The essential guide to Glasgow's best pubs and bars
Ashton Lane is a cobbled backstreet tucked away behind Hillhead Underground, connecting Byres Road to Glasgow University, and could well be the best place for bars and restaurants in the entire city.
Back in the 1970’s Ashton Lane was a dilapidated back alley consisting of closed down factories, empty mews cottages and deserted stables. The birth of the great nightspot we see today actually occurred when a successful restaurant ran into trouble: The Ubiquitous Chip was started up by its owner Ronnie Clydesdale in 1971 in the fashionable Ruthven Lane, but by 1976 the cost of the lease on the property was leading The Chip into serious financial difficulties. Forced to relocate, he took the gamble on moving to the other side of Byres Road in the cheaper (yet larger) abandoned stables of a derelict undertakers in Ashton Lane.
This move, coinciding as it did with the major renovation of the nearby Hillhead subway station, awoke an interest in these empty properties so close to the bustling Byres Road and Glasgow University. Other successful restaurants quickly followed The Chip down the lane and the modern Ashton Lane was born.
This little lane has a vibe that is completely unique in Glasgow. It’s as close as the city comes to a continental cafe vibe. It has a bit of old fashioned wholesomeness, from the brick buildings and the cobbles to the fairy light street lightning, the lane has a magical atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere else.
As well as a licensed cinema, the Grosvenor, it also contains some truly fantastic restaurants: The Ashoka Curry House, Ketchup Gourmet Burger Bar and The Wee Curry Shop.
But of all the restaurants in the lane, the one which has true international renown is The Ubiquitous Chip, now celebrating its fortieth anniversary. Its ethos is to serve top quality local ingredients with inventiveness and flair, though the prices are not for those on a budget.
But for our purposes here on a pub guide website, the most interesting fact about The Ubiquitous Chip is that, TARDIS-like, it crams three pubs into its little corner of Ashton Lane: The Wee Pub, The Corner Bar and the truly outstanding Big Pub.
The first pub you come to upon entering the lane from Byres Road is the often overlooked Wee Pub. As its name suggests, this bar is tiny and is more of a snug than an actual pub. It must be a contender for the smallest pub in Scotland.
It’s a fairly relaxed little space, a great place for people watching, seeing the buskers and the students passing through the lane, and there’s something to be said about enjoying a pint in such a small room, for it can go from quiet and intimate to lively and heaving with a couple of extra visitors. And it’s never be lacking in atmosphere and character.
It has a fairly small selection of beers on tap as well as a small but varied selection of bottled beers, wines, vodkas and whiskies behind the bar.
All in all, it’s a good place for a pint in peace before moving on to the trendier, louder, livelier pubs round the corner, the first of which can be found through the door leading upstairs to the Big Pub or round the corner into Ashton Lane: the Corner Bar.
Around the corner in Ashton Lane proper is the livelier Corner Bar. It has a far larger selection of beers on tap and the best selection of bottled beers of the three – probably to do with its slightly larger bar space.
It manages to be trendier than the rest, perhaps because it’s the only one actually on the lane and so attracts more passing trade from the students going through, it caters to a different crowd than the more sedate and mature Wee Pub.
While the Wee Pub offers a snug and cosy room and the Corner bar offers a trendy bustling, fashionable bar, the Big Pub upstairs offers something else entirely. With its red tiled floors, wood beam ceiling, original working fireplace, rooftop beer garden and picturesque views over the rest of Ashton Lane, it is certainly the pick of the three.
That said, generally there’s not much room for seating, but mainly because it’s too heaving for you to notice or care if there’s perches going free round the edges. It’s a true ‘back to basics’ pub – free from TV and music, though also lacking in any live entertainment.
It has an excellent wine selection, with good product knowledge from the bar staff, as well as over 150 malts available and a beer selection that’s a break a from the usual: the strong, unpasteurised Furstenburg lager, Deuchars all the way from Edinburgh and ‘a pint of Chip’ on tap – their own specially brewed ale only available in the Chip, a light, refreshing, fruity ale; they make a good change from the usual lagers available in every other pub.
For some reason which I can’t quite fathom, this is one of my favourite pubs in Glasgow. I think it’s something to do with the fact it’s a modern take on a really old fashioned kind of pub, its healthy blend of young and old clientele, its quirky beer selection and its kinda cool roof terrace beer garden (a unique thing in Glasgow). But other than that I just can’t figure out. The West Bar on Glasgow Green has a far madder beer selection, the Big Pub’s beer garden is a garden with absolutely no greenery, and the mix of customers can be found in any good pub in the West End. But for some reason, for me, it stands out a mile above its rivals.
The Ubiquitous Chip’s bars are so much calmer than rowdy student pubs, so much more lively than old man’s pubs, so much more sophisticated than the trendy bistros of the Merchant city, and so much more down to earth than the endless Yates’s and Wetherspoons of Sauchiehall Street. Whether you visit in summer and enjoy a refreshing drink in the sun soaked roof garden or in winter under the starlit magic of the fairy lights, being warmed in body by the peat fire in the Big Pub, or warmed in spirit by the cosy atmosphere of the Wee Pub, you’re guaranteed to fall in love with The Ubiquitous Chip.