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Your Pub, Our Pub, My Pub

Ever considered why a pub’s interior is designed a certain way? Architects Dress For The Weather take an in-depth look at the design of our pubs and how and why they’ve altered over the years.

Whether you’re a Regular, Casual-Attender or Special-Occasioner, the relationship between the drink, the drinker, and the pub is a special one. Over time, people form relationships with their pub. There is something of an element of pride between people and their pub. I say ‘their pub, because the attachment people develop with their pub can be an emotional one. When I use to live in the west end of Glasgow, the better-half and I would always have a drink at Cottiers. We knew the pub like it was ours – it was our pub. When we were leaving the area and having our final drink there, as locals, it was quite emotional. It felt like saying goodbye to a family member for the final time.

The beauty of a pub is that they come in all different shapes and sizes and cater for different functions and personalities. The pub has the ability to facilitate pretty much any occasion – catching up with mates, after work drinks, birthdays, wakes, stag/hen-dos, sporting matches – you name it … It’s a place where funny memories are resurrected, bomb-shells are dropped and where lovers meet for the first time, the last time … or the only time.

But how much do we actually know about the history of our pub? With Cottiers, once a church, now a bar, restaurant and theatre, the detail about its history is perhaps more visual to the average punter’s eye. However, up until a few months ago, I would walk into any traditional style pub, have a look around, take in a few snippets of the pub’s story, order a drink and that would be that. But every pub must have a story with more detail. When I walk around the streets of Glasgow there are pubs that have been standing longer than Australia has even been called Australia. The world is a very different place now compared to the time that  these pubs where built. For instance, drinks are dispensed completely differently not to mention the various changes in law and general society the world has had over the hundreds of years.

Two Glasgow based Architects, Matt McKenna and Andy Campbell, who run a practice called Dress for the Weather, have recently being studying Glaswegian pub history and architecture. One of their recent projects was to create an architectural and cultural map of Glasgow around the subway, which was inspired by Glasgow’s famous ‘Subcrawl’. For those of you that are unaware of this phenomenon, the ‘Subcrawl’ is a ritual which involves having a drink at the closest pub to each subway stop. Upon visiting some of the pubs they began to discover a story of the city’s development. Matt said, “When we started to investigate we were fascinated by the range of cultural and political shifts which influenced the design evolution of the pub typology.”

Matt and Andy have recently put on an exhibition which showcases their research. The exhibition features drawings with accompanying research of selected pubs around Glasgow ranging from pre-Victorian to Contemporary times  – including the likes of DrygateThe Laurieston and, a particular favourite of mine, The Horseshoe Bar.

“The Horseshoe Bar is a well known example but one which smartly solved the problems thrown up by changes in legislation, urban renewal and changing cultural attitudes. It rose to the high aesthetic Victorian values which defined Glasgow after The City Improvement Act in 1866.  At the same time the pub has an open plan layout preferred by the licensing board (established in 1828) as it allowed the bar staff to keep an eye on the activities taking place in the pub.

Other key shifts have been affected by subjects ranging from women’s rights, the temperance movement, the arrival of cinema and the modern movement while Glasgow specific pubs have changed significantly with the shift away from being a city of heavy industry.”

Scotland being Scotland, obviously whisky has been a drink that has been enjoyed for hundreds of years. But we haven’t always drank whisky from the bottle and it was surprising to find out the impact this actually had on the design of the pub.

“There was a shift in the early 1900’s moving away from the fashion of drinking the publicans blend served from whisky barrels to serving from bottles, as we’d now expect. This allowed a change in the layout of the bar area with the gantry able to reduce drastically in size as it was no longer required to hold the heavy whisky barrels.”

It was also discovered that Glasgow pub architecture is specifically unique in comparison to the rest of the UK. This is apparently due to separate licensing laws as well as different drinking traditions. “In Glasgow the predominant tenement building typology has also influenced the layout of the pub –  favouring the ‘shop’ layout over the ‘Tavern’ or ‘Inn’ type pub that is more widely seen in England.”

Apart from pubs not having enough hooks or places to hang wet jackets (especially in a city like Glasgow, Matt and Andy explain that pubs do faces various challenges today. “Today there are common challenges that pubs deal with, such as the smoking ban but also how they deal, spatially, with the many different functions that pubs now entertain. Drygate Brewery exemplifies the diversification of the pub environment – it incorporates a bar, brewery, restaurant, function suite and an off-licence in the same premises.”

Next time you go to your pub, take a look around and take try to take in a little bit of that history that perhaps doesn’t meet the eye. Try to imagine what it would have been like to have a drink in there 50 years ago, 100 years ago and a 100 years from now. Our pubs will continue to evolve and adapt to modern society. But one thing is for sure – they’ll always be serving up the drinks we love, one way or another.

For more information about pub typology and pub design, please get in touch with Matt & Andy at Dress for the Weather.