The essential guide to Glasgow's best pubs and bars
This is one of the pubs that helps give Glasgow its modern pub tradition. Tucked away just off Union Street and down one of Glasgow’s few remaining cobbled streets you’ll find the famous Horseshoe bar. Walking through those heavy swing doors could be daunting for the uninitiated of Glasgow’s drinking culture, especially if you’re there at the weekend or when the football is on as it will be packed out as always. You’ll learn pretty quickly though that it’s an easy place to relax and have a pint and most of the regulars propping the bar up, the students trying out the University of looking at the bottom of pint glasses, office workers having a liquid lunch, shoppers on a ‘break’ and even the odd -usually lost- tourist will make it feel affable.
It has easily the finest example of an island bar in Glasgow and it’s a huge one at that, it’s probably the only bar in Scotland you could do laps around. It’s the longest continuous bar in Scotland, or England for that matter, 32m long. The pub itself was built around 1870 remodeled in 1885-7 by then owner John Scouller with another minor re-fit to the extend the bar in 1901 all of which ended up with the pub looking much as it still does today in the style of the grand Victorian Gin Palace.
When you’re in you’ll find it’s the kind of place that many of the large chain pubs would just love to convince everyone that they are, authentic, but it’s the history pubs have that means the Horseshoe will always have it whereas the chain places probably never will.
As well as the great horseshoe shaped bar you can see the pub was fitted out with the name in mind with the original horseshoe fireplaces, horseshoe mirrors, the clock and even tiny horseshoes at the top of the columns.
The island behind the bar has eight casks that where once used to dispense their own blends of whisky, these sadly have long stopped being used for that. With the wood panelling and old bell pusher for table service (don’t bother pushing it, it’s gone the same way as the whisky casks) art deco tiling of the four different seasons of the year and other fittings you can see it’s somewhere with a bit of character that has thankfully survived many a pub fad over the last 100 odd years.
The beer on tap is the usual predictable Glasgow fare although nothing wrong with that and the prices are some of the best in the city center (£2.70 for a Tennets). They have regular good guest ales, a fair whisky selection and the usual spirits and the bottled beers in the fridges.
The food is actually split, you can have some in the main bar described (chips, Scotch pies and so on) but up the stairs there’s food to be had as well. It’s was until recently one of the best value meals in town, it was almost like going for your school dinner back then but the food was good honest hearty stuff. Today the food is much like most of the chain pubs with the same kind of menu. It seems to be all regular and correct but nothing too special although the burger we had last time we were in certainly filled us up. The best for me though has to be a good ol’ scotch pie and beans with a pint downstairs, if you’re not from Scotland you’ll have to just have give it a go and trust me and the legend that was Keith Floyd on that one.
Upstairs also has a famous karaoke show that’s on every night and at the weekends you’ll most likely hear it long before you see the pub! But it’s not always the scary stuff, some of the singing is actually quite good and could put you off having a go if you’re not used to grabbing the mic and jumping on a stage. Quite a few famous faces have sung up there over the years like the band Travis who as a thank you for supporting them in their early days lent the pub their best band Brit award for behind the bar where it sat for a few years.
It has taken a wee bit of a hit in recent years where it seems it needs a wee jolt back to life but this is probably just a tiny wee blip in its long history. The toilets need a bit revamp and to be honest have done for a while but all in all it’s a great pub and a genuine Glaswegian institution.
I’ve had some terrific nights in the Horseshoe over the years; quite often they’ve tied in with watching Scotland playing football. I do remember after one particular rare good result there was an impromptu party in the boozer and outside on the cobbles with a few hundred folk, some singing, flags and a rather large quantity of beer. Turned out to be one of the best street parties I’ve ever been to…
If you happen to waiting on a train in the nearby Central station, you want to catch a game, you’re out for the night or even just fancy a beer then you can do a hell of a lot worse than nip in here for a fly one.