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The Arrival - January 20, 2006                                                            Back to Pub Crawling In Glasgow

We landed in Glasgow at about 7:30 am on a Friday morning, and it was dark of course. At 5 degrees, it was colder and wetter than the Vancouver we had just left. We breezed through customs with our UK Passports, and were able to catch the 7:55 am bus from the Airport to Queen St Station for £3.30 each, then walked three blocks or so to the hotel.  It was almost too easy.

The Premier Hotel near George Square is an excellent place to stay. At £53 a night per room (not per person), it was half the price of most of the places we looked at over the internet. This came highly recommended by Jackie’s friend Kathryn in Bressay, Shetland. It was described as clean, cheap and very handy for the Pubs. She was right on all counts.

When we first got to the hotel, Aidan tried that great line from the Thin Man; “Let’s have a drink” to which Jackie responded “Shouldn’t we have breakfast first” and Aidan replied, “No, it’s too early for breakfast”. (Un)Fortunately, the bars don’t open particularly early, or at least not in the upscale area where we were.


We weren’t able to check in this early, but they did have a free and secure luggage store room. We headed out with a mission: Aidan needed a cord for the lap top that fit British outlets.  The lap top transformer could already handle the 240 volts, so it was a matter of finding the right cord. 

We had looked in the yellow pages and were heading east along George Street to find a shop advertised.  We passed a computer shop and went in for the heck of it. The fellow was really nice, and said that although he couldn’t help us, there was a place down at Enoch Shopping Centre. The shop with the computer stuff (Mappins) was the UK version of Radio Shack, and for a mere £3, we are plugged in!

However, there was another rather pressing issue; Aidan still hadn’t had a beer yet. By now were also both quite hungry, and the pubs were opening up for lunch. The Counting House is in a spectacular old Royal Bank of Scotland building and part of the Weatherspoon chain and completely non-smoking “Real Atmosphere, Not Smoke”. Not only was it open, but was serving Scottish breakfasts for £1.99:  black pudding, real bacon, baked beans, potato cake sausage, egg and tomato. Aidan’s fist beer was a pint of Caledonia Deuchar’s IPA, hand pumped Real Ale for £1.65.  It was a “9/10”.  Jackie opted for another cup of Yerba Mate. Aidan then had an Isle of Skye Real Ale – “Black Cullin”.  It was a bit disappointing; it tasted like a medicinal Starbucks (burnt) coffee!

The rain had stopped so it was time to head back to the hotel to check in. Unfortunately our room wasn’t ready, so we went down the street to Blackfriar’s pub, where Aidan had a pint of Strathaven Trumpeter’s Ale (dark, burnt chocolate with ginger and ginseng), a taster of Kelburn Red Smiddy (nicely hopped, unfiltered real ale), and a pint of Courage Director’s Bitter (more caramelly than Aidan remembers).  These, of course, were to wash down the three bags of M&S crisps…… Jackie was fading fast at this point, and thought maybe a vodka would get her going.  She was desperate for a nap! Aidan said he wasn’t going to let her sleep (Mr. Beer).

There was a cute little pub we had walked past earlier called “The Ingram Bar”; ½ the bar was non-smoking, which was pleasant. In addition to Real Ales, they had 47 Single Malts with tasting notes, plus the usual blends. Jackie had a Te Bheag which was described as a Vintage Style Isle of Skye blend with Talisker. For a blend it was very good indeed and carried quite a punch. Aidan has a Belhaven 80/-, a beautiful looking Real Ale which uses BC Brammling hops, but the taste was just a little too caramelly again. Jackie was on her second (third?) wind now, but now Aidan was fading fast. It was about 4:30 pm Glasgow time; 8:30 am Vancouver time. It really did feel like he’d been up all night drinking … because he had!

We headed back to the Hotel and popped in to a grocery store en route where Aidan snagged a bottle of Shepherd Neame 2005 Christmas Ale. [To be reviewed later]

We checked in, had a 2 hour nap and awoke groggy, but keen for the evening’s adventure.

Friday Night in Glasgow

By the time Aidan had ironed three shirts, one of then twice, it was 9 pm – time to hit the Glasgow night life.  We strolled down Albion Street and picked a spot called Noah for dinner.  It was a wine bar, so sparkling water for Jackie and a pint of Krusovice, a Czech lager for Aidan - sweet, crisp, clean and nicely presented in a “Krusivice” glass which wouldn’t fit in Jackie’s purse. J

Overall the meal was very pleasant nouveau Scottish cuisine.  Jackie had Scottish scallops with Stornaway black pudding with a balsamic reduction followed by Sea Bass.  Aidan said “the only Bass I’m going to have is in a glass” and opted for the parsnip and apple soup followed by chicken stuffed with haggis with a whisky sauce.

We then headed to a highly-recommended pub called Babbity Bowster’s.  It was how they all should be – no music, no video games, one small TV not turned on (they probably only watch Scottish Premier League championships!), not too smoky, with really high ceilings.  Everyone was able to carry on a conversation amongst the table.  Plus they had Real Ales!

The next stop was a real Glasgow experience.  The Black Bull.  You won’t find this one on any tourist maps or guide books!! When Jackie opened the door, the wall of smoke was hard to see through, the music was loud, and highly suspect, the décor was very shabby and the clientele rather dodgy. Definitely not the type of place a tourist should venture into. So we took a deep breath and headed in. As the smoke cleared, we realized it was Karaoke night!! Too late to leave now, we were committed; there was no escape. It was about ½ hour to closing, and Aidan with nine pints under his belt was by far the soberest guy in the place. We ordered a Teacher’s on the rocks for Jackie and a pint Tennant’s 70/- for Aidan.  The whole round was £3 (it had been over £5 everywhere else).  We endured Mack the Knife, which actually wasn’t that bad.  This was followed by an horrific version of Hound Dog (imagine it with a strong monotone Glasgow accent, and absolutely no tune!), “I’m so excited” from the two girls at the table next to us, and “Pretty Woman” from one of their dates.  He was so bad the girls (who were no better) got up to help him out…..you have no idea how bad this was………the horror, the horror.

It was midnight, and we’d never seen so many fall-over drunks in one bar.  Oh, but the romance of the Glaswegians! The overweight girl in the strapless spandex top and her drunk boyfriend (who had not yet mastered the art of using a post to hold himself up) slow-danced to a passable version of “Love is All Around”.  They both could hardly stand and the dancing was more reminiscent of a sumo wrestling match as they looked like they were alternating pushing each other off the dance floor as one tried to support the other.   But all good things must come to an end.  We headed back to the hotel and had a night-cap in the lounge, (which was packed because last call wasn’t till 1:00 am).  A passable Tennants lager and sleeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

Back to Pub Crawling In Glasgow

January 21 2006                                                                                     Back to Pub Crawling In Glasgow

We watched the “Bloody Sunday” remembrance march along George Street.  The western Scots are very aware of their Irish Catholic heritage.  There were a lot of Police…anticipating some trouble. Luckily Rangers were playing today at Ibrox, so the protestants were all in the pubs getting warmed up!

We walked down to the People’s Palace, an amazing a mansion built in 1898 and gifted to the people of Glasgow at the turn of the century.   Here was a really good photographic collection of Glasgow in 1955 and two floors of history of the Glasgow area.  Everything from Billy Conolly paraphernalia to industrial history – did you know that 28,000 steam locomotives were manufactured in Glasgow? They also had display on “The Bevy”, with some interesting takes on Glasgow’s major pastime. One of the displays talked about acceptable quantities for a healthy lifestyle. A shot of whisky was considered = a “unit” of alcohol. 5 pints of regular strength beer were about 7 units. The guide for temperance stated that up to 35 units a week was healthy, 35-50 was the start of a problem, and anything over 50 units was definitely a problem. This implies 25 pints a week is just fine, but 50 shots (2 bottles) of Whisky a week is too much. Hummm. There is definitely a different scale of acceptance over here.

By this time we were hungry and it was time to get a pub lunch.  Our first stop was The Old Ship Bank Vaults, a pub established in 1849.  Very authentic – copper top tables, tiny stools, half a dozen men in their 70s, and a dart board.  First dart board we’d seen since arriving, but unfortunately was being used. Aidan enjoyed a Younger’s Tartan Special, and Jackie realized that it was cheaper to drink whiskey blends, because when you order a Vodka and soda, they charge you 60p for the mix and vodka is more expensive than whiskey!  No food here though. 

Next stop was the Empire Bar, under the railway tracks.  Classic Glasgow on a Saturday afternoon!  Full of “lads”, and after a punch-up in the back corner, we realized there was a gang rivalry.  The whole thing was very interesting.  The bar tenders ignored the fight completely.  At one point a bottle was smashed.  As soon as it was over, the people involved left the place, fearing the police.  They all returned a few minutes later, but there was still unrest.  There was a lot more going on than just a disagreement in a pub……..so we left.   

Across the street was the Tollbooth pub, best described as an Irish pub.  Or we should say, a Celtic FC pub. There was an enormous selection of Irish Whiskey and of course Guinness.  We took a seat, and started chatting to the lads at the table next to us.  One was there with his two sisters and his mom. Mom was wearing a Celtic FC jersey under her jean jacket.  Her son was the world’s biggest Celtic fan.  Jersey, gold ring, earring, tobacco pouch…. An unbelievably loyal fan!!  We had a great chat with them but had to move on as there was no food there either, and we were getting really hungry.  This was Aidan’s first real exposure to the Glaswegian accent. These guys were hard core. 

Our friends at the Tollbooth recommended a visit to “The Barras” to truly experience Glasgow.  So off we went.  

It was fantastic.  It was their “Main Street”, where they did their Saturday shopping, and included a flea market.  There was Glasgow’s oldest chippie, where Jackie scoffed a black pudding supper and Aidan curry & chips.  There was also the World Famous “Timland”, another Celtic FC shop.  A Celtic fan is known as a “Tim” in Glasgow. www.timland.co.uk . They ship to Canada and have excellent prices. We also went into a 250 year old pub – The Saracen’s Head, Est. 1755.   Another Celtic FC bar, very old décor, but probably was renovated in the early 1900’s!   

Opposite Timland there was yet another Celtic FC pub which was absolutely packed. The doorman wouldn’t let us in the bar side because they were over capacity, so we went over to the Lounge side which was equally crowded, but didn’t have a doorman. Everyone was wearing green and white. Most of the pubs around George Square had signs up saying no “team colours”. There was certainly no ban on this side of town, as long as the colours were green and white.  

Our next stop was the Crystal Bell, a smoky, family oriented pub, not terribly busy. We headed back towards Babbity Bowster and popped into the Strath____ (something) across the street. Aidan had a Tennents 60/- which is a good dark mild light ale if you like that style, which Aidan doesn’t. 

We went into Babbity Bowsters for the intention of having the “Cullin Skink”, not only were they sold out, but the place was packed and about ¼ of the room was taken up by 15 traditional Celtic musicians, 7 of them fiddlers, just in for a jam session … and a pint. Aidan had a Belhaven Best.

We headed back to the hotel for a nap, but stopped at the Press Bar en route. It was a nice quiet local, with about 15 Single Malts. Jackie had a nip of Laphroaig and Aidan had a Boddington’s.

We woke refreshed at about 8:30 pm, and headed out in search of food. Most of the restaurants around George Square are Italian Pasta and Pizza joints. So we went back to the Counting House where we knew we’d get a good value meal and the kitchen was open till 11 pm.

Our second last stop of the evening was another non-smoking pub, the Drum & Monkey.  In three months, all of Scotland is going non-smoking.  Based on the few already opting for that, it will not affect pub business.  All three of the non-smoking pubs we found were busy.  Anyway, a nice little pub in an old bank (a lot of them are, which is great – high ceilings and granite columns).  The motto was “a wee libation for the hard working”.  They also serve “Weekend Recovery Breakfast” which includes a bloody mary!

We had a night cap in the hotel, and then to bed.

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January 22 2006                                                                                             Back to Pub Crawling In Glasgow

Sunday morning – and we actually slept till 9:00 am.  Hopefully this is the end of the jet lag….. The weather has been great – it’s been overcast but dry – the only rain we had was on the first day.  

Jackie wanted to see the Tall Ship and the tower that was engineered to move to face the oncoming wind.  It was a longer walk than we both anticipated, but it blew away the cob webs!! And it got the smell of smoke out of our clothes.   

Our trip back was past one of the Universities, and than along Argyle Street.  It was 2 pm before Aidan got his first beer.  We stumbled on a fantastic little pub, The Ben Nevis, that had been very tastefully redecorated, very modern and chic.  And they had a wall of over 180 single malts.  Jackie started with an 8 yr old Isle of Skye – very mild and smooth, not too much nose, slightly peaty, caramel.  Very quaffable.  This was followed by a 15 yr old Glen Garioch (malt of the month, £1.50).  Sweet nose, with toffee and flowers,  mellow palate, toffee, weak finish, caramel stuck around a bit.  A bit harsh for a 15 yr old. Aidan started with a McEwan’s 80/-. A light refreshing drink to quench a significant thirst generated from the long walk along the publess riverside. This was followed rather promptly by a Deuchars IPA, hand pumped, with a nip of eponymous Ben Nevis, a smooth inoffensive blend. 

The road ahead was long, but fortunately well populated with great Glasgow Pubs on (almost) every corner, to aid the weary traveler. 

Next stop was the Berkley. A plain Jane pub with a 3x6 pool table clad in bright blue baize taking up about ½ the floor area, and the landlord watching snooker on TV in an otherwise empty establishment. We wouldn’t have stayed too long, but noticed they had a dart board. Jackie opened with a 140 and scored consistently well, but Aidan was strong on his finishes and took her 3-1. Thirsty work this darts business. Jackie knocked back a Bells, and Aidan squeezed in a couple of quick pints as he was well below quota, having had such a disastrously late start. A Tennents 70/- and Guinness “Extra Cold” went down well and helped the cause. 

The Elbo Room was missing character in more than one respect. It was a newly renovated pub which must have cost a fortune, but was rather stale in atmosphere. But the Loos … Wow. They were worthy of a 5 star restaurant. We watched the end of Celtic beating Motherwell 3-1. Goal of the game definitely belonged to Motherwell. A hard pass along the edge of the box taken full volley by the forward and ripped at the speed of light into the top corner of the net. Undoubtedly a candidate for Goal of the Year. A real cracker.  Jackie ordered a Famous Grouse, Aidan had a Caffreys since it was the first he’d seen this trip. 

On to the "Two Ways". Man U were playing Liverpool on the telly. Aidan struck up a conversation with the Guy next to him at the bar and asked if he’d sent he Motherwell goal. He replied  “He’ll never score another one like that in his life!” . The room behind the bar is bustling with activity. There is a drop in darts shoot. One challenge board, challenger chalks the game before he plays. Aidan and Jackie sign up. Aidan had, of course, put lots of “Back then when I was playing regularly” and “I don’t play much any more” disclaimers in there. When he finally got the board and played like the middle-aged dart “has been” we’ve both become, or “never was” some would say! It was hard coming in “cold”, but Aidan certainly didn’t rise to the occasion either, he scored in mediocre fashion, but still had a chance to finish with a two dart 62; he went 12 but missed the bull.

We won’t discuss Jackie’s game…….an embarrassment to all Canadians! Although she had a bit of a cheering squad – all the ladies in the room!

The beer count was rising. We had two pints of McEwans 70/-, and two Scotch Leaders, but sadly there were no “doubles” to be had in this bar. 

Bannisters was a quiet pub with a domineering large screen TV. Man U had been more successful in their sporting ventures and had beaten Liverpool 1-0 in overtime. Aidan had a McEwan’s 70/- (cold, wet and creamy), Jackie had a High Commissioner blend – not much nose, sharp, spine chilling taste, some caramel, but no lingering finish on this one, just booze. 

On to Jeannie Dean’s a stark bar with a dominoes “pro” waiting for challenges. He was in his 80’s and had lived a hard Glasgow life. Rumour had it he had moved from his stool in the bar at least twice over the last few decades. The barmaid was a good sport and challenged. Dominoes is a game of great strategy; it may not have the glamour of Texas Hold ‘Em, and will likely never be played in Vegas or on TSN, but we would hazard a guess that there has been more money won and lost in dominoes over the last century than any other game. This is the working man’s “game of chance”, and boy was this guy was sharp; very impressive indeed. 

While the action was focused on the Domino board, Jackie had a Bell’s and Aidan knocked back a Tennent’s Velvet.

Here we deviated from the Glasgow norm, and suffered the consequences. The Buddah Bar, did indeed have a certain Zen spartaness about it. There was incense in the air as we took our seats at the bar. They had a limited draught selection, but one in particular took my fancy. The characters on the tap were Russian and it translated as “Baltika”. According to the barmaid it was “very rare”. Aidan gave it a go. Jackie was moving upscale and opted for an Oban 14. At £7.30 for the round this was double the price we’d been paying elsewhere, yikes!There were Buddahs everywhere, the patrons were not. The lights behind the bar changed colours in a rather mesmerizing fashion. This was not a good sign. We needed food. Aidan was half way through his Russian Lager and had conclusively established that this was indeed a truly disgusting beer. So bad, that it was not worth finishing. 

Moving across the street we found Failte, a very friendly Irish Bar with strong Celtic FC connections. Jackie ordered a Bushmills and was reminded of how much she enjoys a good Irish occasionally. Aidan probably had a Guinness, but Jackie is in charge of the book and the notes are sadly lacking …….It is now 8:05 pm, some 10 hours and 11 pints since breakfast.

The Auctioneers had food. Aidan had a mixed grill which went down very well indeed. On the other hand, a soup of boiled wellies would have been eagerly consumed at this stage of the game. Jackie had a gammon steak. Jackie is still in charge of the notepad, so “mystery drinks” were consumed. There is however, the distinctive pale yellow hue of beer on the page and the scrawl “Spillage, uh,oh”. The portions were huge, so Jackie asked for a doggy bag for the remainder of her ham. But our server, ever vigilant for our well being, informed Jackie that he could not legally let her take food from the restaurant in case she did not store it properly and got Botulism. Unimpressed by his hard line on this issue, Jackie wrapped the ham steak in her napkin, shoved it in her pocket, we paid up and left.

The next stop is somewhat of a blur. Jackie successfully recorded the round as Caledonian 80/- for Aidan, but there was a question with her whisky. By the time he walked the 10 ft or so back from the bar, Aidan had forgotten what he had ordered for her. Possibly a Famous Grouse? Sadly, the venue name was not recorded either. We’ll have to return to the battle ground and look for familiar, identifiable features in the sober light of day at a later date. Ah, but we had the camera with us … perhaps there is photographic evidence! 

It is now 9:30 ish, and we have a big day tomorrow. Our flight to Islay is at  9:00 am, so we have to be up at 6:00 am.

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