Three cheers for The Halt Bar

IFOne of the West End’s best-loved traditional pubs – one which can lay claim to having captured the real “flavour” of its bohemian milieu at least 35 years ago – is, we’re happy to report, well and truly saved.

Last year the very existence of The Halt bar in Woodlands Road appeared to be on the shoogliest of pegs, with scores of angry customers writing fire and brimstone messages on an online petition.

They were calling for the pub to be retained as a “real local bar” – as opposed to, say, a gastro-pub.

For reasons too laborious to go into the bar had clearly hit a rocky patch after it was obliged to pull the plug on major music events, and – spreading alarm and despondency among the regulars – a large “for lease” sign appeared outside.

Worse, as many online complainers noted, it was suggested in the property details that it might not be a bad idea to rip out the pub’s classic central bar feature and turn the place into “a gastro pub”, which as a potential development plan was about as popular with existing customers as might be a rattlesnake in a lucky dip.

The punters were incandescent with fury, incredulous horror and disbelief, but anyone who followed our coverage of the developing drama will remember we predicted only the boldest of entrepreneurs would try going down the “posh” route – it was never going to happen.

In an area hugely dominated by students and bedsit-land the idea of a bar-restaurant (in an area now seething with pubs offering food) catering for an “up market” clientele, which doesn’t really exist in these parts, was plain bonkers.

This wasn’t just my opinion, because I spoke to four or five other local operators who just couldn’t believe such a plan would ever work.

However it was obvious something would have to be done, both to recapture lost trade and to bring back some lustre to a bar which – when at its best – can easily claim its place in any top five list of “real West End pubs”.

Last week, push finally came to shove. The For Lease sign which caused such panic was gone, and the bar was in the throes of a refurb.              

Would it reopen as a glitzy wine bar with, say, a sideline in organic sushi?

A cheery note outside the premises advised that all would be well, while inside a swarm of builders banged, sawed, humphed and drilled.

Amid the debris, meanwhile, and plain to see through the open door, the central bar was standing there untouched, same as ever, and in fact it’s been given some extra flourishes to make it all the more prominent and characterful.

Now reopened, the only noticeable changes at the Halt have been a comprehensive sprucing-up (much needed) of the original interior, whose main features – classic snug bar and all – are just the same, more or less, as I remember them too many decades ago.

That snug used to be plastered with posters for concerts and other events, giving the place a sort of licensed arts centre look, and that’s certainly changed – but I think this is a distinct improvement: it all looks so much more spacious and, in its own quiet way, almost elegant.

In the early 80’s many traditional bars were gutted to make way for the passing fancy of style bars (the best of which were great – but the cheap copies were horrible).

Now the wheel has turned full circle, and pub design people are falling over themselves to install exactly the sort of quality wooden surrounds that gave The Halt its distinctive ambience all those years ago.

A quick chat with the bar’s amiable management this week was enough to convince me that The Halt is not only in safe hands but also nicely poised to regain its former glory.

There’s some cask ale on offer, but the bar has no intention of going head to head with the heavyweight local contenders in this area, and is instead putting the emphasis on quality wine and also what appears to be shaping up as a brilliant selection of bottled beers.

From the choice on offer it seems the bar is determined to tick all the popular boxes – for example there’s beer from the city’s German-style West Brewery – while also bringing something “new” to the West End.

IFHence we find Colonsay Lager on the list – a really exotic product shipped straight from a tiny Hebridean brewery – and also Timmerman’s fruit beers, which could prove massively popular in summer.

The list, on a big board on the wall, is one very imaginative attempt to sum up everything that’s great about beer, in all its diversity, from continental specials to some stunning exemplars of Scottish brewing at its best.

What else? There are pies – reportedly excellent home-made pies – but not a trace of balsamic vinegar or rocket salad to be found anywhere in the house … for which let us all be thankful.

During my brief visit there was also the mandatory dog on the premises, supplied with its own bowl of fresh water, and clearly enjoying the banter, again underscoring the fact that this is a Real Pub where man’s best friend (as in the West Brewery’s bierkeller restaurant on Glasgow Green) is more than welcome.

People who know the place well will probably spot a great deal of other minor detail, but that’s enough to be going on with. Pub saved, no puce-coloured walls or frills and flounces; plenty of good beer; same old Halt but cleaner, brighter and better … what’s not to like?


The meaning of life – only £25

IFRegular visitors to Pat’s site will be well aware of the gastronomic, literary and philosophical delights to be enjoyed at the left-field but fun soirees of the Cleikum Club at Stravaigin in Gibson Street, where bon-vivants engage in earnest debate about the nature of our very existence while consuming the cornucopian (woo!) creations of the famous bar-restaurant’s ambitiously experimental kitchen.

This time, cutting straight to the chase, the aim will be to determine The Meaning of Life in a single evening, leaving the venue with the minor problem of what on earth to talk about next time (football?) if anyone comes up with the definitive answer.

The gate money is £25, the date April 4, and gourmands, aesthetes and all other such-like authentic West End savants are being advised to book now to avoid disappointment – see Stravaigin’s website for full details.


Love me tender

Meanwhile back on Woodlands Road, fun-loving pub Dram! has a very direct message for its customers.

Accepting that while romance – however fleeting its nature – could well blossom in the course of an evening at Dram!, management are also clearly aware of Burns’ poetic adage that the best laid plans gang aft agley … ie, usually don’t pan out the way we’d hoped.

Burns, we’re certain, never had this problem where “romance” was concerned – apart from that knockback from Clarinda, who to be fair was from Edinburgh – and otherwise invariably “pulled” (as the sign outside Dram! has it) during his many visits to inns and taverns.

But the pub is pragmatic enough to accept that most of us do not have the bard’s ready wit, charm, or ursine good looks, and to the disappointed in love it offers a ready solution … go home with a pizza instead.

Not the stuff that love sonnets are made of, admittedly, but on a dreich and wintry Friday night in miserable March it’s a Plan B with plenty of ready appeal.


Club “mystery”

Next month sees the launch of what will be only the fourth nightclub in the West End (following Viper, Oran Mor, Boho), in what may come to be seen as one of the smoothest transitions of its kind ever managed in Byres Road.

That is, if the sparse advance publicity for the venture is accurate – and we’ve no reason to doubt that it is.

To be called the Factory Club, this latest nitespot, presumably with 2am opening, appears certain to bring a completely new stream of traffic to the bottom end of the street, which houses the only premises I can think of where such a venture could possibly be launched.

On the site forum, one of Pat’s contributors noted that the street door facing of the presumed new club is “tiny”, but in fact a stairwell leads to a very substantial basement “tank” inside – if it’s the same place, it’s already a large-capacity bar – with plenty of room for a nightclub.

There is obviously a licensing story to be told here, since you cannot go around opening nightclubs anywhere you fancy – it’s a struggle to open a mere bar-restaurant – but I am guessing that the presumed venue’s existing late night bar permission allows it to transform from pub to club without too much difficulty.

There shouldn’t be any additional noise – a soundproofed basement shouldn’t cause problems – but it will mean two club venues within five minutes’ walk of each other in a strip which can get quite lively in the weekend small hours.

We’re not naming the site of the proposed venture until it’s positively confirmed – the Facebook page for the club is very mysterious about this – but the forum contributor who asserted it could only be launched at one address is surely right.

More news on this interesting development by and by.

vodka cocktails.jpgCocktail frenzy

A jolly battle of wits is in full swing among the embellishers of blackboards outside the sort of West End pubs which make a thing about cocktails, with each seemingly trying to outdo the others by listing snazzy and eyecatching ingredients.

Full marks this week, then, to Vodka Wodka in Ashton Lane, which has come up with a version of signature Cuban cocktail the Mojito I hadn’t heard of before (which isn’t surprising, as I don’t go for cocktails, and there are innumerable takes on the Mojito).

I’m almost tempted to try one – even if the weather outside is more Halifax Nova Scotia than Havana.

Also advertised the other day was the Caprioska, which mixes lime and brown sugar with vodka, soda water, and lots of crushed ice … which is again the sort of thing you’d expect to be served in balmy Caribbean climes.

Then, just to be different, there’s also the option of Agwa coca-leaf liqueur from Bolivia, where among the native Aymara Indian population coca-leaves are widely chewed, and also readily available in teabag form.

It’s a natural choice as base for a Bolivian spirit, as there’s a lot of the stuff about – so there’s none of the problems the Mexicans can encounter with tequila, which requires to be made with a blue-flowering agave cactus.

So what is Agwa? The publicity blurb tells us the leaves are grown 2,000m above sea level, then treated to a complex distillation process after being shipped to Amsterdam.

Other ingredients in what’s described as a distinctively peppery liqueur include Chinese green tea, ginseng, lavender and African mint – and in case you think it’s a mere novelty, Agwa won a gold medal at the World Spirits Awards, scoring most points in the herbal liquors category.

There are innumerable cocktail suggestions for the drink, including a Bolivian Bloody Mary, and – quite possibly as a tribute to the endeavours of Cuba’s Fidel Castro, and his blood-and-thunder compañero Che Guevara (who was notoriously gunned down in the Bolivian hills during a doomed attempt to spread revolution) – there’s also a Bolivian version of the Mojito.

Well done Vodka Wodka for bringing this wacky but interesting niche proposition to Scotland’s premier bars circuit.

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This section: Eating and drinking Glasgow West End

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

One response to “Three cheers for The Halt Bar”

  1. Harry says:

    “we predicted only the boldest of entrepreneurs would try going down the “posh” route – it was never going to happen … A quick chat with the bar’s amiable management this week was enough to convince me that The Halt is not only in safe hands but also nicely poised to regain its former glory.”

    Wow. There’s getting it spectacularly wrong, and then there’s… that. 🙁

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