Earlier this month I visited and stayed with a couple of friends of mine in Glasgow. I had an absolutely stellar time over there. Yet one integral aspect of what made my time in Glasgow truly memorable was visiting some of the city’s local boozers. In this article I will be selecting some of these pubs which I particularly enjoyed.
This pub is a proper authentic Irish boozer located off Polokshaws Road south of the city centre and an important part of Glasgow’s traditional and historic Irish community. My friends both took me there on my first night in Glasgow after we had a delicious vegetarian Indian feast at nearby Ranjits Kitchen. As we all ordered pints of Tenants a stocky Irish lad was playing songs on his acoustic guitar. Many of the songs were traditional Irish songs with a smattering of pro IRA ditties thrown in for good measure. You can take it or leave it, I suppose. But I like this pub. Not many outsiders venture here. There is nothing ostentatiously hip or pretentious about this place and if you want a cheap pre or post curry pint, you could do far worse than rock up here. Most of the time the pub is refreshingly devoid of big crowds except when Celtic are playing.
The Saracen’s Head, or ‘Sarries Head’ as its better known to locals, is a notorious Glasgow pub directly opposite the Barras market and very close to the Barrowlands concert venue. As I was ordering our drinks, I was mulling over whether to order a separate glass of the infamous Glasgow brew called Buckfast Tonic wine. The guy serving me was three parts Billy Connolly and two parts Gregor Fisher. He gave me a strong look to break my indecision and said, ‘ya cannoe gorra Glasgow and no av a wee bita Buckfast lad’. It seemed I had no other choice in the matter.
At the Saracen’s Head pub with my Tenants and Buckfast
My friends and I found a corner of the pub to sit down. There I was with my Tenants in one glass and deep crimson Happy Shopper cassis in the other. I approached the Buckfast like it was a glass of black mamba venom. This toxic liquor was absolutely vile. I badly needed a kale, kiwi, cucumber – you get the picture – one of those uber healthy raw juices to cleanse by desecrated internal body after this legendary assault.
Not feeling the Buckfast
The Star Bar
The Star Bar is located on the corner of Pollockshaws and Eglinton streets. On the surface this is an unassuming and nondescript place. But once you open the doors and enter you are immediately catapulted into a genuine and uncorrupted slice of Glasgow. All the Rab C Nesbit stereotypes are pungent here. Yet this place exudes warmth. My principle reason for coming here was to sample their 3 course meal for only £3! I have never heard of anywhere else offering such deal. I loved the sound of it and I thought it would be rude not to resist.
I couldn’t say no
The landlord was monumentally friendly to an outsider like myself and even offered me a free half pint of Carling as I was about to order my drink. A salt of the earth person with a heart of gold. I was very touched. My starter came in the form of canned minestrone soup. I could handle it, almost.
Course One: Canned minestrone soup
Then for my main I received a Scots pie with fat green beans and boiled potatoes. This was by far the most ‘wholesome’ part of the three course meal even if the pie and mince inside was about as processed as processed pies got but you would have to be a real wolly to complain considering the price. And besides, I would be dead offended to be served anything remotely representing ‘gourmet’ quality here.
Course Two: Scots pie with potatoes and green beans
Finally for dessert (or ‘sweetie’ as the landlord called it) I was served green jelly, tinned fruit and cream in a small tin cup. This was more challenging. I could handle the fruit but not the rest.
Course Three: Green jelly, canned fruit and cream
The Brazen Head
Further up Pollockshaws road and past the Star is the Brazen Head. I was expecting a gritty, rough and tumble affair judging by some of the online reviews I’d read. The Sunday Times even wrote an article on it entitled ‘Inside the Gorbals hardest pub’. Yet I was unexpectedly surprised to discover a rather pleasant and friendly Celtic Irish pub. On the other hand it was verging on dead when I was there save for two or three long timers. Perhaps I should go there when the football is on to give this place a more realistic assessment? I found a corner at the far end of the pub nestled amongst a galaxy of Celtic memorabilia. The widescreen plasma TV was on mute as I quietly drank my pint of Guinness.
The Alpen Lodge
Around central Glasgow station are a number of down and out local boozers which are unlikely to ever make an appearance in a Lonely Planet guidebook. The Alpen Lodge is one of those places. Here it is semi packed yet everyone mostly keeps themselves to themselves. There is absolutely nothing remarkable about this pub but if you want to visit an authentic Glasgow boozer, albeit uncomfortably voyeuristically, you can do far worse. After a while I just wanted to get the hell out of here. Out of all the pubs I had visited in Glasgow, it was here where I felt the most self conscious. Yet as I drank my pint of Tenants in haste, I discovered a very enlightened poem on the wall next to me entitled Smiling which began…
‘Smiling is infectious,
you catch it like the flu,
When someone smiled at me today,
I started smiling too…’
I read the entire poem and immediately felt more relaxed and at ease. I savoured the remainder of my pint.
Saving the best til last, The Laurieston is the granddaddy of all the pubs I’ve mentioned. An institution and a unique and untouchable gem of Glasgow. What a place! On the outside it could be mistaken for a typical council estate drinking den. This pub is similar to the Star Bar in some ways. Both places exude legendary Glaswegian warmth and are as authentic as pubs get. Yet whereas the Star Bar projected a fatigued and rather downbeat vibe, here the energy is infectious. What’s more, all kinds of people come here; long timers, football fans, students, local trendies and even a smattering of tourists like myself. It was on the awesome recommendation of my Glasgow based friends that I first became aware of this place. This pub has been in the family for decades who, amazingly, have so far resisted any offers to sell the place. The family who own the Laurie are very proud of their pub and I feel a change in ownership could potentially dent a great part of what makes this pub truly special.
Inside the Laurieston 1
Inside the Laurieston 2
At the Laurie sipping my pint of Guinness
As my friends and I sip our pints, I venture over to the jukebox which is free. There is a large selection of songs much of which are from old 60s, 70s and ‘Now That’s What I call Music’ compilations. I select Blondie, Thin Lizzy, The Troggs and Status Quo before I return to my friends and my pint of the black stuff.
By Nicholas Peart
26th October 2016
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