Thursday, 23 June 2011

The pub with no beer … well, the pub with no pub, actually

Some headlines just write themselves. At least, they write themselves for the story you start off intending to write. I had this post planned out in my head. But it's not going to turn out the way I imagined it.

The Mitre Bar in Glasgow was a classic pub: tiny, cosy and popular. It was full if there were half a dozen customers, and it never seemed to have the 60/– ale that the Good Beer Guide claimed it sold, but it was such a charming place that that didn’t seem to matter.

I was lucky enough to drink there a few times when I was at university. Just a few years later it closed, ostensibly because the building had become dangerous; in reality because it was in the way of a planned Selfridges store. Ironically the retail development hit the rocks of the credit crunch and has been postponed, probably for ever.

So I was delighted to hear that the interior of the Mitre Bar had been saved and would be the centre of an exhibit at the new Riverside Museum at the Clyde harbour, which opened this week. There is a street scene building on the popularity of the original at the old Transport Museum, featuring shops, a Glaswegian-Italian cafe ... and a pub, “The Mitre”.

Except it's not The Mitre at all. The original signage is there on the outside, but you go into the “pub” and it's just a generic mock-up of a bar. It's not even the same shape as The Mitre and doesn't have its furnishings - notably the comfy leather benches are missing. I think parts of the back bar are original; the bar counter on the other hand is freshly stained and obviously brand new. Some old beer and whisky bottles are dotted about, and a row of tall founts stand looking lonely behind the bar, but it's no use. Not what we had been led to believe was going to be presented. “The Mitre Bar has also been removed – lock stock and barrel – from its location in the Merchant City”, the BBC announced shortly before the museum opened. Well, where is it then? It's not in here. Pretending that this is the Mitre is a falsification.

A great disappointment. I was going to complain about something else entirely, namely that paranoid anti-drink hysteria at the city council and its associated quangos mean that this exhibit will never serve a drop of actual beer. And I was going to ask why the museum didn't invite the last licensee of the Mitre, Gerry Febers (who is still in the trade, running the Beer Cafe in the Merchant City), along to get his picture taken for the press? At least I know the answer to that one now: because he wouldn't recognise the place. What a crying shame.

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