Scotland #1: Glimpses of Glasgow

We were in Scot­land for ten days. It was Ray’s first ever vis­it and the first Jess has made for plea­sure rather than work. We took a list of pubs rec­om­mend­ed by the Good Beer Guide and social media but oth­er­wise, as usu­al, let instincts and the advice of friends guide us. What fol­lows are some impres­sions – snip­pets and moments – and we apol­o­gise in advance if we’ve put our feet in it cul­tur­al­ly speak­ing.

Our train arrived in Glasgow towards the end of Friday night, and Glasgow, it turns out, goes big on going out.

Con­voys of young women and scrums of young men stum­bled by, all gym-buffed and con­toured, dressed for Los Ange­les rather than driz­zle; par­ties of police offi­cers stood by, detached and dour, with vans ready to be filled.

The tang of vine­gar on hot chips, ice­berg shreds scat­tered like con­fet­ti from kebabs, chick­en nuggets straight from the sack, and Buck­fast from the bot­tle in an alley­way, by the bins.

Laugh­ter, most­ly, and yelled into the night heck­les, propo­si­tions and instruc­tions from the nightlife brigadiers who keep their gangs on course from pub to club to bar.

Indoors, bolts shot, we drift­ed off to the late-stage of the par­ty, the lul­la­by of smash­ing glass, dis­tant four-four kicks drum loops, sirens and final kerb­side mur­mur­ings.

The next morn­ing, under tweed-grey cloud and seag­ull bom­bard­ment, the streets were silent, but here and there were lost shoes, dis­gorged din­ners and shards of green glass.

This is going to be fun, we thought.

Glasgow Bars.

Wan­der­ing about, we got the dis­tinct feel­ing we’d missed our oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore the tra­di­tion­al Glas­gow bar.

It’s as alien to us as the Tabac – anoth­er culture’s way of drink­ing that’s a cousin to the Eng­lish pub but absolute­ly dis­tinct.

Inso­far as we know them at all, it’s from Scott Graham’s blog, Old Glas­gow Pubs and the odd bit of research we’ve done into, for exam­ple, Alex Ferguson’s brief career as a pub­li­can. And, of course, from por­tray­als on TV.

Here’s pub his­to­ri­an Michael Slaugh­ter on what dis­tin­guish­es Scot­tish pubs, from the 2007 edi­tion of Scotland’s True Her­itage Pubs:

One of the most dis­tinc­tive exte­ri­or fea­tures of thou­sands of Scot­tish pubs and also the most notice­able dif­fer­ence between them and pub in oth­er parts of the UK is that they occu­py the ground floors of ten­e­ment blocks of flats along­side a vari­ety of shops… This means that many Scot­tish pubs are often lit­tle dif­fer­ent from adja­cent shop-fronts, while pubs in oth­er parts of the UK tend to be the only build­ing on the plot, whether free­stand­ing or part of a ter­race. In Scot­land, most pubs do not have liv­ing accom­mo­da­tion for licensees, due to ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry leg­is­la­tion that made Sun­day open­ing ille­gal. As a result, pubs were known as lock-ups.

And that’s what we saw in Glas­gow beyond the city cen­tre: flat-faced, blank, for­ti­fied bunkers that gave lit­tle indi­ca­tion from out­side as to whether they were still trad­ing.

Some­times, it seemed, the build­ings into which the bars had once been inte­grat­ed had dis­ap­peared, leav­ing only the bar, one-storey high, flat-roofed and dimin­ished.

John’s Bar and the Empire Bar cap­ti­vat­ed us in their roman­tic dere­lic­tion but the clos­est we got to drink­ing any­where like this was the sanc­ti­fied, cer­ti­fied-safe Lau­rieston.

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