The essential guide to Glasgow's best pubs and bars
As a proud Scotsman I’ve always have a soft spot for a good Scottish pub, surprisingly good ones are not always as easy to find in Glasgow as some folk might assume. But when you spot a pub with a big metal Saltire sticking out from the corner of the building then you know you’re probably heading to the right place.
It’s what you’ll see if you’re walking up the west end of Argyle Street from St Vincent Street heading in the direction of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. This part of town has the biggest collection of proper ‘Scottish’ bars compared with anywhere else in the city so much so that the area has acquired the tag ‘the Highland Triangle’ with places like the Islay Inn, the Ben Nevis and the Snaffle Bit all very Scottish and close by.
As Glasgow expanded westward in the 18th and 19th centuries Argyle Street like many other Glasgow streets was extended, it was laid over an ancient walkway originally called the Westergait which was the way out of Glasgow towards Dumbarton. The old path could date as far back as the dark ages so it will have seen many characters from throughout Scottish history go by, possibly William Wallace or Mary Queen of Scots on their way from Glasgow Cathedral to Dumbarton Castle.
There has been a licence for alcohol here since 1873 with the first landlord being William Barclay who assigned it to local westender John Chisholm in 1880, the licence soon went to Thomas Russell who gave the pub its present name The Park Bar in 1895. Today if you look across the street before you head into the pub through either of the two swing front doors you will be able to see the Argyle Street ash tree which was probably planted around 1850 so has survived plenty of Glaswegian history itself.
The Pub does have a nice highland feel to it inside and out, it looks like it could quite easily fit into a wee town up in the north of Scotland or be a welcome place of refreshment halfway up the West Highland Way (if it wasn’t part of a Glasgow tenement building, but have a look and you’ll see what I mean) with the Saltire and the wood panelling outside it gives you a nice idea of the dark woods and red walls of the interior.
The bar itself is a large ‘u’ shape which almost splits the pub in two, this does usually give you a quiet spot to stand at either end on the busy weekends as most people will congregate at the head of the bar. On your right along the opposite wall from the doors there is the small raised stage which can explode into life at the weekends, this is almost right next to a nice fireplace and not far away are the toilets which are always pretty clean and tidy. It’s the dècor they’ve put around the place that makes this pub stand out and really give it its Scottish feel.
This kind of boozer is probably what most tourists would think a Scottish pub looks like before they got to the country, it’s decked out in tartan carpets, pictures on the walls from around Scotland of old, national team football scarves, a stags head, signs in Scottish Gaelic and plenty of Saltires and Lion Rampants hanging on the walls and ceiling, they even have a quiz in Gaelic once a month. All this is right up my street, and I always enjoy a pub that stands out a bit more than the others, especially if it’s in the Scottish theme but I guess I’m a bit shamelessly biased in that regard…
The beer on tap is much the same as other pubs, Tennents, Guinness, John Smiths, Kronenbourg and Fosters all available, they really should add a few of the great Scottish beers from some of the smaller breweries that have sprung up over the last few years. The whisky section is very good although it’s not a ‘whisky bar’ like The Pot Still, it still has a better selection than a lot Glasgow bars and plenty of them from the Western Isles as you’d hope to expect. The other choices are fairly standard stuff, vodka, gin, the usual wines, bottled beers and so on but it’s all good value, particularly compared to the trendy places nearby.
It can be a good place for a quite lunchtime meal, the food is the usual pub grub but it’s all good stuff, (steak pie on a cold day always wins) although it’s probably not the place to eat if you’re thinking about a diet, with not much going in ‘healthy’ options but then Scotland isn’t exactly that well known as the most health conscious nation on the planet. My favorite bite is actually the homemade tablet (a very sweet Scottish confectionery) available from behind the bar for a pound and it’s another nice wee Scottish touch.
The best time to visit the Park bar, if you only had the one chance, is the weekend (or a during Scotland match if you happen to be around then) the live music is on Thursday to Sunday nights kicking off at 9 but the best time is definitely either a Friday or Saturday. In fact some nights it can be as good as a proper Hogmanay party. It doesn’t happen every weekend but when it does there’s no better bar anywhere in the city for a good Scottish night and the good ones do happen regularly throughout the year and when they do we’re always left wondering why it can’t stay open after midnight!
Some of the bands who have been on over the years have been fantastic and they’re all back at the Park sooner or later. When these nights happen there will be plenty of people of all ages having a great time dancing, enjoying a pint and interacting with the band asking for songs to be played and so on, sometimes they will even be allowed to get up and have a wee go themselves.
It can get loud and rowdy but only in a good way and with the friendly locals, students from the nearby Glasgow University plus a few highland folk there’s no pretentious people here and you’re also quite likely to hear a bit of the Gaelic being spoken and bump into a man sporting his kilt. I’ve was once told by an old guy from Islay (an island up in the Scottish Hebrides) that the closest he felt to being back up north on the islands when in Glasgow was in the Park bar on a Saturday night and that can only be a grand compliment for a highland style boozer in the middle of the city.
If you where to go during the week you might be forgiven for thinking it was a fairly quite ‘old man’s’ pub but it’s the weekends that can make this place stand out, go then, have a dram, a few beers and a sing-song and I hope you have just as much of a bloody good time as we’ve had on many a night and I’m sure if William Wallace was going by this part of Argyle Street today it’s the pub he’d pop into for one.