The essential guide to Glasgow's best pubs and bars
The Pot Still is one of Glasgow’s hidden gems except for the fact it’s not hidden at all, its smack bang in the middle of the city centre at the top of Hope Street but it does seem to be one that’s missed by many Glaswegians and this is a not a good thing for these poor folk as it’s a fantastic wee bar, especially if you like the uisge beatha which means ‘water of life’ in Gaelic or whisky to us lowlanders.
When you get in you would think that it’s never really changed since 1835 when the building was erected as it’s a bit of an architectural gem even today, but you’d be wrong as it’s gone through a few adjustments in its near 170 years but it has managed to keep a kind of Victorian-Scottish feel to it which fits the place perfectly. It first opened in 1867 when local John Hill operated as a wines and spirits merchant, then from 1870 it was owned by the McCall family who ran the business in some way right up until the late 1960’s while lending their name to the pub for many years. The Tennents breweries owned it for a few years until 1981 when John Waterson took over and gave it its present name, although it was the Cask and Still for a short time before reverting back. It also seems Mr Waterson was the first to introduce the idea of the place running as a ‘whisky bar’ and it has to be said that this was probably one of the best decisions anyone ever made for the place.
When you walk in the first thing you will notice is the gantry behind the bar which is almost a wall of whisky, up to 483 of them (at the last count). It’s as close to a liquid library as you’re ever going to see, complete with library style ladders to get up to the bottles that almost hit the ceiling, it’s got some fairly high ceilings by the way! There are also boxes of different malts on the window stills, various whisky awards, a wooden floor and boards hanging on the walls telling you about different whisky regions of Scotland, but despite all this it does feel as though the interior is almost exclusively made up of the ‘Scottish gold’ filled bottles.
It’s split into two levels with a small flight of stairs taking you up to some extra seating, although it’s one of those pubs that when it’s busy there’s a good chance you’ll end up standing but this is just because of its size rather than a lack of places to sit, and it does get busy at the weekends. Even in the busy periods it manages to keep a cosy relaxed atmosphere away from the buzz of city centre outside, managing a balance between the feeling of a locals pub but then still have new faces in everyday with a good mix of the young and old.
Other than the whisky, which is easily one of the best selections in Scotland never mind just Glasgow, with the regular malts and real special one-off drams, the drink on offer is very good. They have real ales with McEwan’s 80/- and Deuchars on tap all the time and regularly changed guest ales in which they have had some fantastic stuff over the years. There is other beer and lager on tap with Kronenbourg, Guinness, Miller, John Smiths, McEwan’s and Strongbow cider. There are also some small fridges with wine, bottled beers and soft drinks but this place is really all about the whisky.
At the time of writing there’s not too much food on offer with just pies, sausage rolls and the like, plus bar snacks, but really it’s because there is just not the space for a proper kitchen. I think they do plan to add a bit more to the menu at some point though. Nice pie always hits the spot anyway!
You get a lot of whisky tourists in the Pot Still, with some people coming from the other side of the world just to visit for that special nip so it’s not unusual to see Americans, Germans, English, Australians and others among the local Glaswegians vying for attention from the helpful staff, who will try and find the right whisky for you if you’re not too sure. Some of the tourists are surprised that more locals don’t make use of the place but then whisky isn’t for everyone I guess, even some Scots!
They have tasting nights every so often and last I heard it was about £50 for a ticket but it’s worth it when you think of the thousands of pounds worth of whisky that could be opened during the night.
I do remember one night in the Pot; we had been out for a fair few hours after watching Scotland play a match, decked out in all the tartan army gear, kilts, flags and the rest when we met some Japanese tourists who asked us about Scotland. So instead of talking about it we decided to show them a bit of it and so we had a bit of an improvised ceilidh in the middle of the pub which seemed to go down a storm with them and the others in the bar, we got a few half’s after that and gave them a Lion Rampant to take back home.
It’s a great pub and for anyone who likes a wee goldie it’s an absolute must, price-wise it’s not bad for the malt of the month and the like compared to other bars and then there’s always the good chance that it’s going to be one you’ve never had before. If you live anywhere in Scotland and fancy a whisky you’ve got no excuse for not getting here as the tourists who have travelled for thousands of miles will put you to shame if you don’t. Slàinte! As they would say in the Pot Still.