After a brief crack at the gastro game, The Belle is back to concentrating on what it does best: being one of the West End’s cosiest wee pubs. Once a spit-and-sawdust boozer called The Western, this Great Western Road establishment these days attracts a mixed clientele from suits, fashionistas and students (ranging closer to the postgraduate end of the spectrum) to dogs – there always seems to be at least one dog in – all rubbing shoulders in living-room sized confines. Expect chat from more than just your immediate company during a long session.
The best restaurant in Glasgow? When the Ubiquitous Chip is on top form, there’s no question about it. And there’s so much more besides fine dining to be experienced within this Glasgow institution of more than four decades standing, which also encompasses several excellent bars. The Big Pub upstairs, with its open fire and great drinks selection, marries village local ambience with cosmopolitan cool. Elsewhere in the warren-like building, you’ll find the smaller Corner Bar and the smaller still Wee Pub – the smallest pub in Scotland, in fact.
The Doublet prides itself on being a rock of friendly tradition in the West End’s ever-shifting pub scene. It’s one of the last of a dying breed – the traditional West End boozer. Describing itself as a ‘pub for conversation,’ it’s been run by the Don family since 1961, and has a faithful clientele of all ages from students to hipsters to silver-haired gents. Generally speaking, you’ll find most of the former in the upstairs lounge and the latter downstairs in the main bar – but as the night winds on, the two crowds tend to merge, with interesting results.
This pub’s transformation since December 2012 could hardly have been more complete, nor as warmly welcomed. Previously the dowdy old Dowanhill, it’s now under new management as the much cooler, worldlier, more relaxed and welcoming, yet still satisfyingly simple bar-restaurant The Sparkle Horse. Titled after the late Mark Linkous’s venerated American indie rock band, this is a family-friendly, community-spirited hangout with music at its heart (owners include members of cult Glasgow band Bis).
Oran Mor could barely have any more strings to its bow: pub-restaurant, brasserie, music venue, theatre, nightclub – there seems to be no containing the inexorable expansion of this hugely successful venue. It’s one of the few places in the West End with a proper late licence – until 2am weekdays and 3am at weekends – and so can get especially busy after midnight. The Whisky Bar is the main boozer, where you’ll find a good range of beers and spirits, as well as a menu of hearty pub-grub classics.
Named after a small Hebridean island, this self-styled ‘Highland pub in the middle of Glasgow’ resists the trend for gentrification in West End watering holes by keeping it old-school: good beer and whisky, good atmosphere and a little traditional music. Opened in 1996, well before Partick Cross started to experience a trendy resurgence following its post-shipbuilding industry slump, The Lismore has built up and maintains a mixed and faithful clientele – from students enjoying better-than-average prices to hardy silver-haired drinkers getting in a cheeky hauf an’ a hauf.
Sister venue to Mono, Stereo, The Old Hairdresser’s and The 78, The Flying Duck began life in 2007 as a dedicated nightclub and sometimes gig venue in the basement of a tenement. But over the years its hours have been extended and its scope widened so that now it’s also recognised as a bar-café, serving a limited but good quality menu at great prices – pretty much everything costs a fiver or less. The feel is shabby-chic, with vintage furniture dotted around or deconstructed and stapled to the walls, and a bar styled like a kitchen replete with old units (don’t be confused if staff offer you free toast while you’re dancing, it’s house policy).
The Finnieston has done well to hold its own against increasingly stiff competition. With its wooden beams, snug booths and weather-beaten feel, the wonky-looking old two-storey building carries the air of an upscale seafront tavern. Drinks-wise, it’s all about classy, grown-up concoctions here, predominately based around the 60-plus gins behind the bar at any given time. Try the Finnieston Club Cocktail (gin, house-made orange sherbet, lime juice, grenadine and Chartreuse Yellow), or a Rangoon Daisy (gin, maraschino, orgeat syrup, bitters and lime).
Mono is an independent music, arts, drinking and dining hotspot, with a vegan café-bar, record store, concert venue and gallery all under one big domed roof. You can spend a whole day there, from lunchtime until last orders. Opened in 2002, in the corner of the Merchant City’s old railway arches-based King’s Court retail development (home to several good independent shops – yet another reason to visit), Mono is the flagship of a family of similarly minded venues in Glasgow, including Stereo, The Old Hairdressers, The Flying Duck and The 78.
Stereo is far more than a place to go drinking. It bills itself as a café-bar but the café element is vegan-ish, the premises are open late, there are regular live DJs and it also uses its basement as a club and gig venue. That said, if you want a vodka and coke or a pint of Guinness in a friendly, discreet corner of the city centre, just off Renfield Street – in a building where Charles Rennie Mackintosh had a hand in the design – then Stereo is definitely worth seeking out.
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.
A genuine survivor from the Victorian era, the Horseshoe is tucked down a lane near Central Station, has a fabulous island bar, quirky horse-related ornaments above the gantry, it shows loads of football on the flatscreens around the premises and it does cheap bar food. There is no contemporary design here, no frills, no nonsense. It's an old-school pub pure and simple and in its own way an icon of Glasgow pub culture where you come for a pint of cask ale, a chat with your mates or some macaroni cheese for under a fiver.
The proposition here is simple: a traditional bar with truly great beer, an excellent whisky selection and good bar food. Its location may work against it slightly, close to the Mitchell Library but overlooking the M8 motorway, although this probably deters city centre fashionistas and West End hipsters which can only be a good thing. Once inside however you just rejoice at the ever-changing selection of well-kept cask ale and ask yourself if you can justify clootie dumpling and custard to follow the chilli con carne.
When this bar opened on Argyle Street more than 15 years ago, its design was innovative and striking. With rocks on the wall, a bar made of reclaimed materials, exposed stone and other features, it was like finding a pub inside a Neolithic chambered cairn. It hasn't changed much since then – except grown older and less shiny – but with a few decent beers on draught and one of the best whisky selections in the city, the Ben Nevis remains an interesting place to go for a drink. It also has folk music sessions.
Between Trongate and the Clyde, the Scotia claims a heritage going back to the 18th century and for major chunks of the 19th and 20th centuries it sat next to a theatre that's now long gone. It may not look like much from the outside but this pub can make a genuine claim to be the city's oldest, it has wood paneling throughout, old photos around the walls, a basic bar menu, folk music at the weekends, cask ale on draught – Ossian from Perthshire perhaps – and always a special offer on a single malt whisky.