The Glasgow subway system is small but perfectly formed. It has just 15 stops, in a loop that connects much of the City Centre, the West End and the South Side. It’s the third oldest subway system in the world (following London and Budapest) and originally opened in 1896.
Affectionately known by locals as the Clockwork Orange, the loop is only 6.5 miles long but I think the city would really struggle without it. We’ll find that out for sure when it closes down for maintenance next month. While most passengers use it for the same few stops to commute, to shop or to explore, there is another common use, something that has become a Glasgow institution: The Subcrawl.
The mission is straightforward, if not actually easy: In one day, get off at every subway stop and have a drink in the nearest pub.
Fifteen drinks is a tall order. It’s intimidating. Besides, people are sometimes quite strict with the rules, there’s always that one person who wants to take a drinking game too far. So this wasn’t really very interesting to me. I’ll sit and have a drink or three in the pub and have a chat with anyone but 15 drinks in one day? And I don’t even get to sit in the same comfy pub for them? Not very appealing.
Which is why I made it living in Glasgow for ~9 years without ever having done a subcrawl. When I heard that a group of Yelpers were planning one I did not intend to join them. Then, Briony told P that one was planned and he said it might be fun. I was promised that the group wasn’t strict, that it was their third year in a row doing it and that if I wanted to skip a stop, or a drink, or even drink soft drinks at every other stop, that was fine. So I thought, why not?
We started at St Enoch at 11:30 am, planning to hear South. That’s pretty sensible, the South Side, while it has much more to recommend it than it did 30 years ago, can still be quite shady. You don’t want to be in an unfamiliar part of it after dark, with 14 drinks in you. We’d try to get through the first eight stops quickly so we could end up comfortably North of the river again.
That said, 11:30 is still too early for a pint in my humble opinion, so my first drink was a cup of coffee in Hootenanny’s. No regrets. The rest of the day went a bit like this:
- Coffee at Hootenanny’s
- Subway from St Enoch to Bridge Street
- Bottle of Becks in The Lauriston Bar
- Walk to The Lord Nelson for a bottle of Peroni (occasionally it makes more sense to walk between the closer subway stops)
- Subway from West Street to Kinning Park, skipping Shields Road because there’s nothing there, but we’ll make up for this later
- Diet coke in The Bell Rock
- Bottle of Becks in The Kensington (to make up for skipping Sheilds Road)
- Snack/lunch from Tartan Fish and Chips to help soak up a little booze and line stomachs for the rest
- Subway from Cessnock to Ibrox
- Diet coke in the Loudon Tavern
- Subway from Ibrox to Govan
- Bottle of Peroni from The Brechin Bar
- Subway from Govan to Partick (we’re North of the River again!)
- Bottle of Peroni from The Tenement
- Walk to The Sparkle Horse for a Diet Coke for the Kelvinhall stop
- Walk to The Record Factory for a pint and some dinner
- Walk to VinYard 28 for an Espresso Martini (apparently a Yelp Subcrawl tradition) for the Hillhead stop
- Diet coke in The Doublet for the Kelvinbridge Stop
At this point, I was done. I’d managed to avoid getting drunk thanks to plenty of food and soft drinks but I was tired. The momentum had slowed a lot since leaving the South Side and especially since dinner. We decided to break off from the group to walk home across Kelvingrove Park – there were plans to drop in to a friend’s party, which was another good reason for not getting too drunk. So we said our goodbyes.
My understanding is that if we’d stayed, the next pub would have been the Hug and Pint but after that I’ve no idea. You’re basically in the city centre after that, so there would have been no shortage of options.
It was a lot of fun and made me question a whole bunch of my assumptions about certain parts of the city. For example, by far the scariest pub was the Lord Nelson where a man draped in a Northern Irish emblazoned with the Red Hand of Ulster paused his game of pool to stare at us when we walked in – he then went to the juke box to select a record. By the time we’d ordered drinks it was clear the “record” he had chosen was a sectarian speech – not a song, a speech. Why do they even have that? We decided to leave as quickly as we could down our drinks.
On the other hand, the Loudon Tavern, in spite of being painted from top-to-bottom, inside and out in Ranger’s Blue and in spite of a full gallery wall with photos of Rangers players and in spite of an actual, honest-to-god, stained glass window showing on Rangers player, they were really friendly and welcoming. They like subcrawlers, probably because 20 people showing up and all buying a beer and then clearing off without causing any fuss is really great for business. They even gave us free ham sandwiches.
I don’t know that I’ll go again next year, but I’m glad I gave it a try. If you can find the right crowd and you’re careful to drink relatively sensibly (God, I sound so old) then it’s a fun experience and a new way to see the city. Otherwise, I’ll stick with my pint or three in just the one pub that I actually like.