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Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Favourite Bars of the Last Decade

No unnecessary preamble; this particular stuff requires no explanation.


Favourite Bar - Town of Ramsgate - the most atmospheric of the many great Thames-side boozers, the proximity of the historic Wapping Old Stairs adding to the air of the place. Hopefully the latest refurb won't change things too much nor preclude a good old London singsong.

Runners-up - The Boleyn Tavern (East Ham's finest on a grand scale).
                    - Boisdale Belgravia (nowhere better for whisky and cigars).
                    - Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (if it's good enough for Dickens it's good enough for me).
                    - Dog and Duck (ditto Orwell in this slice of Amsterdam in Soho).
                    - Windsor Castle (a mahogany gem of an interior ingeniously compartmentalised).


Favourite Bar - The Central Bar - a living example that a working-class bar can be just as grand as its more upmarket cousins. Situated beside the site of the old Central Station in Leith, the interior's use of tile, stained glass and mosaic flooring, not to mention a remarkable wooden gantry, can render a first-time visitor speechless in admiration; while the more regular punters just get on with their drinking.

Runners-up - Leslie's (a southside treasure trove of snugs, elegant woodwork and snob screens.)
                    - Jinglin' Geordie (superseded The Halfway House as the best fun to be had down Fleshmarket Close).
                    - Devil's Advocate (a more modern take on how to feel at one with the Old Town and its back closes,coupled with a huge whisky list).
                    - The Shore (restrained elegance down by Leith waterfront, its dark wood best enjoyed by candlelight).
                    - Bramble (led the way in the capital's cocktail renaissance).


Favourite Bar - Boadas - it's not just that it's Barcelona's oldest cocktail bar and that you are drawn back to the '30s as soon as you enter this wood-panelled sanctuary that from the street offers no obvious signs of the delights inside. No, add the impeccable bow-tied service, the gentle atmosphere, the exemplary cocktail expertise. On my first visit, I sampled the barman's latest creation - Blackpool Rock - one of the 365 they have to learn and perfect for every day of the year. And he threw in hand-drawn directions to a hard-to-find bar next on my itinerary.

Runners-up - Los Caracoles (a labyrinthian grotto of a restaurant dedicated to Barcelona classics,                            made even better by its beautiful front bar, or vice versa; take your pick).
                    - Alternatiff Area Comix Gallery Bar (how Prague does a dive bar, complete with
                    Tony Montana mural).
                    - Tynska Bar and Books (booze and literature, literature and booze, booze and...)
                    - Black Swan (service and cocktail knowledge to rival the world's best, at a fraction of                        the cost, in this backstreet Budapest joint).
                    - Szimpla Kert (Budapest's best ruin bar; quite an accolade).
                    - Lo Scalo (hacked out of a Riomaggiore cliff. The view alone...)



Favourite Bar - The Philharmonic Dining Rooms - a lot of pubs are described as palaces. This place is one. A Liverpool institution for decades, it brings the city's people together in drink and food, whether they notice the countless Victorian extravagances in glass, copper, mahogany and tiles or not.

Runners-up - The Pheasant Inn (in Cumbria - great food, pleasant gardens and an even                                           more impressive public bar).
                   - The Corn Mill (how to do a riverside pub, here by Llangollen's fast-flowing River Dee)
                   - The Hand (a Welsh village local near the superb Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall. Plenty of                          chat, most of it in Welsh. Limited craft beer selection - who gives a ....?)
                   -  The Boot Inn and The Duke of Cornwall (both in Weymouth. One for heritage                                  overlooking the harbour, the other just for a good time).


Favourite Bar - Kintail Lodge Hotel - it may not be the most illustrious of bars but is situated in the heart of one of Highland Scotland's most spectacular areas. Good food and drink and an eclectic mixture of locals, climbers, walkers, and tourists from far and wide. If you're lucky, you might even get an impromptu performance from a local piper or accordionist.

Runners-up - The Old Forge (community togetherness and intrigue all in one building. I recommend the long walk in through Knoydart, as long as you are prepared for the Rough Bounds).
                    - Feuars Arms (it is very rare in Scotland to have such flourishes of style outwith the
                     the big cities. And that!)
                    - Monteiths (Untouched with limited-edition mirroring. Shore Road, Gourock).
                    - Black Cat Bar (just along the road to Greenock and this bar also has a terrazzo                                   spittoon. Slightly more detail than in Monteiths and with an archetypal island bar).


Favourite Bar - Cleary's - to pick my favourite Dublin bar is a tough ask but this place has it all; the Joyce connection - as The Signal Box- it sits under a railway bridge in the shadows, it is not inundated with tourists, and has an amazing interior.

Runners-up - The Stag's Head and Mulligan's (it says much about Dubliners' civic pride that                                  historic pubs such as these have been protected for well over 100 years).
                    - The Dawson Lounge (show me a smaller bar, go on, show me one!)
                    - Quinn's Bar (a snug, a signal box and an extensive back court in this Dungannon                               stalwart).
                    - The Crown Liquor Saloon (once seen, never forgotten).
                    - The Spaniard (a long narrow continental bar never lacking a buzz).
                    - The Morning Star (less well-known than the two Belfast bars above, an example of
                     how well the city has used its alleyways, known as entries in these parts).


Favourite Bar - The Finnieston  - if I was judging over the last couple of years, when standards have slipped here a bit in terms of bar expertise and service, it would not be top but over the piece, as they say, The Finnieston has been the best cocktail joint in the city. Its low ceiling and discerning use of dark wood create atmosphere from lunchtime till last orders, and I don't know why I enjoy feeling like I'm sitting inside a galleon but I just do. And its outdoor area out back over the old railway line is one of the best cigar spots anywhere.

Runners-up - The Grove (still holding its own amidst the Michelin-star-hunting eateries).
                    - The Old Toll Bar (best-looking bar in Glasow).
                    - The Georgic (old-school split between lounge and public bar).
                    - The Railway Tavern (Edwardian Shettleston. Blogger-free zone).
                    - Cabin Bar (you won't find smaller. You won't find more casual).
                    -  Black Bull (it's not just the karaoke).
                    - One Up (I've lost count the number of times I've...).


Areas like Gallowgate/Calton need reviving, not gentrifying. Hopefully, joints like The Gate will help to do just that. And just for its own sake, maybe it can show that there is still a future for properly thought-out wet-led new bars in this city.