Wednesday, May 30, 2012

#252. All Bar One, 29 George St, Edinburgh

We have probably walked by this place - which is part of a chain of pubs throughout the UK - at least 200 times. Meghan thought the inside was bigger than she had imagined, whereas I thought it was smaller. There are actually two convenient locations in Edinburgh.

Looking left...
...looking right.

The menu promises such fine craft beers as Sharps and Harviestoun, but alas, they no longer carry them. I had to drink a Deuchars. I'm fighting a cold with vitamin Beer.

Hey, I visited 51 pubs in the month of May! I might just make it to 365 after all.

Monday, May 28, 2012

#251. The Grapes, 77 Clerk St, Edinburgh

Oh what a difference simply crossing the street can make when it comes to pubs in Edinburgh. One minute you're in Athens of the North, and the next you're on the set of Trainspotting. Places like The Grapes bring out the misanthropist in me. It should be called The Sour Grapes, or The Grapes of Wrath, or simply The Most Depressing Place on Earth.

Horse racing was on the telly. Yes, the Sport of Kings. I drank a McEwans 70/-, which only cost two quid. That must be why the place was packed on a Monday afternoon with older, tattooed fellas.

Several handmade signs on the exterior insist on 25+ only, and no football colours. The interior was completely nondescript, almost like a cafeteria; designed for ease of cleaning and maintenance, I suppose. The whole time I'm seated I feel slightly afraid, like I could be headbutted at any moment.

The following day, after a sober second thought, I wondered if I wasn't being a little too harsh on the place, given that the interior was clean and the staff seemed decent and friendly. But then I found some reviews on Yelp and realized that it wasn't just me who found the vibe rather disturbing. To wit...
This is where dreams go to die... Living close by I pass this place frequently and its aura just makes me want to run a warm bath and listen to Jeff Buckley and cry.  
Regarding the clientele:
At any given time of the morning/afternoon/evening there will be at least 3 people over the age of 45, with about 6 teeth between them, smoking their 500th cigarette of the day in the doorway whilst already absolutely wasted.
The only reviewer to give The Grapes more than one star had this to say:
I think some of the reviewers have been a bit harsh on The Grapes, as in my opinion it does provide a useful public service of some sort. It keeps a significant number of unemployable, dangerous and disease-ridden individuals off the streets, and provides them with a rewarding way in which to spend taxpayers money.
Apparently The Grapes has a license that permits an early opening and to serve alcohol beginning at 6 AM. Good times!

I am not sure how to tag this pub. On one hand, it was extremely memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. Calling it forgettable, as I usually label pubs not worth a visit, would be disingenuous. So I have created the new godawful tag in honour of The Grapes.

#250. McEwan's Ale House, 18-22 Clerk St, Edinburgh

The Ale House is a handsome, surprisingly decent old man's pub and live music venue on the stretch of the road with six names just within the northern border of the Newington neighbourhood. The staff were very pleasant. I drank an Into the Light blonde ale brewed by Tempest of Kelso, Scotland.

I was recently warned about Newington by the director of a property management company, who said that I should not buy a flat in this neighbourhood because it was "very dirty" because "a lot of Asians live here." Seriously. This was the opinion of a professional, well-educated, successful life-long resident of Edinburgh. It was at that moment I decided not to invest in property in this city because, well, a lot of racists live here.

In my mind, if Newington is a mess, it's because of the patrons of the next pub I visited, just across the street.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

#249. Dirty Martinis, 16 George St, Edinburgh

The piano bar within the Le Monde Hotel on swank George Street, Dirty Martinis is a funny place to sing along to some classic piano tunes. Which we did, while drinking Guinness and Strongbow.

Friday, May 25, 2012

#248. Hillhead Bookclub, 17 Vinicombe Street, Glasgow




Totally awesome.

#247. Saramago, 350 Sauchiehall St, Glasgow

This pub is part of the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) and is memorable for two reasons: first, it is a vegan pub, but doesn't feel the need to mention that fact anywhere on its menu; and second, its location, next to the Glasgow School of Art. We sat outside to enjoy the view of one of our favourite buildings. I drank a Williams Craft Lager.

Note the poster advertising the upcoming Momus show at the CCA.

The view of the pub/cafe from inside the CCA.

#246. Stravaigin, 28 Gibson St, Glasgow

From the same ownership group as the Ubiquitous Chip, the Stravaigin is a stylish restaurant with a sizeable bar. I enjoyed a half-pint of Deuchars IPA from Caledonian whilst consuming the always thought-provoking Guardian newspaper.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

#245. The Wee Pub at the Chip, 8-12 Ashton Lane, Glasgow


Part of the Ubiquitous Chip - the restaurant largely responsible for the revitalisation of Ashton Lane - the Wee Pub is the smallest pub in all of Scotland. I find that hard to believe, but that's what their website says.



It was a very hot day, and the window was wide open onto the Lane. That is me in the window sporting my tour t-shirt from the previous night's Gary Numan show.


The beer selection was minimal, however, and I had to settle for a pint of Belhaven Best. I guess settle is the wrong word, as that is one of my favourite beers. I just discovered that Belhaven now brews a stout, which I am eager to try.

#244. The Grosvenor, 24 Ashton Lane, Glasgow


The Grosvenor is a fully licensed movie theatre, cafe, and vinyl-only music bar. To me, this is the blueprint for how you make a small, independent theatre that thrives in the era of mega-screen complexes. I drank a cold and delicious 500 ml bottle of Heather Ale from Fraoch (an imprint of William Bros. Brewing) while enduring "The Avengers" (or "Avengers Assemble" as it is known here in the UK) -- we had already seen the other two films showing this day.


Its location on Ashton Lane with immediate access to the city's thriving hipster scene certainly helps.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

#243. Òran Mór, 731-735 Great Western Rd, Glasgow


A converted church that stays open until 2:00AM! The place was packed with customers even though it was a Wednesday night. The selection of ales was great, but I can't recall exactly what I drank. But with its elegant decor, outdoor patio, and location at the top of Byres Road, Òran Mór - Gaelic for "great melody of life" - officially makes my favourites list. A great pub indeed!

#242. Curlers Rest, 256-260 Byres Rd, Glasgow


We really love the West End of Glasgow. After the Gary Numan concert, we rode the subway to the Hillhead station on Byres Road and grabbed a pint at this large pub, purported to be 600 years old.

I don't recall much about the interior, or if it followed the sport of curling as a theme or not. They do have a great selection of cask ales. I drank a Kelburn Red Smiddy. Unfortunately, this pub only stays open until midnight. But they did ask us to leave very politely.

#241. O2 ABC, 286 Sauchiehall St, Glasgow


Gary Numan was a hero of mine when I was a teenager, as he was the first rock star that made it cool to play keyboards and be slightly autistic. Or maybe it was just me who thought that was cool.

The O2 ABC has an interesting history. The building comprises two concert halls and five bars. We were in the larger hall, but on a hot evening and a sellout crowd of 1250, it was a steamy, intimate show. We ordered Guinness and some non-Strongbow ciders (Bulmers? Magners?) from The Polar Bar (where this photo was taken), and ABC1 (see below).

During the tribute to recently deceased drummer Cedric Sharpley.

The show was excellent. The sound was good, Gary's voice was in fine form, and the selection of material spanned all the decades of his catalogue. The show ended with Cars followed by an ingenious reworking of "Are 'Friends' Electric?" that had everyone humming along with the killer synth hooks.

Monday, May 21, 2012

#240. Bennets of Morningside, 1 Maxwell St, Edinburgh

Summer is here and we went for a walk to explore the Morningside neighbourhood. Not to be confused with the Bennets up the road, according to The List, this pub is owned by the same folks that run the Cumberland.


The pub had a great selection of local cask ales. Here I am surveying the choices.


I decided on a Doom Bar Ale, made by Sharps, a brewery in Cornwall. According to their website, this 4% abv bitter is named after an infamous sandbank at the mouth of the Camel Estuary in North Cornwall.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

#239. Balmoral Bar, 1 Princes Street, Edinburgh

We found the place where Edinburgh's high society stop for a drink while shopping along Princes. At the foot of North Bridge, nestled next to the Waverley train station, the Balmoral Hotel is a beautiful feature of the Edinburgh skyline, and the place where J. K. Rowling stayed the day she finished the last installment of Harry Potter. (You can now book a room in the Rowling Suite... for £1000/night.)

The Balmoral also includes this swank place to grab perhaps the best pint of Scottish cask ale you will ever be served: a Belhaven St. Andrew's Ale.

Meghan is pretending to drink my beer.

Friday, May 18, 2012

#238. Ensign Ewart, 521 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh

Back in Edinburgh! The closest pub to the castle, and right on the Royal Mile, this charming, dimly-lit pub is adorned with horse brass on the low-hanging exposed wooden ceiling beams.

There were four cask ales on tap. I ordered a Black Sheep Best Bitter, which certainly was bitter. In fact, it tasted rancid. I'm not sure if it was, or if it was just me, but I returned it after a few sips and bought a Flying Scotsman. The bartender must have had trouble with my accent, for she simply nodded and gave me the access code to the locked toilet.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

#237. abba Hotel, Štefánikova 864/4, Bratislava


Our hotel in Bratislava had this slick bar off the lobby where I enjoyed a Zlatý Bažant tmavé (dark) lager and spoke to the bartender about the upcoming Canada-Slovakia hockey game.

Bratislava may seem the poor cousin to other Eastern European capitals like Budapest and Prague, but for a small city, it does have its charms...






...and its own particular brand of weirdness....



We couldn't help but wish our own similar-sized capital city we call home was as beautiful and quirky.

#236. Lochness Scottish Pub, Sedlárska ul. 4, Bratislava

There is nothing Scots about this place except a picture of bagpipers on the wall. They even have Loch Ness misspelled as one word. However, the pretty Slovakian waitress in a kilt was a nice touch (see below). The taps were all lager or wheat beer. I drank a quite tasty Edelweiss from Austrian brewery Hofbrau Kaltenhausen.

This trip through Eastern Europe has taught me a couple of things about beer (or pivo as they say hereabouts). First, that a double bock dark lager is a treat, and that wheat beer is a nice antidote to the usual Bavarian purity laws.