You’re in one of Europe’s drinking capitals, which is probably why the best bars in Glasgow easily rank among the continent’s best too. Beware, though: Scots are champion drinkers (their spirit of choice? Whisky, of course) so don’t you dare challenge them at their own game, whether you’re knocking them back at a local pub or at one of the many superb Glasgow restaurants. They will always outdrink you – and most likely without suffering the nasty hangover you’ll experience the next day.
From Mono, which shares its premise with a record shop and brews its own ginger beer on site, to West, an old carpet factory turned bier halle, these brilliant drinking holes will take you one inch closer to the Scottish way of life.
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Best bars in Glasgow
Dimly lit, with a stylish-yet-careworn vibe between its colourful murals, funky low-hanging lamps and beat-up leather booths and scuffed wooden tables, the ground-floor café-bar is a buzzing place where rarely a dull moment passes day or night. New beers and beer deals appear all the time and super-cheap white and black Russians remain a permanent fixture. And yes, they still sell Buckfast.
Situated immediately opposite sister venue Stereo and owned by the folks behind Mono, The Flying Duck and The 78, The Old Hairdresser’s started life in 2011. Since then, it’s steadily been building its own identity, both as a relaxed café-bar and as a leftfield gallery and music venue. The ground-floor café-bar is so rudimentary in décor and setup – mismatched tables and chairs, bare walls, a tiny bar doing a limited range of beers and ciders – you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a pop-up rather than a permanent business. It all adds to the relaxed, hip feel.
To dine here, you might have to wait a while at peak times, but the bar area is a cool place to linger. Opened in 1995, and taking its title from the an old Scottish word meaning “to wander aimlessly with intent,” the ambience here is artfully bucolic – think exposed stone walls, open fire, chunky wooden roof beams, an iron staircase tangled with twinkling fairly lights and huge floor-to-ceiling windows that swing fully open in the summertime (when there are also tables outside on Gibson Street). The draught beer selection is a little limited, but check the fridge for a good selection of craft brews.
It has vegan food, it shares its premises with a record shop called Monorail Music, it brews its own ginger beer on site and it functions as a bar. There's a lot to like about Mono, right down to the quirky premises in a shopping arcade, under a railway line. If you can drag yourself away from the music racks and resist the lure of a seitan burger with barbecue sauce, then just sit back with a decent beer or glass of wine.
Stereo has become one of the vibiest alternative café-bars and gig venues in the city since moving into town from the West End in 2007. A central location together with great food and drink and a diverse programme of events keeps the place buzzing from noon until night (3am at weekends), seven days a week. The style is bright, colourful shabby-chic, with mismatched old tables and chairs and gig posters stuck in every available space throughout the bar and down the deep winding stairwell to the basement venue. The beer range is broad, with plenty of local brews on tap and in bottles, including Sam Smiths and Williams Bros.
Charles Bukowski was a man not exactly averse, shall we say, to the occasional drink. This upscale bourbon joint and restaurant named in his literary alter-ego Hank Chinaski’s honour is a damn sight classier than the kind of Los Angeles dives in which the notorious barfly liked to wet his whistle, but he’d have surely approved of the sheer volume of whiskey on sale, if nothing else – 80-odd varieties, besides various other good beers, wines and spirits. Inside, it’s dark, discreet and unselfconsciously hip.
Craft brewers extraordinaire the Williams Brothers have teamed up with drinks company C&C Group to run a craft brewery, bar and kitchen and a beerhall here at Drygate, a compound at the Wellpark Brewery in the East End – home of Tennent's Lager. The Drygate and Wellpark operations are neighbours, clearly, but separate. The Vintage at Drygate functions as a craft beer nirvana with 24 draught beers, some brewed on site, and around 200 in bottles – a brilliant 2014 addition to the Glasgow bar scene. Also does decent food.
This Ashton Lane fixture was way ahead of the curve in bringing a taste of continental beer culture to Glasgow when it opened in 1996. It’s named after legendary Belgian crooner Jacques Brel, after all, and specialises in that other great export from the low countries: strong beer. Besides blockbusting Belgian brews, Brel also does a huge variety of beers from Scotland and around the world, including local brands Williams Bros, WEST and the excellent Kelburn Ales. There’s also now a covered seated section in the beer garden – which, once just a bare grassy slope, is now well equipped with benches and chairs.
It's in an old carpet factory but an astonishing old carpet factory. It brews German-style beer on the premises – in Scotland. It's not so much a bar as a bier halle and if you fancy a Bavarian snack, they do that too. West's best-known beers are certainly St Mungo and West 4, familiar golden lagers, but also Munich Red which is an amber beer brewed in the lager style, and Hefeweizen, their house wheat beer. They do others as well and, most importantly, their renown has spread far beyond Glasgow.
The Southside's attractive and multifunctional arts hub, gig space and café, punters are also at liberty to drop by for a drink. The selection gives a nod to the craft beer revolution – Glasgow darlings the Williams Brothers in evidence – while if you've never tried a vodka and lemonade made with San Pellegrino Limonata, now's your chance.
Channelling “the spirit of Brooklyn and Paris,” this place is dark, atmospheric and painfully hip – all Chesterfield booths, monochrome floor tiles, exposed brickwork, wood panelling and a bar that gleams with brass fittings and glasses dangling from above on old-school wire racks. Cocktails-wise, expect not fruity, exotic concoctions, but stiff and sophisticated mixed drinks, principally based on fortified wines and Amaro (a herbal liquer), as opposed to spirits.
It may be owned by the biggest generic pub and club chain in central Scotland but the hordes of students flocking here don’t seem too fussed - it's the kind of hangout that the upper end of Byres Road hitherto long lacked. Cheap drinks deals go a long way to explaining what pulls in so many young people. Cocktails served in glasses, jars, teapots and even old gramophones are a quirky touch, as is a ping-pong table up on the mezzanine and a retro video games corner (some of which may be older than the freshers you’ll spot playing them).
Hidden away in a basement on a leafy residential road near Kelvin Bridge, bar-kitchen The Lansdowne is one of Glasgow’s most reliable all-rounders. Expect good food, good beer, lots of televisions showing live sport, and a bright, airy conservatory which doubles as an exhibition space for local artists. Deceptively roomy, the narrow entrance opens out into a larger bar area with a mezzanine beyond reserved for diners, with a staircase at the back leading up to a bright conservatory, which faces onto Lansdowne Crescent Lane behind.
No matter how much of their signature craft beer you may drink, there’s no forgetting you’re in a Brewdog pub. Their branding screams at you from every angle: the bar, the beers, the walls and the bar staff’s T-shirts. It’s brash, noisy, colourful and self-consciously over-the-top, but then that’s how these self-styled “punk brewers” do business – and it’s going down a storm worldwide. It’s all about the Brewdog at this hopster’s paradise, plus selected guest brews sharing Brewdog’s craft-only ethics.
It might be themed around the Coen Brothers’ cult movie The Big Lebowksi – specifically, its prodigiously laid-back central character, Jeff Bridge’s iconic Dude – but don’t go presuming this Finnieston bar-restaurant is all about cheap gimmickry. Sure, there’s a big picture of the Dude on the wall. And fittings adorned with bowling pins in honour of His Dudeness’s favourite pastime. And a selection of 28 White Russians to choose from – named after every character in the film from The Donny to The Jesus – in tribute to El Duderino’s favourite drink. However, it's still a great drinking den.
The interior is sort of Art Deco, sort of Americana retro, the atmosphere is student-meets-music-subcultures-meets-ordinary-Glasgow, it's most definitely located in a neighbourhood of good-times venues just before Sauchiehall Street crosses the M8, tattoos are not an uncommon sight and there's a fish tank. You come to the Variety Bar for a beer, for a DJ night – perhaps featuring electro, swing, nu jazz and Balkan sounds – for occasional special events or because you like the music on the sound system. Loved by regulars, if the interplay between punters and staff hits just the right note, you will enjoy yourself enormously. Not for everyone though.