or an earnest columnist. Every so often – of course – a new bar opens and my interest is piqued – for an hour or two. Sometimes longer, if there is a concerted development in an area.

The last time this occurred was over a decade ago around Shawlands Cross, the Southside’s only real nightlife hub. Since then, things have quietened in that particular zone, partly due to the recession.

The most recent scene of activity is further up Pollokshaws Road, at Strathbungo. The Bungo, for instance, on Nithsdale Road is at the forefront of a number of bars, restaurants and innumerable coffee shops opening here in the last three to four years.

Being part of a mini-empire including The Left Bank (Gibson Street) and The Two Figs (lower Byres Road), it has a relatively high profile, a large flexible interior and a downstairs space that has been utilised for a variety of arts events. Add to that the fact that I ate one of the best curries of my life (Goan fish) in The Left Bank and I should like The Bungo.

But it lacks the edge you feel in the best bars, it’s a little too respectable. And it does feel like a West End import. Also, I had an unpleasant confrontation with one of the co-owners when she was a humble barperson at Oran Mor. She took great exception to me exploring the about-to-open brasserie/wine bar. Thus, I am reluctant to ever add another penny to her fortune by imbibing in any of her establishments.

Over Nithsdale Road is The Salisbury. Previously a coffee shop called Cookie, this re-invention is notable for its large selection of gins. Despite the offsetting of the more traditional Titwood and Samuel Dow bars in the same street, some locals regard the area as being under attack by gentrification – more on this later.

If you return to Pollokshaws Road, you look right and see Mulberry, a place that still regards itself as “the Southside’s coolest bar/bistro.” It isn’t. And I’m afraid, even a decade a go, it wasn’t. All-round media man Dominik Diamond was a frequenter in those days – that tells one all one needs.

To your left, are a number of more “authentic” locals, including Kelly’s. It also has a Diamond connection. He claimed in his autobiography that he experienced his nadir when he found himself consuming vast amounts cocaine in Kelly’s toilets, either before or after a Celtic game. Not quite the same as an epiphany in Groucho’s but he has since “found himself” again, this time as a decent God-fearing fellow, I believe.
So bully for him.

The nearest bar to Kelly’s is Heraghty’s. I believe it shares its neighbour’s footballing allegiance but surpasses it in terms of interior. It is well-preserved and has an interesting nook by the door.

A nice wee place, but the most rewarding joint on this side of the street is the Allison Arms. The stone-clad frontage reminds me of the Doublet and the now-defunct Mackintoshes. The use of brick is continued indoors with varied effect, looking scrappy in places. In fact, at first look the whole interior is slightly ramshackle, and it looks like a very basic knock-through extension has taken place sometime in the last 30 years or so, without much effort to smooth the marriage, so to speak.

However, there are a couple of details that made me warm to the place. The wooden gantry is beautifully bowed with age. OK, so there are lots more impressive-looking gantries in this city, but not many that speak of their longevity and of witnessing years of good times quite so vividly.

And there is an original spittoon! It makes my day seeing one of these. There are only a handful left in Glasgow, their presence very welcome despite their present-day redundancy. Spitting in a bar?! It’s almost as heinous as getting drunk.

But if you do want to at least approach that state, you can take your pick from a healthy variety of unusual bottled beers from around the globe – three fridges-full of them. This kind of offering is the best price-efficient way of bars offering a wide range without the cost of putting on draught – showing that the craft-beer revolution has spread its influence very far.

In this kind of bar you can thus have the best of both worlds – a good choice of tasty beers in an environment free of bearded nerds blethering on about cask-conditioning. Did I mention Brewdog?

If I did it is as a contrast to the free house over the road from the Allison Arms – The Rum Shack. This is very much a one-off, especially round here. The name gives it away – a Caribbean experience. And before you groan about yet another themed joint, this place isn’t just another chain tiki bar, it is run by people with a genuine feel for that part of the world and its culture.

In this site used to be Strathie’s and, more famously, The Kind Man’s, and housed a snooker hall downstairs. That same space now holds regular music nights; reggae, soul, blues and ragtime the constituent parts of a body of sounds that rivals that of many dedicated musical venues.

Five minutes into The Rum Shack and I notice the presence of Ford Kiernan. Ho-hum. Five minutes after that, and in comes Bruce Morton, a comedian I’ve always found more interesting than the former chap. They began talking. I tried to eavesdrop. Not ethical but good if you want an edge to your piece with some insider information.

But I couldn’t get close enough, so used my imagination instead. It came up with a new sitcom. Or an agitprop radio series of which you used to hear pretty regularly on public broadcasting. Or just a coming night at The Stand.

I left with my questions unanswered, but with a free magazine in my hand – Art Village Voice – Arts and Culture in the Southside. Later, I read a piece within by Mr. Morton. The article was part of his ongoing satire – the Greater Shawlands Republic, in which he campaigns for Southside autonomy from the market-driven claws of GCC and its encouragement of gentrification.

A funny wee read, from a man passionate about this area – not bad for a guy from Paisley. And his aim is to create what could be described as a funky republic, of which The Rum Shack could be a mini version.

The magazine also features a number of local artists, the most interesting of which, if I can tender my second artistic opinion of this piece, is Brian W McFie – look out for his work.

On the back of the magazine, restaurateur Domenico Crolla showcases his pizzas which feature likenesses of celebs such as Gino D’Acampo, Tom Ford and Jay Z. He describes these things as works of art. I’m sorry, Mr Crolla, volunteering my third artistic judgement - this blog is closer to that definition than your pieces of dough, tomato and cheese.