On the edge of Glasgow’s West End, the posh bar scene melts away for just a moment at Elderslie Street, where Orwells has sat since the 1980s — though the location has hosted a pub since 1877. To give you an idea of the bars I usually frequent: until moving to Scotland last year, I did not. Bars were not a place I passed time. Bars are expensive. The company is unpredictable, the menus too often full of candy-colored cocktails with “funny” names like “Screaming Orgasm” that taste like anything but. Yes, I know I sound like a killjoy. My drink of choice: a $15 handle of Burnett’s lovingly tipped into a slow-sipped White Claw in the comfort of a friend’s home.
You will not find trendy concoctions at Orwells. On my first visit, Eighties hair metal blared from the jukebox. Tennent’s, the Glaswegian’s pride, is on draft along with Guinness and Newkie Brown. A dozen whiskies grace the menu and I wanted to impress my new Scottish friends, so I asked the bartender for a Sazerac. “What is that?” she asked. I tried to look it up on my phone as if I could explain its components. Tenement walls make for poor reception, so I settled on a Diet Coke and vodka. What I got was a double on the rocks and a can of pop. Finally, a place to get away from it all.
A decade-old review of the pub notes it once had tartan carpet (can you imagine!) but now the floors are hardwood. On a weeknight or summery afternoon, you’ll see a handful of regulars, always warm and willing to ask why, of all places, I would move to Glasgow. One regular, who goes only by “Handsome Johnny” said it’d been called the Dorset for as long as he could remember (which is 1956); it’s rumored the new owner bought the property in 1984, and that was why the name changed to Orwells. It used to have a snug, he said: a partitioned room where ladies could drink in privacy. Those days are gone, now; it’s been closed off. The ornately carved bar and buttoned leather bench seats are elegant, yet the pub is cozy and hosts karaoke, bingo nights and community fêtes. It feels like a lived-in local, not like the anonymous trendy bars of cities I’d come to stereotype. After a year in my neighborhood, I, too, have become a regular. A small bite of pride hits when the bartender recognizes my face and remembers my drink: vodka, diet Coke, no faff.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s January 2024 World edition.