The essential guide to Glasgow's best pubs and bars
This is one of Glasgow’s most popular pubs and the flagship for the J D Wetherspoon chain in Scotland. It follows all the usual chain pub rules but it does have something extra in its favor, the magnificent building and the location it sits on.
As you will probably guess when you see the place it didn’t start life as a pub. It was built in 1867-70 by J T Rochead as the Glasgow head office for the Bank of Scotland, hence the name of the bar, and the Counting House now takes up a big chunk of this building. It was built in the Italian Renaissance style right on the south-west corner of George Square. A lot of Glaswegians wouldn’t know it but it’s a bit older than the City Chambers building (1899) that it sits directly across from. The bank was so spectacular that it actually set the tone for much of the future buildings around the square. Most of the original décor from its Victorian days has remained and it can still make for an impressive sight today, it probably was and still is, even as a pub, one of the city’s finest ever bank interiors.
As you go in main entrance the large marble and dark wood island bar will be right in front of you and you’ll quickly get a sense of the sheer size of this ‘superpub’ with its double height former banking room it can almost feel like you’re going into the grand entrance hall of some stately home. The walls are decorated in pictures of old Glasgow and some portraits of people with a connection to Scotland or to the old bank. Easily the most impressive feature of an already impressive building is the large glazed dome in the ceiling right above the bar with the 16 caryatids holding it all up. It’s always nice to have a wee gaze up at it when you’re waiting to be served; even the bank’s former vaults are still in situ. There are several other rooms that are now open planned but were once offices, so the pub just seems to grow the more you explore away from the main bar. Even with its size It can get quite difficult to get a seat as it does get busy in the evenings after the nearby office workers come out and especially so at the weekends with a pretty mixed crowd in. It can also take a while to get served sometimes, it’s not the bar staff’s fault though, it really does just sometimes get that busy.
Chain pubs like Wetherspoon’s can get a hard time from people like myself who enjoy the individuality of an old fashioned Glasgow boozer or an independently leased pub. Whether they are ‘trendy’ bars that attract the Saturday night crowd up Ashton Lane or the pubs that have been part of Glasgow for over 100 years, chain pubs never quite cut it the same against either. There is really nothing wrong with this type of pub and the Counting House is certainly one of the best, it ticks most boxes you would want in a pub but it still lacks that ‘pub feel’ you would get in many places not too far away. Maybe it’s just me but the chain pubs always feel a bit more manufactured than say the Scotia (which is actually owned by the Belhaven Brewery today) it’s a little bit like going to a McDonalds, it’s a McDonalds, you could be in any city on the planet and you would still just be in a McDonalds.
As I say though there is nothing wrong with this type of place and the Counting House is probably the best example of a Wetherspoon’s, it’s certainly the best in Glasgow, the surroundings are impressive and if you can get a seat near a window then you can have some really nice views of George Square. As a Glaswegian I’m always grateful that the building is still well used and they have kept much of the beautiful interior and exterior.
The food and drink is well priced and there is always a good selection on tap, Tennents, Guinness, Fosters, Carling, Stella, Tuborg, Heineken, Carlsberg, Amstel and Kronenbourg. All that and plenty of regularly changing real ales, often at least one for around £2.00. They also have ale festivals throughout the year and during them there are numerous weird and wonderful ales to try and all at pretty cheap prices. The Counting House is also one of the few bars that I will quite often have a bottled beer instead of a pint, they usually have a good bottle selection with a good variety from around the world and the big 500ml bottles are much more reasonably priced than most places. There’s Budvar, Staropramen, Leffe among others plus my two favorites the big Tyskie and Lech. They also do 35ml measure whiskies and have a good a wines and spirits menu that is again a bit easier on the pocket than say places in the nearby Merchant City.
The pub has a huge food menu that has just about every pub meal you could think of on it, everything from breakfasts, fish & chips and burgers to noodles and pastas. They also have food theme days with a curry, steak and Sunday club nights and they start serving food at 9 am, long before most Glasgow pubs. The food is all pretty standard pub grub, there’s not too much you’ll be shouting about after, it’s the same as you’ll get in any Wetherspoon’s but with the sheer variety and the prices here it’s all fair enough. It tastes good and will fill a hole in your stomach. But don’t do what I always seem to in this normally busy place as usually you have to order food at the bar and I always seem to forget to look at that wee bloody table number and then have to wind my way back to the table to check it!
The Counting House can be a good starting point for a night out in the city centre, with it being one of the biggest pubs about and slap bang on George Square right next to Queen Street train station, so even if you barely know Glasgow you probably won’t miss it.
They have the usual Wetherspoon’s policy of no TV’s, so you won’t be getting too many of the football crowd. Chains that do have TV’s often have far too many of them anyway so it’s really a good thing. There’s also no music but once you get a few hundred folk with some drinks in them chatting away you won’t notice any lack of tunes. The toilets are kept clean and tidy and there is free Wi-Fi for settling any of those pub arguments with a quick check online. Children are welcome until the evening too and they have their own section on that massive food menu.
I’ve had a few interesting beers in here over the years with works nights out and the like, but most recently when I had a kilt on and there was a big hen night in from Newcastle and…hmm, actually I’d better leave that one there I think, kilts and hen nights are always a crazy combination!
It’s one of quite a few Wetherspoon’s pubs in and around Glasgow. If you find yourself wandering central Glasgow looking for a bar there’s a good chance you’ll end up here which is no bad thing at all for a grabbing a quick beer (or ale) and a bite to eat.