I think like most real ale fans, I have both positive and negative views about the JD Wetherspoon chain of pubs/bars/hotels/restaurants/internet-cafes/coffee-shops. On the positive side they do actually sell real ale (hooray - I wouldn't even be writing this if they didn't!), their bi-annual real ale festivals are getting better and better, and some of their building conversions are damned impressive. On the negative side, because they sell at a reduced price, they do detract (to some extent) from some of the more traditional (real ale) pubs in the area, and in addition the service in some the Wetherspoons can be appalling slow (I have walked out of a number). However the best of them (in my neck of the woods - Hengler's Circus and The Esquire House in Glasgow, The Last Post in Paisley) can be very good (normally when at least one member of staff is really enthusiastic) with well-kept beers, meet the brewer events and tap takeovers.
Today I decided to visit a few of the Wetherspoons in South Lanarkshire, an area I'm not too familiar with, and hope I could find some decent festival ales and decent service in some hopefully interesting buildings.
*See footnote regarding photos.
View South Lanarkshire in a larger map
Outward transport was as follows:-
Train : Glasgow Central to Lanark
I had decided to work my way from South to North and thus had a fairly long journey to Lanark to look forward to first of all - thankfully Saturday papers are nowadays almost as large as the Sunday ones, so it was easy enough to keep my head down buried in these as the mass of stations to Lanark went by. After leaving the station it was a short walk down the length of Lanark High Street to the Clydesdale Inn, a conversion of a former hotel.
Inside it's almost as though the bar area is the old hotel foyer and the quite separate family/restaurant area is the old main dining room - and a nice touch here are the paintings on the walls from local artists for sale.
I found a table in the restaurant area, went to order my beer and food and was noticed straight away by the staff with a 'be with you in a minute, sir' - I like that. Beer wise there were 10 hand-pulls, with a decent number of the festival ales. I went for halves of the Titanic Fit-Out and Woodforde's Kett's Rebellion, but the barmaid asked if instead I wanted 3 of the thirds tasting glasses - well of course I did. I added the Brains Dark and the barmaid went out of her way to get me the special tray, the paper template and write the festival beer numbers beside where the glasses were placed - what great service - for all of £1.89! I also ordered the three mini pies for £3.99 and was given a time for when they would be available - again that's what I wanted to hear. The pies were pretty small, but went down well with the beer.
Best of the beers was the Woodforde's Kett's Rebellion which had a seriously rich and bitter aftertaste - quite surprising and very nice.
I was really impressed with the service in here - it's probably the best I've had in any Wetherspoons. OK - it's not as busy as the Glasgow bars, but well done to all concerned.
Next it was back on the train for an ~15 minutes northbound journey to Wishaw and the Wishaw Malt - I couldn't find out what the building was previously, but it's been named after the distillery and bonded warehouses that used to be in Wishaw.
Inside there's a ~50/50 split down the middle between the bar area (slightly raised) on the left and the family/restaurant area on the right. There's a few more TV screens showing racing and a couple of additional puggies compared to the Clydesdale Inn, but it's a decent enough place and the staff were very efficient. There were only 6 hand-pulls on at £1.80 each, but they had TSA Taking the Pith and the Vale Long Dark Nights, both of which I'd been wanting to try.
The TSA Taking the Pith is an 'interesting' one - some have absolutely hated it, but I quite liked the lemon/lime sherbertiness, reminding me of the old limeade and lager Top Deck cans! Must admit, though, that my stomach wasn't too happy about all that acidity half an hour later.
Next it was back on the train for an ~5 minute journey to Motherwell and the Brandon Works, a former department store, but named after the steel works that used to be behind the building (it's the end building if it's not obvious).
Inside there's not too much of a distinction between a bar area and restaurant area, but there are a number of slightly out-of-the-way nook/alcove type areas. The staff were friendly, wondering about how to pronounce the Everards Whakatu that I had ordered. The beer itself was a bit of a let-down, with nothing like the fruit flavours I was expecting from the Nelson Sauvain hops that were described in the tasting notes.
By now I'd had enough of train journeys and needed some exercise, so decided to walk from Motherwell to Hamilton to a non-Wetherspoons pub, The George Bar. The route took me through part of Strathclyde Country Park and past an impressive building just on the Lower Park, the private Hamilton Mausoleum. Due to its height and construction this is famous for having the longest echo of any building in Europe (~15 seconds), but since I decided I didn't want to break into the place, I never had the chance to verify this.
The George Bar is slightly off the main shopping streets of Hamilton and probably doesn't get too much passing traffic.
It's a single roomed place and late this afternoon the bar area was busy with regulars and some of the tables were occupied with families having an early main meal - great to see. I remember being here one Sunday just after lunch and finding myself in the midst of someones's 60th birthday party. I almost left straight away, but was made more than welcome to scoff some sandwiches and birthday cake - can't complain about that!
On hand-pull today were Orkney DragonHead Stout, Greene King IPA and Strathaven Avondale Amber Ale (lively, but quite OK after being poured by someone who knew what they were doing). The GK IPA pump-clip was metallic & double-sided which suggests it could be permanent - sad to see if this is true.
I really like the place - it's not fancy, people chat to you and it always seems busy. It's probably on the other end of the spectrum from a corporate Wetherspoons establishment, but there's certainly a place for both nowadays.
Train : Lanark to Wishaw
Wishaw to Motherwell
Hamilton to Bridgeton (for WEST Beer!)
* Regarding photos. I've decided to limit the number of indoor photos due to the recent hoo-ha re. photographs in Braehead. Taking photos of beer, food, tables etc... seems fine, but photos of bar interiors when a lot of people are about is going to raise a few eyebrows - and I was certainly noticing that today in a couple of the JD Wetherspoons. Shame - but there we go...