Nothing fishy about this pub

In 1814, the year before the Battle of Waterloo, city businessman and landowner Mathew Park decided to build this fine tenement, on what was then known as Park’s Land. It was another five years before the locals could toast the Iron Duke's victory over Old Boney, as the premises weren't granted a licence until 1819.

Seen here in the 1950s, the pub was long a favourite with workers from the next-door Briggait fish-market. It has operated under a variety of names over the years; McLaughlin's Bar, The Popinjay, The Weemann's, The Merchant.

The Clutha – the ancient name for the Clyde - even makes a fleeting appearance in French director Bertrand Tavernier’s little seen 1980 sci-fi movie Death Watch, starring Romy Schneider, Harvey Keitel, Harry Dean Stanton, and a very young, and surprisingly slim, Robbie Coltrane.

Ancient origins…

Situated at the foot of Stockwell Street, one of Glasgow’s oldest thoroughfares, the bar used to have some posh neighbours. Across the road, on the corner, was once the city’s, thatched, Custom House.

Just around the corner is a wee lane called ‘Goosedubbs’, which used to be called Aird’s Wynd. ‘Dubb’ is an old Scots word for ‘puddle’, and the geese in question belonged to wealthy city merchant John Aird (1655-1730). Aird, who served five terms as Lord Provost, had his mansion on this site, and, while his fowl were being fattened for the pot, would paddle and peck about in the street’s muddy puddles. You can see a portrait of Aird in today’s Merchants’ House, on the corner of George Square.

Although Aird is almost forgotten, the Goosedubbs legend lives on today, not only in the lane, but also as the brand name of a coffee blend, produced by the city’s Dear Green Coffee roasters.

Net profits for city’s merchants

Just next door is the Bridgegait, often shortened to a ‘Briggait’. The street began life in the 1300s, when it was known as ‘Fisher Row’, being home to families who netted salmon on the Clyde. It was only in 1345, with the opening of the first Stockwell Bridge, linking the young Glasgow to the Gorbals, that it took the Bridgegait name.

The fisher folk, and the Provost, weren’t the only neighbours. In 1659, Glasgow’s first Merchants’ Hall was built on the south side of the

Bridgegate. With shops on the ground floor, the upper floor boasted an 80ft long meeting hall, lined with portraits of eminent benefactors, where the city Tobacco Lords (for that read slavers and plantation owners) would meet to argue and debate.

The Hall also acted as a care home for retired and destitute merchants.

Sadly, the old Hall was demolished in 1818, to make way for tenements. It’s 164ft tall Gothic steeple, erected in 1665, is all that survives. Now surrounded by an 1886 extension to the fish market, you can see its ship-shaped weathervane, the badge of the Merchants’ Hall, keeking out over the top of the tenement.

City’s fighting spirit

Look further along the road and you’ll see an advert for Red Hackle Whisky.

Launched in 1920 by old soldiers Charles Hepburn and Herbert Ross, the whisky took its name from the head dress plume of the Black Watch. Hepburn was an ex-Black Watch man, while his business partner had served with the Scottish Horse Regiment. They stayed true to their brothers in arms, employing many ex-servicemen at their Otago Street premises.

In the 1950s, Hepburn, by then a ken-speckle figure in the city, would dine every Friday night at the Central Hotel. The doorman would hold a space for his Rolls-Royce and when the whisky magnate and his wife entered, Maître ‘d Luigi Balzaretti would signal to the band to play The March of the Cameron Men, while the couple, arms linked, would march to their regular table.

The next chapter

Everything changed on this corner in the late 1960s, when the tenements atop the pub were removed. It was only their sturdy, two-foot thick ground floor walls which prevented more loss of life on the night of the fateful helicopter crash.

Since that tragic night, licensee Alan Crossan and his team, to honour their 10 missing regulars, have helped breathe new life into the old bar. It once again echoes to live music and laughter, while city graffiti artists Rogue-One and Ejek have added their own magic to the bar’s exterior walls, painting fabulous portraits of former regulars, visitors, and local city heroes.

You can now enjoy a drink in the company of Stan Laurel, Benny Lynch, Spike Milligan, Billy Connolly, Gerry Rafferty, Glenda Jackson, Rupert Everett, Hamish Imlach, Matt McGinn, Mary Barbour, Frank Zappa (a tea-totaller!), Gorbals VC hero James Stokes, Jimmy Reid, Alex Harvey, Woody Guthrie, and John Martyn. And that sounds like quite a party!

The next time you’re in for a pint, pause, and raise your glass to the continuing story of this historic corner.

Visit Lost Glasgow to find out more of our cities' tales. 

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