You can take a walking tour through the three stages of Glasgow's watering holes—pubs, TM bars, and minimalist bars—by heading out to the West End. Start at the Edwardian-era Halt Bar on Woodlands Road, where it's all beveled glass and dark wood. Then have lunch at the University Café on Byres Road, an authentic old café where nothing has changed—décor, menu, or staff—since the 1930's. Take Byres Road to the Living Room, among the first twisty-metal-and-wood places and still hopping.
Afterward, walk up Kelvingrove Street to Air Organic, which has creamy white walls, booths, and bar, and a cocktail lounge by way of 2001, A Clockwork Orange, and Star Trek. With its cement floors, cube-shaped stools, and molded-plastic chairs, Air Organic doesn't seem that warm or welcoming. But once you settle into a booth with your drinks and order some food—which comes on TV trays, à la The Jetsons—the room starts to warm up.
For me, the difference between Scotland's two leading cities can be summed up in two images. I spent one day in Edinburgh, and along the Royal Mile I saw bagpipers on every street corner, turned out in full Scottish regalia and playing traditional tunes while American and Japanese tourists snapped pictures. Back in Glasgow, shopping on Argyle Street, I saw a black girl in cargo pants and an Adidas windbreaker playing the bagpipes, flipping her braided hair in time with the music. Clusters of old ladies in cloth coats sat on nearby benches and smiled.
"Everyone is more down-to-earth here," says Sara Jones, a Glasgow art student who works at a trendy home-furnishings shop, Nice House, in the Italian Centre. "Things are relaxed, easygoing." Jones is also a promising interior designer. Her current project?A bar in Merchant City, naturally. "I don't want contemporary furniture. I'm going to use old pieces, sofas and stuffed chairs, with lots of old glass and old wallpaper in rich colors."
Jones's design concept sounds an awful lot like the places where Glasgow hipsters used to drink before Blade Runner bars came along. If her new bar is a hit—if glass, stuffed chairs, and wallpaper in rich colors roar back—then Glasgow's bar and club scene will have come full circle. And what'll happen to all the minimalist places, with their molded-plastic chairs?Bars and clubs that live by what's hip are ultimately fated to die by what's hip. Remember, hip doesn't stand still, and, just like my hair or my underwear, one day all of Glasgow's achingly hip clubs will become unfashionable—old, tired, and worn-out. Yesterday's news.
But for now—right now—Alaska, Archaos, Strata, Spy Bar, Yang, Sub Club, et al., are just as hip as they can possibly be. If you want to enjoy the bar and club scene at its pinnacle, and experience Scotland's second city while it's the United Kingdom's Hippest and Most Happening City, now's the time to visit Glasgow.