Going Out in Glasgow: The Best Bars in Central, The West End and Merchant City

October 19, 2016

As anyone who's ever been to Glasgow knows, this port city is synonomous with cracking nightlife. From the old school taverns of Glasgow Central to edgy hangouts in the West End and established elegance in Merchant City, we round up our favourite spots to have a tipple.

"You'll have more fun at a Glasgow funeral than an Edinburgh wedding” as the saying goes. The Irish-Scottish hybrid city has created a truly singular reputation for what it means to enjoy yourself. The high number of basement bars try their best to contain the fun but more often than not it overflows, especially in the early hours when fried food beckons (try a battered Mars bar but don’t eat the whole thing).

This is a city so committed to a good time its dancefloors and ball rooms partied on whilst German bombers flew overhead in the 40s. Whether it’s bevvies with the bhoys or a night with yer lassies, Glasgow’s old man dives, basement hangouts, suave cocktail lounges and untameable clubs have fine turned partying into nothing short of an art form.

Glasgow's affinity for live music and a long history of enjoying itself makes it a city with a ton of character and a multitude of drinking establishments. You'll be spoilt for choice in Glasgow Central which has a startling amount of entertainment venues that ingeniously enable you to manoeuvre the streets without being cold for too long. Then there's the free spirited West End, offset by the somewhat more elegant but every bit as cool Merchant City east of the University. Feeling overwhelmed with options already? Not to worry, we've arranged our choice cuts of Glasgow's bars and pubs.

1. Central

Glasgow, The Horseshoe Bar

Simply due to the huge number of bars in the area, Central is an appropriate place to start. There’s a plethora of venues between Sauchiehall and Argyle Street, which are adjoined into a Z-shape by Buchannan Street. If you prefer your watering holes to be run of the mill, stick to the sneaky old school hangouts down back alleys.

One such bar is the Horseshoe Bar on Drury Street where there is a warm and welcoming ambience in one of Glasgow’s oldest pubs. Coorie-in (lean in) with the happy go lucky locals around the island bar and verse yourself in local drinking etiquette – look no further than the writing on the wall, “Not drunk is he who from the floor - Can rise alone and still drink more; But drunk is They, who prostrate lies, Without the power to drink or rise”.

The Old Hair Dresser's on Renfield Lane is a two-minute walk away and has a cool, relaxed vibe. The bare lightbulbs, unpainted walls and assorted seats retain the laid back vibe of a hairdressers – the building's prior purpose. It also makes the mix of people stand out all the more, you’ll find students and young professionals at weekends and lazy after work types throughout the week. Zip round the gallery if the exhibition catches your interest and then step into Stereo across the way which has the same owner but opens earlier to serve vegan food. All the pittas and flatbreads are freshly baked daily on site.

Right around the corner, descend cautiously into Republic Bier Halle on Gordon Street. The clamour that echoes up the dim staircase seems ominous but once you’re through the door a surprisingly large space opens up. Tables are low lit with lights that hang at eye level and the dark walls create a secret, hideaway feel; it’s more like a mess hall than a beer hall. Speaking of mess, order the runny egg and avocado pizza (it's two for one) and close your eyes before pointing at the lengthy beer menu if you can’t decide.

Then there’s Sloans off Argyle Street whose grand ballroom becomes a true Glasgow dance floor at 8.30 p.m. on Friday nights with ceilidhs and reels performed by Chitterbite. If you don’t know where to put your feet, there's a 'caller' (a dance teacher) floating around who will show you the right moves if you're finding things tough.

If you're looking to stay centrally, prices are much higher. Go the whole hog and splash out on Dreamhouse Blythswood Apartments on West George Street. The spacious rooms in a Victorian townhouse are self-catered and ideal for groups in multiples of four.

2. West End

Ashton Lane, Glasgow

Stroll down the West End and you’ll rub shoulders with buskers, class-cutting students and joyous revellers. Take it all in under low ceilings and between bare brick walls that average something like one acoustic instrument for every 30 bodies.

Ashton Lane is the place to start: a cobbled backstreet with rafters of fairy lights looping overhead past its cafes and bars. Duck under the black fire escape into Jinty Mcguinty’s where there’s live music six nights a week, a severe lack of seats and Irish proverbs and famous quotes lining the walls. The barrel tables and charismatic bar staff lend it a wrecked ship feel, as do the oysters, cold stout and sing along regulars.

Punters will make for the street (weather permitting) which is shared by Ubiquitous Chip across the road. Serving staunch Scottish produce with a French twist, the brassiere upstairs is good value for money if you want something quick and easy. The honey combed building is as fun to wonder through as it is to drink in, you will find a 'Corner Bar' and the 'Wee Pub' amongst the nooks and crannies. You could also check out Brel at the other end of Ashton Lane (where the fairy lights end) and order from their collection of Belgian beers, the Delirium Tremens will not disappoint.

If the low ceilings and cramped spaces of Ashton Lane get claustrophobic, there’s hundreds more bars to discover to the east. Walk south along Byres Road and then turn left onto Argyle Street and you'll pass a BrewDog opposite the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Test the knowledgeable staff on their wide range of craft beer before making any decisions and if you're stopping for more than one there's live music on weekends.

Stay in the well located Clifton Hotel on Great Western Road which serves a full Scottish breakfast (it's the tattie scones that make it Scottish) and is a stone's throw from Ashton Lane and the West End's edgy bars, restaurants, boutique cafes and quirky bohemian shopping scene.

3. Merchant City

Glasgow, Merchant City.

If upmarket bars and speakeasies are more your thing, loiter around the converted tobacco warehouses of Merchant City that cater for the smart and the subdued. We recommend you stay in one of the St. Enoch's Apartments if you want to be within stumbling distance of Merchant City and a quick and easy 750 yards from George Square.

Find Bar Soba on Albion Street and order something from the wok like the ginger beef or how about the salt and pepper squid to share alongside an Asian inspired cocktail? You can’t go far wrong with a Lemongrass and Chilli Mai Tai or the chilli and sugar rimmed glass of the Coconut and Chilli Daiquiri. Admire the funky Japanese street art and if you’re impressed, ask about their cocktail masterclasses.

Speakeasy on John Street might sound like a hoax for those struggling with the Glasgow accent. Sorry, folks it isn’t any easier in here. Order bourbon to complete the prohibition feel or better yet a cocktail in a teapot, and nestle into one of the red leather booths with a board game or bust moves to the 80s soundtrack.

The award winning Boudoir (on the corner of Candleriggs and Bell Street) is the sort of wine bar you'd expect to find in Rome or Paris. The piano is far from dusty since it's given a good once over by Paul G every Thursday night. End your weekend with the Sunday live music session from 6 p.m. ideal for lazily pretending you're somewhere warm (you aren't) and slowly coming to the realisation that you actually have to part ways with Glasgow: the maestro of partying if ever there was one.

Got a favourite Glasgow hangout you think we missed out? Don't be shy, give us a shout on Twitter @travioor or on Travioor's Facebook page and fill us in.

Steve McClay
Glasgow born, Steve has lived and worked in South Korea and Australia and backpacked the South East Asia trail with his fiddle and chessboard in tow. Most recent exploits include tracking puma in Costa Rica and beekeeping in the south of France.