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Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Shettleston Two

The Railway Tavern, 1416 Shettleston Road, Glasgow G32 9AL
The Portland Arms, 1169 Shettleston Road, G32 7NB




One of the main components of the East End of Glasgow, Shettleston is a district often burdened by a fearsome reputation but in reality it is much like many areas of the city, north, west, east and south, with the accompanying positives and negatives.

There is a decent promenade to be had along the length of the main artery, Shettleston Road, selecting pubs as you go. But it is a pity that so few interested imbibers, not to mention bloggers, seem to want to explore around here.

Anyway, their loss, and that includes missing out on two of Glasgow’s best bar interiors. The first of these is the Railway Tavern, situated at the eastern end of the thoroughfare.

The Railway Tavern is a modest, cottage building, with no hint of the delights inside. This pub dates from Edwardian times and was from the first regarded as a workingman’s establishment.

At first glance the interior looks quite simple, basic even. An island bar with a low-rise, fragile looking gantry greets one, but the beamed ceiling is more impressive. The interior is quite small, everything seemingly scaled-down. But this just adds to the warm feeling that comes over you in here, unannounced.

It is more than just the heat you get from the numerous guarded fires. There are two of these sited permanently in the two sitting rooms (or snugs) that give this place some of its reputation. One of these has some interesting engravings on its wall but the real interest is the service buttons that were once linked to service signal boxes in the main area. Those wishing to conduct their drinking away from their fellows could thus summon service without leaving their seats. Those were the days…

Another feature of great interest is the Family Department or Jug Bar. This is an enclosed area by one small corner of the bar counter only accessible through one exterior door. There would be no mixing between those using this area and those in the rest of the bar, because this was where the family (wife or children) would be allowed to collect a jug of beer for the man of the house. An early off-licence.

The Railway Tavern retains such curiosities long past their actual use, realising that history should be preserved and that it gives modern pub-goers an enjoyable link to that history.

The tavern nowadays is a real community pub. The manager, Derek, knows most punters by name and creates a welcoming atmosphere for everyone. Unusually for around Shettleston there is a beer garden, situated beside trees at the back. All in all, The Railway Tavern is a good option to take in the afternoon’s football on TV, a full evening of chat and drink, even karaoke at 3pm Tuesday and Sunday.



Opposite is the The Kirkhouse, a decent family and food-friendly establishment but the other historical gem in Shettleston is The Portland Arms, about 600 yards west of The Railway Tavern.

Re-opened in the 1930s to accommodate the drinking appetite of well-paid workers newly employed in the armament factories of the East End, The Portland Arms shares with the Steps Bar and Rogano Restaurant, both of the city centre, a well-preserved Art Deco interior. These are some of the best examples of inter-war design anywhere in the UK.
The previous Portland Arms had been around since 1842, the new version the brainchild of ambitious licensee Jonathan Tindal. He used the architect Alexander-Hood Macleod, whose business had been in decline. Macleod’s main experience had been industrial work, and these techniques and materials were applied to The Portland, which is a B Listed building and interior.

There are many notable features starting with the building’s modernist exterior. Its granite and brick fascia and steel lettering sets it apart from the tenements all around. Inside, the vogue materials of the 1930’s walnut and chrome are employed to great effect. All doors and the counter are in walnut, with walnut zebra-style veneer panelling also on the walls. Chrome is banded round the counter. Small match strikers remain under the counter and between seats, an echo of smoking days. Above the bar gantry is a large cream canopy, a very unusual feature, originally inset with neon lights.

Probably the most notable aspect to the interior is the four well-preserved sitting rooms, or snugs, in each corner. All are self-contained and glazed, the two front rooms with windows on to the street, something unique in this country I believe. One of these is designated as a ladies room, the other, is unfortunately, in use as a storeroom. There is also a jug bar. With all these wonders it is easy to fail to notice the two Art Deco fireplaces, notable features in their own right.

There is no denying that the bar is operating at a level far below that of its heyday and this is reflected in the rather cheap, harsh strip lighting under the canopy and indeed the whole of the interior. It is also unfortunate, though unsurprising, that the original terrazzo flooring is long gone.



The last but one time I visited the Portland, I was on my own and smartly dressed in a winter coat and crisp white shirt and happy with my appearance. A few guys in their early 20s, who looked to be in the know, were smoking at the entrance and one of them, noticing me as I passed, greeted me thus – “Alright, slick?” I smiled and nodded, glad that someone else had appreciated my look, even if it was not entirely what he meant.

Inside, there were quite a few other colourful characters and after my visit I made the following notes – “Within minutes you realise that this joint contains the highest concentration of reprobates and rogues since the last meeting of the Privy Council. To be more specific, the denizens here can be split into two categories: those who are barred from the Railway Tavern, and those who should barred from the Railway Tavern.”

But on my most recent visit to the Portland, a Saturday in late April, things were different; the bar staff more attentive, the clientele rather less forbidding, a unity amongst all the punters creating a far more relaxed vibe, an atmosphere that this wonderful interior deserves.
There are other notable bars along Shettleston Road. I have in the past confused The Drum and The Town Tavern pubs, being not too far apart. I prefer the latter for its attractive bar staff, ingenious wee patio and various malts priced at £3 a pop.

Venture off the main road and The Palaceum Bar might be your choice for refreshment. I’ve done that once…

Ahem... but returning to Shettleston Road, The Cottage Bar is well-known, even to non-drinkers. That relates to the Arthur Thompson/Paul Ferris gangland saga, that has spawned more bad books and films than Jack the Ripper.

My first time in the Cottage was around 15 years back, a full decade after the lethal end of that feud. After a couple of beers I decided to ask a few punters what they knew of the case. The first guy said nothing, the second pointedly ignored me, the third told me to GTF. I took that as the cue to drain and split.

A little lesson learned, you could say, and one that I keep close as I continue to tramp the streets documenting the life and times of bars in Shettleston and beyond.

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