Added on Friday 15 Jul 2011
It's curry capital time again - with the launch of this year's bid to find the best city for Asian cuisine in the UK, and the chance for Glasgow to win the competition for an unprecedented fifth time.
As we've said many times in the past it's a contest which has some special importance for the West End, as it's beyond dispute that nearly all the city's best Indian restaurants are on this side of North Street - for example Mother India, Balbir's, the Wee Curry Shop(s), and recently-launched Green Chilli from the Harlequin stable.
This column would never incite anyone to consume alcohol, let alone more than is good for them, but it is a fact that as well as rooting for your favourite restaurant if you cast a vote for the restaurant you want to represent Glasgow in the competition you may also win a case of Cobra beer, along with a range of Patak's sauces.
I haven't drunk a bottle of Cobra for some years, but remember it as not a bad accompaniment to an Indian meal, but if you're into a spot of Indian home cookery I can certainly recommend the Patak's range:their catchphase used to be Pukka People Pick a Pot of Patak's - and I wouldn't necessarily disagree. Apart from these potential rewards, it's arguably worth taking the time (about one minute or less if you're doing it online) to give your number one Indian restaurant choice a bit of a bump up.
It will be interesting to see (regardless of which city wins the UK title) whether the West End is again as heavily represented in Glasgow's ambassadorial team in the event.
Last year's illustrious squad included the owners of Mother India, Balbir's, Mr Singh's India and Kool-ba - all but the last-named headquartered in the West End.
You've got until August 26 to nominate your favourite, and can do so online at www.glasgow.gov.uk/en/AboutGlasgow/currycapital
It was with a sense of "oh no" and also deja vu that it became obvious that the Pakistani Cafe at Partick Cross - the venue that seemed poised to become a success in a notoriously difficult site - has shut up shop for good.
Instead of becoming the restaurant that could beat the venue's long run of bad luck it became, just a few weeks after opening, another could-have-been in what seems like record time.
All sorts of theories have been advanced to me about just why the place was wound up, but whatever the reason it certainly wasn't lack of interest - because for the last few weeks almost every time I've passed there have been knots of discontented diners huddled miserably outside, peering into the now empty space. The venture, specialising in Punjabi home-style cooking, was launched from its original site in Pollokshaws, and this is now reopen after a closure for refurbishment.
In what may be a revealing hint to the management's view of the West End debacle there was a large notice in the window of the Pollokshaws Road venture last week which announced that the Pakistani Cafe was back in the south side - with the addition "The West End is very dark".
Perhaps we'll learn more about why a place everyone I've met thought could be a stayer had to shut down so abruptly, but for the moment we'll just have to wish the south side venture well - although it doesn't seem its owner will feel tempted to try the West End again in a hurry.
The old building, designed by Rennie Macintosh and opened in 1934, was originally marketed as a prospect for a new luxury hotel, whose features would have included a 400-capacity bar.
But of course then the recession came along, property investment and construction fell off a cliff, and the Beeb-as-was has been gathering cobwebs ever since.
Until now, just possibly. It's unlikely G1 will want to go into detail about any outline plan until it has the key essentials in place, and even if its interest is not as hot as The Scotsman suggests it could be in the throes of what would be far from straightforward negotiations - you don't buy a joint like the former BBC in the same way you might a corner pub site.
So we're left with a strong hint, but no definite timescale - and of course no way of knowing whether others might be interested.
But the putative G1 scheme has the ring of verisimilitude, for sure. The company's refurbishment of The Corinthian in town last year was a "refurbishment" on an epic scale, involving the launch of several quite sophisticated entertainment streams within one very imposing - in fact iconic - A-listed landmark building.
Then there's the Stefan King factor. The G1 owner failed to gain headway for his plan to launch a nightclub from a site based on the former railway station under the Botanic Gardens, after a very vigorous campaign of opposition. It was variously claimed that the venture would spoil the Botanics, and that the area would become rowdy late a night - feeding into an ongoing debate about whether the Byres Road area and Ashton Lane are already too lively, particularly on weekend nights.
With this sort of background it's easy to see why Mr King might view a "Botanics Hotel" as a prestige project worthy of serious attention. He wants a landmark "welcome to Glasgow" site, something quite out of the ordinary, and such a project could fit the bill without inciting the same sort of wrath that greeted the nightclub plan.
Glasgow generally "needs" another high end hotel, and the top of Byres Road is definitely one of the city's favourite locations for international visitors, even before the domestic conference and special function market is addressed - so there's certainly a solid case for launching an ambitious venture on the site, and G1 are the only obvious front runner for quite such an investment at such a time.
Inevitably some people will oppose the plan, perhaps on grounds including noise and traffic, but when you consider the site played host to hundreds of BBC employees for around seven decades (including three members of my family) there's a clear established use for the building as one very busy operation. The licensed side of things may worry some people, given the regular warnings from community councillors and others that there are too many licences in the area already.
Again the owner of a "Botanics Hotel" could argue there's a world of difference between a "boozer" and a venue with the service credentials of somewhere like The Corinthian.
Finally, what other use could the magnificent old building possibly be put to that could be made to work in these recessionary times - and what will happen to it if such a plan fails to win consent?
More on this possibly seismic local dining and drinking scene development as - and if - it happens.
Hearty congratulations to Oran Mor owner Colin Beattie and his staff - and some extra compliments to Colin, who is basking in the glory of not one but two major licensed trade-related awards.
First the pub won the Sunday Mail Best Pub award, against some very stiff competition, effectively sealing its reputation as "the" West End place to go with its huge regular clientele.
It's important to note that the award was emphatically for the "pub" side of the enterprise, rather than for its ambitious dining offer, functions, drama or music productions, because as an "arts-with-bars" venue the fact that Colin always intended the centrepiece to be a big-statement classic Scottish pub is too often overlooked.
"Mystery shoppers" tried the place out on all sorts of levels and it came up trumps in every category, deservedly adding another jewel to the crown of landmark West End dining and drinking achievements.
Meanwhile Colin Beattie was also delighted to receive a Lifetime Achievement award from licensed trade journal The Dram, recognising a career which has included far too many projects to list in detail.
Oran Mor would arguably be enough of an achievement for any entrepreneur, but it has been built on the back of the success scored with very many other trade enterprises - The Lismore in Partick springs immediately to mind, but I remember almost the first time I met Colin Beattie it was in yet another ordinary pub in Partick that he and his design team had transformed into something a bit special.
Apart from devising and running licensed ventures of every kind Colin has worked tirelessly to promote real artistic talent and to give a home to "real" Scottish culture, perhaps particularly if it has a Hebridean tinge; but it's one many-splendoured enterprise, whose true worth has only recently started to become apparent.
During his eventful career Colin has worked with major brewers and distillers to bring exciting new arts happenings to Glasgow.
Most recently he's been the enabler behind the Bud Neill statue of the Pertyck wifie sculpted by Ranald McCall in Partick railway station - but according to sources Mr Beattie thinks it's possibly a wee bit early to consider putting up a statue of him, just yet.
He seems content to know that everything he has worked to achieve, when he could just as well have profited from dull pubs or routine investments, has gained the sort of recognition he and his employees deserve.
We're delighted to bring to readers the exclusive news that the most famous name in Scottish ice cream parlours is coming to the heart of Byres Road. At least that's what I've been told by two reliable sources about the vacant site of Morton's Cafe, which appears set to become the latest "outreach" branch of Largs ice cream parlour legend Nardini's.
More specifically it will be a venture run in tandem with the highly successful Tony Macaroni Italian restaurant brand, which has spread far beyond its launch venture in East Kilbride to include new sites in Byres Road and elsewhere. The sketch is fairly simple. Everyone has heard of Nardini's - an art deco masterpiece of an institution which constitutes the last word in Italo-Scottish grandeur - and almost everyone likes Italian ice cream. Add a now thoroughly-established menu offer of pizza and pasta and you have a potentially winning formula.
We'll inevitably have much more on this project as and when it starts to happen, but assuming everything is as suggested we can look forward to a bright contemporary take on the classic Italian ice cream salon which should definitely add something to what has become one very forlorn corner of Byres Road.
Another new project which is getting ready to open very shortly is the new Brewdog pub on the site of what had been the Lock Inn, more or less opposite Kelvingrove gallery (close to the Kelvin Hall).
This project has been bubbling away for months, but the other day a headline in the Evening Times advised us that a super-strength beer firm was about to open a bar, and traced some of the firm's regularly controversial pedigree.
It does include some inordinately strong beers, which some unkind souls are constrained to see as a gimmick, and also delights in funny or provocative names for some of its peers, for example Punk IPA and Trashy Blonde.
This sort of irreverent japery at a time of acute paranoia over drink and its effects has led to what seem like innumerable skirmishes with the Portman Group, the drinks industry body which dishes out sonorous warnings about anything it claims could incite people to drink irresponsibly.
The entrepreneurs behind Fraserburgh-based Brewdog think the Portman Group is barking up the wrong tree on a regular basis, and has seemed to take some delight in cocking a snook in its general direction.
The firm's argument - one possibly shared by the Sinclair Brewery after its Skull Splitter beer came under fire from the PG - is that people who make the intelligent choice to drink above-average beer aren't going to be influenced either by strength or a wacky name.
If there were any truth to that theory problem drinkers (and "ned" problem drinkers) would be combing the specialist beer shops for brews like the ultra-strong Belgian beer Delirium Tremens - but they don't.
Brewdog beer, meanwhile, is good - some would say exceptional. In the Evening Times report local MSP Sandra White appears anxious that innocent Glaswegians will flock to its new pub to become grossly intoxicated on that notorious super-strength beer, whereas in fact most Brewdog products are perfectly normal.
Lost in the general tumult is the fact that the draught beers are cask ales, which (regardless of personal taste) definitely represent the upper end of beers, and that the record of Glasgow pubs majoring on "real ales" (as CAMRA members would call them) is exemplary.
What Brewdog has done is strip away the fusty old imagery of what ought to be a well-respected craft product and give it some marketing zing and brewing ingenuity, potentially persuading some people to try "real" beer in preference to their usual Italian, German or Czech premium lager.
How this unusual addition to the local scene will be received on that particular stretch of road remains to be seen. It's pretty close to The Three Judges at Partick Cross, an acknowledged real beer oasis most would concede is hard to beat, and relatively close to The Bon Accord in North Street. But I think anyone concerned that a Brewdog pub is going to be awash with beer fiends tanked up on electric ale should relax.
I'm confident it will add something important to the local dining and drinking scene (which includes near neighbours such as The Pelican restaurant), and I think it's perhaps a shame that something just a bit out of the ordinary should be given such a chilly reception before any of the actual facts have been studied.
We're not talking here about some wild student bar of the 80's but of a firm which has won outstanding praise for its products in one of the toughest markets around, and which oozes professionalism and a drive for quality in everything it does. It can't open soon enough.
Back on Byres Road, the people behind Bobar have launched a brand new blues night for Sunday evenings, in what they reckon is the perfect way to round off a lazy weekend afternoon.
The session takes place every Sunday from 8pm until 11pm, with local blues legends Alan Nimmo and the Magic Blues Surfers teaming up to offer what's promised to be a memorable night of music.
Having been hailed as one of Europe's finest blues musicians, Alan Nimmo will be collaborating with the Surfers to celebrate both traditional and modern blues.
Meanwhile, it's strongly suggested, the stylish surroundings of Bobar provide the ideal location to ensure that fans have a night to remember, with an extensive selection of wines, beers and spirits available - "and a menu perfect for peckish West End diners."
Riverside bar-restaurant The Big Blue at Kelvinbridge has to be one of the main beneficiaries of the freak July good weather - which will probably have reverted to pitiless driving rain by the time this appears.
It's been a popular spot for years, of course, but new owners have recently lavished a great deal of time and effort on the overall appearance of the place, and it now definitely has the sort of ambience which makes it an attractive for a quick pit stop, or a leisurely meal and drink, pretty much any time of the day.
Nestled almost under Kelvin Bridge the bar, in its bodega-style setting, has a decided continental ambience, and when I passed today - a Thursday lunchtime - its outdoor tables were more or less at capacity.
However we're all old enough to know that the recent good weather is not "the real Glasgow", just a mid-season quirk of nature, and that in no time at all we'll be digging out scarves and woolly mittens in a bid to stave off incipient frostbite.
Which is why there's now also a cool "indoors outside" area immediately beside the entrance to the main venue, which allows customers to retreat into a cosy high-ceilinged chamber, very nicely laid out, should an inclement wee spot of rain happen to interrupt the evening's relaxation.
Big Blue managing director Mark Billington said: "Our new covered al fresco dining area is the perfect spot to catch up with friends and family for a bite and a refreshment whilst soaking up the summer sun - while the arch provides cover should the occasional spot of summer rain come along."
Meanwhile, in the torrid whooping-it-up quarter of the city centre, our city councilors have been getting hot under the collar, and not for the first time, about the exotic antics which take place, or were alleged to have taken place, in the sort of venue some operators are pleased to call gentlemen's clubs.
It's one of the most enduring and endearing mysteries of early 21st century Scottish entertainment culture that while in the capital - a louche Babylon of unfettered carnal abandon, tempered only by the 8,043 rules enshrined in our incomprehensible licensing laws - anything goes.
Particularly, it seems, articles of clothing. It's unlikely this sort of issue will ever raise its head in the West End, where the livelier debates tend to focus on whether or not to knock down an antique garage, but it's theoretically possible.
The case centres on what might charitably be called an exotic dancing performance in which - quel horreur - the dancers concerned (who were ladies) were alleged to have at one point worn absolutely no clothing at all.
This, it has to be pointed out, is absolutely routine in comparable establishments based in our capital city, less than an hour away by road or rail.
According to well-informed licensing people it has been previously offered as an excuse for such an omission that the elastic in a crucial garment had, tragically, snapped, leaving the danseuse concerned in temporary, and no doubt mortified, distress.
It appears dancers at the club in Drury Street were told in no uncertain terms that this one key strategic item of clothing, scanty as it may very well be, must be worn at all times during performances.
This stricture, we are told, was not always observed, and two years ago the club was refused a licence because of the alleged effrontery of the two dancers.
But in court the club's owners have now argued, it appears successfully, that the licensing board exceeded its remit.
The board has now been told by three judges to reconsider its decision, and may well have to accept that, no, you can't actually dictate what dancers wear (or not) during performances.
In a newspaper quote our local MSP Sandra White, who has campaigned against such clubs, is said to have argued that every council should have the right to decide what kind of operational conditions are allowed - but while she may have an argument in moral terms, or something of the sort, in the technical legal sense this is wrong.
This is because the decision was made by the licensing board, and not the council - which is legally a completely separate body, with no control whatsoever over drink licences.
The licensing board has to operate in terms of the (fiendishly complicated) Licensing Act, and in this case has been told it's made a wrong call in the legal and procedural sense, even if adherence to the code of practice the dancers are said to have flouted is "desirable".
Ms White opined that the decision could "open a can of worms" in terms of similar decisions over exotic dancing clubs in future, and she may well be right.
According to The Herald, in his report Lord Essie summed up the nub of the incident which led to the original licence refusal: "It was explained to the board at its meeting that the two ladies in question were engaged only for that evening; that they were told at a 'briefing' to retain their bikini bottoms but they were accustomed to a different practice in Edinburgh, whence they came."