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Thursday, 19 May 2016

Woodlands Road - West on the Corner & The Arlington

West on the Corner, 160 Woodlands Road, G3 6LF
The Arlington, 130 Woodlands Road, G3 6HB

Some roads are only widely known for where they take you, rather than for themselves or what they contain. Woodlands Road is one of them. It links the West End with Charing Cross and hence the city centre.

In way, it is a bit like the Finnieston stretch of Argyle Street used to be, before that drag became so hip and featured in all the magazines. But perhaps because Woodlands Road isn’t able to have a concentration of shops and food/drink outlets, being lined by the northern edge of Kelvingrove Park, such a transformation is unlikely.

Still, that isn’t to say that nothing happens on this road. At the eastern end, Uisge Beatha was replaced by Dram! just a few years back. The original pub wasn’t a particular fave of mine but it could claim to be unique in this city, Highland kitsch isn’t common in Glasgow. Now, Stonegate have it, having acquired it from the late Maclay Group. Nothing unique about Dram! but plenty of blandness, rest assured.

Further east, another multiple operator has moved in fairly recently. And again, the pub making way was a place of some repute. The Halt was its name. And it had one of the best-preserved interiors in the city including a beautiful U-shaped bar counter in dark wood and a wood-panelled snug.

What made the Halt even more notable was its clientele – the type of punters not normally associated with a traditional bar. West End dropouts you might call them. Crusties was another, less charitable, name. The ones I knew of, and went to school with, were just too young to have fully participated in punk but they held some of that attitude. Of course, most have drifted away over the years, or lost the faith, but I did see a familiar soul or two anytime I was in the area.

The main bar was adjoined by a function space that hosted some decent live music, often of the more raucous type. All in all, a joint worth a good few hours of your time, day or night.

It was common knowledge over more recent years that the Halt was struggling. Various plans were mooted for its revival. But nothing concrete until the burgeoning West operation (brewery and huge, but atmospheric bar at the Templeton Building, Glasgow Green) announced it was opening as a pop-up bar in the Halt premises, with the intention of making it a permanent affair.

In moved the refurbishers to rip out the soul of the old pub. In the place of venerable dark wood, and brass fittings they inserted an interior befitting a college cafeteria, minus the warmth.

Every angle is covered with cheap-looking, light-coloured wood and tabletops covered by something reminiscent of Formica, without the nod to nostalgia. Grey lampshades are scattered here and there, reflecting the haphazard nature of the total refurb. So bad, that the superb original wooden floor is rendered bereft.

The disheartening theme continues behind the bar with a completely unoriginal steel gantry that although well-stocked does not tempt you to discover any of its delights.

But on my first visit to West on the corner, as it’s now called, I of course did sample some of that alcohol. I went low-strength, for convenience sake and soon regretted that decision – the West Somme going as close to carbonated water as Trading Standards will probably allow, a real waste of barley. Of course, most West beers are reasonably good, and I agree with the concept of low-strength beers, but this version is a brewing failure.

Next door, in the former events space, is a slightly more elegant room in which the full food menu is served. Although the German menu is quite a novelty in this city, it is still just another restaurant serving middle-of-the-road fare, something that is not a rarity in this city, whereas decent live-music venues are dwindling in numbers.

No comprehensive BB bar visit is complete without a toilet inspection and downstairs I did just that. The red tiling contained within is easily the best design feature of the whole joint. That tells you something.

Down there, I recalled the anecdote that during the gutting of this place’s beautiful fixtures and fittings, the builder/desecrator was given the old bar to keep. Lucky for him, fuck the rest of us.

A hundred yards further along Woodlands Road in the direction of town is The Arlington, and hardly a starker contrast with West on the Corner can be imagined.

The Arlington has had a number of refurbs over the decades but I think its present look is the best of the lot of them – a bit of a midden, really, and all the better for it, because that’s what its punters want, an antidote to the rest of the West End. They want a place you can get drunk in without bothering if you spill some of your lager on the floor or you bundle over a chair or two as you stumble to the bar.

And they, in this outpost of counter-culture in this district of Glasgow, don’t care if the lighting is pretty decrepit – the fairy lights, for instance, quite ridiculous – or the furniture the cheap side of rickety, or the drink brands the very opposite of premium.

Craft-beer snobs would scoff at the drinks selection which includes the Arlington’s own Stone of Destiny lager (£2.70) which plays on the urban legend of the true resting place of that relic. The fact that the bar lets you pay for that particular pint with Scotcoin tells you a little bit more about the ethos of this bar.

In here you get misfits, dropouts, serious drinkers, ex-Halt-goers (probably), OAPs on a Wednesday afternoon pub crawl, down-at-luck salesmen with glassy eyes stuck in the corner with two pints for company, and just old-fashioned party animals partaking in concoctions like a Bucky Bomb.

The most recent time I was in, on a Wednesday afternoon, the handful of punters, who before entering the Arlington had mostly been strangers, were crowded around the bar chatting, laughing and drinking together. Down the road at West on the Corner, there was a similar number of customers but they remained separate, each little party of one, two, three or four keeping to their own table – circulation seemingly an impossible thing as they sipped and sipped and sipped…

The difference between the two joints thus confirmed in those two snapshots – and it tempts me to say that in The Arlington they have a good time, in West on the Corner they just think they do.