Glasgow's Laureston Bar, a living embodiment of the city's history, is set to enter a new chapter – Martyn McLaughlin
With its squat, single-storey exterior and obscured glass windows that seem suspicious of natural light, it would be easy to mistake the Laurieston Bar as a spit-and-sawdust affair best avoided. When I moved to Glasgow, I passed by it nearly every day for years. It was only a decade or so ago, when a pal suggested we meet up for a drink, that I realised the perils of first impressions.
In a city that has all too often shown a reckless disregard for its heritage, the Laurieston is an exception to the rule. Walk through its doors and you enter not just a pub, but a slice of living history. The first thing to catch the eye is not the deep varnished timber that dominates the interiors, or the spectrum red of its Formica tables, but the walls. Or rather, what adorns them – a breathless collage where fine art vies for space with newspaper obituaries, their yellowing paper curling and overlapping an endless array of photographs and drawings.
This howff has stood sentinel since Glasgow belonged to another age. It predates the vast regeneration effort that saw the Gorbals razed and rebuilt, and carries with it the echoes of an era when the ironworks and textile factories that once specked the Clyde’s south bank were taking their last gap.
All have gone now, yet the Laurieston prevails. It is fortunate to be near Bridge Street underground station and the O2 Academy music venue, both of which bring a steady stream of customers. The main reason, however, that this unassuming wee pub survives is the fact it has been owned by just a handful of families over the past century. The Clancys have run it since 1982, and before them, the Alexanders and the Grahams proved equally assiduous custodians.
Ask either Joseph Clancy, or his father, John, to explain the secret of their establishment’s enduring popularity and you will receive the same self-effacing answer. “It’s just a pub,” they insist. It is a response which could be mistaken for apathy, but those four words perfectly capture the Laurieston’s manifest appeal. Unlike so many other establishments, it has not flitted and fidgeted in pursuit of the latest trend or gimmick. It is a place which understands the pub’s true purpose is to prize company above all, whether it be that of friends or strangers.
Soon, there will be another newcomer. After four decades, the Clancys are selling up, a decision that has sparked consternation given the current economic climate. According to the Scottish Beer & Pub Association, hundreds of boozers have shut up shop for good since the start of the pandemic, with the number of closures in the first half of this year outstripping the total for 2022.
Yet there is reason for optimism. The Clancy family insists it will be business as usual until they find the “right buyer” for the freehold, and thanks to the fact Historic Environment Scotland conferred grade C-listed status on the Laurieston 13 years ago, its innumerable charms can rely on a more robust form of protection than good intentions alone. A new chapter in an old story nears. If ever you’re passing, don’t make the mistake I once did.
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