It may not be possible to fully experience the best of Glasgow's centuries-old drinking culture in one weekend, but that didn't stop travel writer Paul Jebara from trying. After extensive research (drinking, followed by more drinking) he recommends these can't-miss spots for the ultimate boozy tour of Glasgow.
GLASGOW, Scotland – During a long weekend in Scotland’s largest city, I quickly realized that Glaswegians love their booze — and they’re the first to admit it. As Glasgow evolved from a rough-around-the-edges factory town with a reputation of quarreling day-drinkers to an international hub for culture, arts, and higher education, so has its drinking culture and bar scene. The past lingers nostalgically at the unmarked pub, where hardworking men capitalize on free time from their industrial jobs with a hard drink by noon. But as a visitor, infusing some alcohol into the day is a vital way to immerse yourself in local culture and history… okay — I’m clearly stretching here. Sometimes we need a day off from the museums to enjoy a tipple with no agenda, right?
Here’s how you can see Glasgow with proverbial beer goggles and have some cultural enlightenment along the way:
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day … because it’s poor judgement to day-drink on an empty stomach. Glasgow’s epicurean emphasis on local ingredients shines at Singl-end, a bakery and coffeehouse that serves a stellar breakfast — and morning cocktails. Order a zippy gin and elderflower cooler to wash down juicy homemade pork and fennel sausages. Or ask for a shot of booze in one of the excellent (otherwise healthy) fruit smoothies.
Bloody Mary fans: run to Liberté for flavorsome tomato-vodka concoctions served in a massive mason jar, garnished with a mini cheeseburger. I call this a “drinkable brunch.”
Sunday brunch at Stravaigin is out of this world, even if just for the full Scottish breakfast. But you’re here to drink, too, I hope. Favoring the more traditional cocktails, Stravaigin gets it right with from-scratch Bloody Marys and breakfast martinis that go down easy.
Garnished with Culture
Scotland and whisky go hand-in-hand, so much so that the law dictates the manner in which it needs to be distilled in order to be considered a Scotch whisky. On the banks of the River Clyde, the newly-opened Clydeside Distillery is an ode to Glasgow’s storied production of whisky, with their own casks finally being tapped. It’s located on the historic Queen’s Dock, built in 1877 by the great-grandfather of the current chairman, where ships once carried out massive exports of Scotch whisky around the world. Book an official tour of the facility for a holistic education of Scotland’s whisky history, then follow the distilling process from the massive copper pot stills to the sampling table, where a variety of global spirits are yours to sip.
Beer lovers, head straight to Wellpark Brewery. Go behind the scenes of nearly 500 years of Glaswegian brewing history, including the production of Scotland’s leading lager: Tennent’s. After the tour, have lunch (... and more beer) at the onsite restaurant, which has ample outdoor seating in summer. If you’re not too buzzed, stroll over to the Glasgow Cathedral and the famous hilltop necropolis for non-alcohol-related history with stunning views.
Perhaps you’d prefer a more unique, experiential occasion to drink? “A Play, A Pie and A Pint” is exactly what you’ll find at Òran Mór’s lunchtime spectacular, where every week, different plays from Scotland and around the world come to life in the former Kelvinside Parish Church. Preview the play schedule and book tickets in advance.
An Eternal Choice: The Pub or The Cocktail Bar
Over the past decade, Glasgow’s bar scene has come into its own, with ample drinking destinations beyond the typical pub — but that’s not to say that you should pass on those traditional spots for a fun time.
Topping most lists ranking Glasgow’s best pubs is The Pot Still, a family-run classic with literally hundreds of whisky brands and varieties to choose from. Ask the bartender for his/her recommendation. Don’t miss out on one of the made-to-order pies, a perfect pairing with their most popular tipple, the hot toddy. Another outstanding pub is The Ben Nevis, named after the UK’s highest peak, which immerses you in the spirit of the Highlands with live Celtic folk music.
Glaswegians are recognized for their leading-edge creativity in contemporary arts, which has seemingly been translated into a thriving cocktail scene. In the middle of the action is The Finnieston (located in the Finnieston neighborhood), which has the city’s first and best gin bar, celebrating Scotland’s second spirit. The menu echos the delightful seafood-foreword dishes from the kitchen, like the briny, signature gin and tonic, aptly named the “Nautical.” Another place to experience the resurgence of gin is beGin, a speakeasy where you can choose from an extensive list of cocktails or create your own.
For an uber-trendy scene and borderline bombastic cocktails, Bar Soba’s Japanese-inspired drinks are crafted with “smoke, ice, fire,” like the Jangshi Zombie, a triple-rum drink with tropical fruit juices that crosses the bar flaming at the rim. It’s intended for two, but we won’t discourage being selfish at this point. Or sail down to the South Pacific at The Tiki Bar and Kitsch Inn for sassy Singapore slings and rum bongos served in ceramic Tiki mugs.
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