Any comments on the blog, propositions (legal, of course), ideas for places for me to go see, please get in touch at and don't forget to follow me on Twitter

Friday, 27 May 2011

Double Bank Holiday - Part 2 - Oran Mor to Oran Mor via the Southside

That was the first night of eight. And already it seems like a real while ago. And it is. Things move on but those weekends are still worth reflecting on because they show where the city is at in nightlife terms.

Saturday the 23rd and we surveyed the West End. Sedate was the word. Middling to low numbers and plenty of space in most joints. Add to that, my cigars that had dried out after too long in my drawers and even Ashton Lane’s outdoor benefits were looking unappealing with an early ending in store.

Up and down Byres Road, owners reporting the state of business. Thursday night was ok, Friday busier than usual, tonight quiet but good takings expected for Sunday. People picking and choosing their nights. We finished at the top end, Oran Mor wine bar sucking in what was left of the night.

Kelvingrove stramash

The next Friday was the extra holiday, even for republicans. There might have been some of those sorts in Kelvingrove Park that afternoon, celebrating in the impromptu, unofficial, Glaswegian way. Hordes of them toasting posh Kate and even posher Wills. The weather was ok too, so the flanks of the mound in the park were covered with people, whisper it, drinking.

What happened next has been the subject of some argument. Our boys in blue claimed that people were “behaving in an unacceptable fashion,” while revellers countered that the polis were heavy-handed. What is undeniable is that the city’s draconian anti public drinking laws made confrontation inevitable. The place was cleared anyway, and later, after sequestering a vehicle, we observed hundreds of folk straggling through the city from Kelvingrove to as far as away Broomhill. Most looked finished for the day, and seemed to be declining the chance to pop into any of the pubs on their way home.

Going south

Our car journey continued straight through town and across the river. I wanted to stop at the Star Bar, situated at the gushet of Eglinton Street and Victoria Road. Its long heritage, proximity to the old Plaza ballroom and legendarily cheap 3 course lunches make it a steady draw round this quiet stretch. But the vehicle was moving too fast for my request to be observed.

Across the road is The Maxwell Road pub, address self-explanatory. Has been Logues, and for far longer period the Maxwell Arms. I remember watching one of Scotland’s Euro qualifiers in 2007 in the place when it was Logues. Nice wee atmosphere for the game, spoiled a little by a regular who was trying desperately for eye contact with anybody as a precursor to some fisticuffs, I’m sure. Thankfully, the attentive bar staff eventually persuaded him to desist. Now, it often shuts during the day, another bar rationing its hours.

Passed a few other possibilities for our first stop, especially the wee group around the junction with Allison Street, the Allison Arms, Heraghty’s, Kelly’s (previously the well-named Elcho Bar – he was a general in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army I believe) and Mulberry Street all possibilities.

But The Muse wanted some fresh air and as I had some new cigars, I agreed. The only place nearby for alfresco is The Waverley Tea Rooms. The narrow interior was warm, unlike the terrace, even out of the April wind. So cold we didn’t stay long amidst the south side’s young professional classes.

Instead we continued south along Kilmarnock Road, before turning off at Coustonholm Road. On its left The Quaich sat in the dark near a stairway access to Pollokshaws East railway station, the line overshadowing the modest hostelry.
We pulled in a little further along, where the road becomes Greenview Street, opposite the small Old Stag Inn.

Customers outside were having a good time when we pulled-up, more royalists obviously, and they weren’t deterred by our arrival. The pub’s semi-isolated position reminded me of The Pinkston between Possil and Springburn, and this too is small inside. Cosy, even, and with good prices, but the atmosphere promised outside didn’t quite appear, perhaps the locals were keeping their secrets for a good night to themselves.

Thornliebank and back

Our route onward was southeast, rejoining Pollokshaws Road then onto Thornliebank Road, passing the Rowallan Bar, somewhere in the news recently for trouble during an Old Firm game, and The Arden. On into Thornliebank, no more drinking holes visible, before taking the Rouken Glen road along the southern periphery of the city proper.

From there into Clarkston we passed no bars, only a sports club with plenty of cars parked outside. Heading back into town, The Bank on the Clarkston Road was busy, but we stopped in at The Beechings, a little further along, under the railway bridge. A castellated building whose appearance and location inspire romantic notions of secret assignations and passionate encounters as the trains shudder overhead.

Inside, however, despite its welcoming nature with friendly enough staff and punters, the uninspired refurb of a couple of years back has robbed the place of identity, sense of place and any sort of traceable heritage. You drink its beer, sit at its unremarkable tables and move on with less of a bump than a train over a point in the line.

Is that Alea there is?

The Beechings was our last for that night, but the next evening we were south of the river again, revisiting the Alea Casino, Springfield Quay, for the first time in over a year, looking to sample its bars and restaurants as well as its tables. On our way up the interior escalator the fire alarm sounded. It took ten minutes for the fire brigade to arrive but by that time we had tired of waiting and were away in a fast black, back over the bridge into the city centre.

The Horseshoe and Vroni’s were only moderately busy, just like the rest of the city all around. We headed back west where on a whim around midnight we joined the queue for the Oran Mor club, itself like the Alea, a place we haven’t visited recently, invariably staying overground in the wine bar.

Bobby Bluebell is still there, as he has been for seven years now. Many of his staple tunes from the middle of last decade still appear too. They still fill the massive dance floor, but even to me, they seem mainstream. Or you could call them inclusive, because as clubs go, Oran Mor is hardly avant garde. After a fallow couple of years, Saturday nights here, at least, are back to being pretty busy.

Not as mobbed as five or six years ago, and it’s ironic that there is plenty of bar space now, as opposed to then, when the side area was a walkway rather than serving area.

The bottleneck by the main stretch of counter still occurs, people waiting to buy. But this is a positive feature, because every joint needs a focal point, the mixing pot where people meet and talk. The rest of this area at the top of the main steps is filled by guys gawping at the ladies on the floor. One reason why this place remains popular.

The extended couple of weekends were over. Ok, not quite. Over a couple of Spanish beers at La Bodega, South Street, on the Sunday afternoon, friends offered me an invite to the music festival Get a Room at the Brunswick Hotel. But the funds were gone, so I had to decline. As it turned out, the licence for that event only lasted until midnight rather than the 3am from previous years. When I heard, however, that the after party was in Chambre 69, Colin Barr’s newish underground club off Nelson Mandela Place, I wished I’d gone.

But it only goes to prove; you can’t be everywhere. Though some of us almost manage it.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Double Bank Holiday - Part 1 - Lost Souls

Lost Souls, 150 West Campbell Street, Glasgow

Two bank holiday weekends in a row mean decisions. Eight non-school nights in very quick succession, and one can’t do every one of them, can they? Some will pace themselves, others go out to enjoy drinks in the sunshine and retire well before the nights get interesting. The Bar Biographer was out on a few occasions to survey the wreckage, sorry, scene…

The first Thursday (22nd April) saw a fair amount of bodies about around the Charing Cross area, The Drake, Black Sparrow, Chinaskis popular but not heaving, their sheltered smoking areas giving some protection from the biting evening wind that followed the warm afternoon.

LJ and I headed up Bath Street after a few snifters, looking for the after work crowds. Moskito continues to surprise with its immense popularity. A mainstream joint, certainly, but it achieves its simple aims, providing reasonable drinks in a pleasant enough atmosphere, in the proximity of the late-night Bath Street venues to which many punters will head later. Though, quite a few, dressed in their office attire, looked like this drink would be their last.

I do believe I spotted the back of Heather Suttie DJ as we made our exit, a backless dress and pink bra straps catching my eye, fashion rules notwithstanding. But the exit was beckoning.

Lost Souls

Lost Souls may become the kind of place to beckon passing travellers whether they need rest and refreshment or not. An upstairs bar on West Campbell Street between Sauchiehall and Bath streets, the old Caskies bar. Billed as a late lounge with nights till 3am Thursday to Sunday, it seems to have not yet attracted enough attention to make extended hours viable.

The grim doorman at the street entrance may lessen the place’s chances even more, though his forbidding demeanour does lend a certain atmosphere, making you think what the hell kind of sinister place is upstairs. But that’s a bit of a disappointment. A semi-industrial look with massive grey pillars, eclectic furniture and a pink glass backdrop to the bar. There is a good window view over Sauchiehall Street but at night the light isn’t right for the vantage point to be fully appreciated.

Lacklustre bar tending and only a smattering of guests hardly gave us an incentive to stay longer than the one drink but the vintage 80s house music did make us pause slightly – White Horse (1983) was always a favourite of mine – but the sounds seemed lost on the youngish clientele. Lost Souls has some work ahead of it.

Rejoining the street scene we found it diminished in size, less and less folk as we walked towards the Merchant City. Corinthian seemed busy at the door but inside the main room far less so. Downstairs was shut, and the other smaller bars at the front and upstairs as quiet as a normal midweek evening. The question arises again, can Glasgow sustain a place of this size and overheads?

We retreated for a couple of nightcaps to One Up, which was also relatively quiet, but its modest size means atmosphere can be retained with smaller numbers. Just as well on this night.

So, a night that started promisingly and petered out. Maybe a pointer for the rest of the double-header?