The essential guide to Glasgow's best pubs and bars
On St Andrew’s day the 30th of November 1996 the Stone of Destiny – the ancient seat of the Kings of Scots and a powerful symbol of Scottish nationhood was returned to Scotland, 700 hundred years after it was looted from Scone near Perth and taken to Westminster Abbey by Edward I of England. It was brought over the River Tweed into Scotland and on to Edinburgh castle where it now resides alongside the honours of Scotland to let all Scots see an important part of their nation’s history. All well and good that the Stone or Lia Fail is back where it belongs in Scotland but what does this have to do with pubs in Glasgow?
Well the stone had been back in Scotland once before the 1996 arrival. On Christmas day 1950 four students from Glasgow University, Ian Hamilton, Kay Matheson, Gavin Vernon and Alan Stuart, liberated the stone by breaking into Westminster in the early hours and taking the stone home over the border.
This did in turn made for a very nice Christmas present for Scotland that year!
The stone was found to be damaged when the students pulled it from the Coronation chair so it was transported to Glasgow where they had a pint to celebrate their triumph and for a stonemason they knew and trusted to repair the damage. It disappeared for four months while it was decided what to do with it now the point that the stone belonged in Scotland had been made. One story is that it was hid inside some bench seats in The Arlington Bar just down the road from the university. There is also the long held rumour that a replica was made to fool the authorities as they knew it would be shipped back to London and the ‘real’ stone still sits in the Arlington to this day. It carries on that the replica was indeed sent south after it was handed over to the Police draped in a Saltire flag at the high alter of Arbroath Abbey on the 11th of April 1951, the place made famous as the scene to the signing of King Robert the Bruce’s famous declaration in 1320.
So is this small West End pub the final resting place for Stone of Destiny?
The Arlington Bar has been sitting at the corner of Woodlands road and Arlington Street since William Allan opened in 1860 with James Lindsay taking it on in 1887, both men had a good background in Glasgow pubs of the time and between them owned several other bars throughout the city. In the 1958 Charles Sweeney took on the bar and during the 1980’s it was a ‘real ale’ pub which is something it sadly never kept going. Until 2010 it was ran as an unpretentious, quaint if somewhat rustic bar with cheap beer, football on the telly and some good live music at the weekends. It was closed for a few weeks late in the year for its first refurbishment in nearly 30 years and re-opened pretty much as it was but for a bit of a lick of paint, a spruce up of the bar, some new bits of furniture, a few pictures on the wall and –thankfully- refurbished toilets, other than that it was spared any radical changes and has retained the character of the old place.
The Arlington is, for as long as I’ve been going there, always a friendly mix of the locals and students, it’s quite a small space with the same layout it always had with the bar in the corner just in front of you as you walk in. There are also wood panelled walls; original stained glass monogrammed ‘A’ windows, Irish pub style bric-a-brac on shelves and some old pictures of the local area among others on the wall, the seating is good old solid benches and stools clanking away on the wooden floor.
The best and most integral part of the pub for me is the stone itself which is set into the wall with a large sign above it telling the story of the stone and the Arlington. It’s a really nice unique touch to the pub and it’s great to see something like that in a different setting other than being stuck in a museum behind glass, you can’t sit on it like the Kings of Scots would have done but you can sit next to the stone and touch it.
The beer on tap is some of the usual Glasgow suspects, Tennents, Guinness, Stella, all present and they also added Belhaven not too long ago. The whisky selection is alright with a couple of nice ones; there is also cider, bottled beers, wine and soft drinks available as well. The food is kept simple with soup of the day and bar snacks.
The pub can be a bit quite during the week but it gets busier when the football is on, although the TV’s are kept at a minimum and not in your face. It’s usually a busy wee place at the weekends and they have live music or karaoke right through the weekend. It’s got a few seats outside that you can enjoy in the summer months and in this part of town can actually get some good sun. That nice mix of students and locals give the pub an easy going atmosphere and I’ve enjoyed many a pint in here with some of the guys who regularly come in and especially the main man behind the bar, Andy, who if I can steal a bit of his native cockney tongue really is a proper ‘diamond geezer’ or in Glasgow a top lad.
One night not too long ago I nipped in for ‘a couple’ the evening just before I left for long weekend out of Scotland, I ended up having a grand night that lasted until shutting time and I was still ‘in rare form’ on the flight I just managed to catch the next morning.
I was a bit worried when I saw the Arlington was closed those few weeks back in 2010, you always wonder when you see pubs you like getting done up, your mind starts to worry about what will happen to the wee bar you’ve enjoyed yourself in over the years. It was a good sight when I did first go back through that small corner door and see that the Arlington had been kept as it was and that the stone was still the centerpiece of the place.
It’s good as one of the few pubs that you can still pay a good price for a pint (£2.60 for a Tennents) in the West End and enjoy a bit of football on the TV.
It still the same as its always been, just a good place to go for a beer, a bit of banter with the locals and the bar staff and to have a dram next to a bit of Scottish history, and there are not too many pubs about that can lay claim to that.
As for the Stone of Destiny itself there will always be debate raging about whether the one in Edinburgh Castle is the real one or not, I’ve seen a few over the years from the one in the Arlington, to one at Scone Palace, to another in a church in Dundee. The man who came up with the idea in 1950, Ian Hamilton says that the one in Edinburgh is the definitely the one they claimed back for Scotland that Christmas morning and that he would never deceive the Scottish people by depriving them of their stone. If you look at the stone in the crown room at the castle you can clearly see the damage that was repaired by the Glasgow stonemason.
There was a fantastic film made of the whole escapade in 2008 called ‘Stone of Destiny’ if you want to see a good idea of how they managed it, and it was no easy task! I read the book written by Ian Hamilton about what went on and lots of other things about the about the history of the stone long before the film was released and it keeps true to the real story of events pretty well with only a few bits Hollywood’s poetic license thrown in, it really should have been shown in far more cinemas than it was at the time, especially so in Scotland. So who am I to disbelieve the man who dared to right a wrong as a brash 21 year old, although it does make for a really great story to attach to the pub and as the old saying goes, you just never know…