Friday, 25 July 2014

A loop around the Perth Road in Dundee: 19th July 2014

I go back to my home city of Dundee fairly often, but it's mostly to visit family and so that doesn't really present too many chances to go off and have a wander about the city and visit some old haunts (except occasionally around New Year). This week I did have that opportunity so this is a 2014 version of a Perth Road crawl that I would have done many times whilst at Dundee University and I apologise for the rambling length and number of photos.

View Dundee in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Dundee (41 past the hour, split-tickets through Perth are way cheaper)

Dundee city centre is presently a bit of an on-going roadwork nightmare as the waterfront area gets redeveloped for the V&A Dundee, due to open in 2017. However at least the concrete monstrosity of Tayside House has gone whilst the sadly derelict Tay Hotel (which I have fond memories of, having had my Graduation Meal there) has had £15million spent on it and been transformed into an up-market Malmaison Hotel and looks way better than at any time in the last 20 years

I went up into the main shopping precinct and found a small Farmer's Market in the city square in front of the many-pillared grandeur of the Caird Hall with both Eden Brewery St Andrews and Cairn o' Mohr present and selling their tasty wares.

However it was a bit too early to burden myself with some heavy bottles so I decided to head up to the Abertay University precinct and the bottom of Infirmary Hill (the old site of Dundee Royal Infirmary). From here it's a pretty steep incline (understatement!) up Constitution Road to get to the base of Dundee Law, the old volcanic 'plug' that looms over Dundee. Unfortunately by now it was starting to get a bit murky with lots of low cloud & some mizzle and the path up to the top of the Law with its whale bone arch was starting to get somewhat lost in the greyness.

And when I got to the top of the Law with its war memorial and look-out positions there was no view at all of Dundee, the silvery Tay, the two Tay bridges and certainly not of Fife - sigh...

However this is the view there should have been (e-mailed from a friend) - quite spectacular when it's a clear day.

I walked back down out of the low cloud and took a different path off the Law towards Dudhope Park. This led me to the main artery of Lochee Road and towards the Blackness Business Park area. Here on (another) Brewery Lane was the site of Ballingall's Brewery and Bottling Factory which closed way back in the 1960's.

In the Victorian era & beyond Dundee was traditionally known for the 3 J's - Jam, Jute and Journalism and down one of the side-streets in the Blackness area is an old jute mill, the Verdant Works, now Scotland's Jute Museum operated by the Dundee Heritage Trust.

By now I was getting hungry and so walked past some of the Dundee University buildings, down Tay Street and to the start of Perth Road where my favourite Dundee pub whilst at University, the Phoenix, was waiting for me. With its bright red exterior, painted colourful windows and golden phoenix above the main door it's not really changed too much from the outside in close on 30 years.

And it's not really changed that much inside either. A single quite dark room with lots of dark wood fittings and a long wooden bar-top & gantry on the left, standing space in front, lots of tables & leather seats at the right with a complex system of partitions & screens (that I never managed to get the hang of) giving some privacy, and more tables at the front just below those great front windows.

The beer selection has definitely improved though, with a number of shiny fonts, a good bottled selection and 5 hand-pulls - the Landlord & Deuchars are permanent, local brewery MòR always have a beer on and there are 2 guests. Today both of these were from Strathbraan in Perthshire and I was happy to go with the Strathbraan Head East, a more than decent well-balanced bitter.

They have a really wide selection of excellent pub grub, but I've been coming in for the chilli (and recommending it to friends) for quite some time - it comes with a topping of sweet peppers and cheese and is quite superb.

And it's really hot! I don't normally do 'after-food' pics but this was the amount of green chillies that I was able to pick out (I still consumed quite a few). If I had had all of these I'd probably have ended up along the road in Ninewells Hospital for the night!

Food and beer done I reluctantly left the confines of the Phoenix to walk the short distance up the Perth Road to the new cultural hub of Dundee, the Dundee Contemporary Arts centre (DCA).

Inside is a cinema & arts shop and they normally have a number of exhibitions on, galleries to walk around and a busy print studio but today most of the upstairs was taken over by a craft & design fair and was pretty busy. I went downstairs to the Jute Bar to search for a cold bitter beer to wash down my chilli and found a nice selection on the shiny, high keg fonts. Jute is operated by the Fuller Thomson people who get a lot of their beers through A New Wave distribution, so I wasn't surprised to see beers from St Eriks and Camden Town available with the St Eriks IPA certainly bitter enough to quench some of the fire from the chilli.

Jute is a really large open-plan space with lots of comfy tables & chairs and a separate dining area with great views over the Tay (when visible) and it's also a great place to people watch (lots of pre-wedding drinks today). There is also outside seating which is only accessible from the Jute Bar and not directly from Perth Road - a good move.

I managed to get out of the DCA without spending too much money at the craft fair and headed past the main Dundee University buildings including The Union (Dundee University Students Association) - those polished windows were meant to be killers in the morning when the sun used to reflect off them and down the street to the student accommodation.

The cobbles of Roseangle were next and Laings just past the corner has probably the best beer garden in Dundee, but slightly further up Perth Road I came to Drouthys (previously Drouthy Neebors before being taken over the Fuller Thomson people).

I headed up a couple of steps to the main bar at the back where the (as always) great selection of beer is distributed along 2 sides of the bar. I think they've reduced the number of cask fonts to only 2 (Fyne Jarl & Williams Juniper Tree today), whereas there were 20 keg fonts. With such a choice it makes sense to try a flight tray of 3 1/3rds and so I went for Broughton Throne Shaker (a bit too bitter & unbalanced), Mikkeller Peter, Pale & Mary (a far better balanced pale ale) and Williams Juniper Tree (some slight tangy sourness from the juniper).

There are seat & tables on the same level as the bar and also down below at the front where there are a row of funky booth-type diner seats & tables and a great spiral stair case to the basement and the toilets (difficult to use when you've had a few beers, even if only 1/3rds).

On resuming my journey up the Perth Road I had hoped that the George Orwell would have been open, MòR and Eden St Andrews beers have been seen on hand-pull here, but it was definitely closed on a Saturday afternoon (it seems to open at 4pm, I should have checked their Facebook page).

This meant a stop to put on my raincoat and then a walk further up Perth Road into the West End proper. There are numerous restaurants, cafes and pubs here but I was aiming for the Tay Bridge Bar, part of the West End pub scene for years but which re-opened after a face-lift a couple of years ago.

This used to be a 3-room pub with a main bar, separate 'Walnut Lounge' and a small snug, but now it's a single-roomed establishment with the left hand side comprising the old bar full of dark wood, some huge brewery mirrors and lots of standing room...

...and the right hand side the lounge/dining area now only slightly partitioned off from the bar (there's a good juke box in there).

Beer wise I went for a 1/2 of Harviestoun Schiehallion out of a choice of that, Inveralmond Ossian or McEwans IPA (with a 4th hand-pull unused). The Tay Bridge Bar used to be the 'tap' for the small Hawkhill Brewery/Discovery Ales microbrewery which was based round the corner (both the Tay Bridge Bar and the brewery were owned by the same parent company). I did manage to try 2 of their beers in late 2012/early 2013 but the venture now seems to have fallen through and their beers haven't been on the last few times I've been in.
(Pic from December 2012)

Only a few hundred yards or so away I found my final Perth Road destination, the Speedwell Bar, more commonly known to generations of Dundonians as Mennie's (after the family that ran the pub for more than 50 years).

This is a pretty amazing unspoilt Edwardian boozer. With a lounge on the left and a bar on the right (which I don't think I've ever been in, I've never felt enough of a local to frequent the bar), separated by a partition & screened door with the L-shaped panelled bar counter and high gantry split between the rooms.

In the lounge there is ample standing room...

...and 2 large snugs, complete with fireplaces, tiling and more dark wood.

It used to be that there was only ever Deuchars or Dark Island on the hand-pulls but today there was Kelburn Goldihops, Strathbraan Due South and Dark Star Hophead (with Thornbridge and Tiny Rebel to come), great to see, and in the fridge was a nice selection of bottled Belgian and German beers. It was busy this afternoon (by far the busiest place I'd been into) and I was quite happy to take a pint of Hophead and just stand near the doorway, gaze at the interior and listen to the hum of conversation.

Perth Road goes on for quite some distance (you could argue all the way to Perth!) and goes past the Dundee Botanic Gardens and some nice out-of-town hotels but I didn't really have time for that today. Instead I headed up the Hawkhill and into a few industrial units in Annfield Row where Aitken Wines is located (there's another one, a smaller shop in Broughty Ferry).

Unsurprisingly there is a massive selection of wine out front, but hidden away at the back there are a number of shelves of more interesting beer (Eden St Andrews, Williams Brothers, Fyne Ales, Knops/Archerfield, Black Isle, SixºNorth).

I took a bottle of SixºNorth Hopocrisy that I hadn't tried before and also a bottle of Cairn o' Mohr cider (which I didn't know they did, but it seems a smart business decision).

I then walked back along the length of the Hawkhill to the site of Duke's Corner, the first of the Fuller Thomson places in Dundee having opened in this old church late 2009.

Behind the fencing and shrubbery is a great outside beer garden and there are even a number of keg fonts outside to go with the BBQ food on a sunny day.

Inside there is a (another) really impressive selection of cask and keg beer - today was definitely a day for flight trays so I went for 1/3rds of Siren Imperial Coffee Stout (alcohol heat by the bucket, but not that much coffee), Mort Subite Pêche (really peachy, thankfully a slightly sour finish) and Eden St Andrews Definitely Not The Official Beer Of... (sweet & burnt, a bit weird but OK).

It was really quiet when I was in but it meant I could get a look around the interior with seating heading towards funky modern and another dining area down the side, but come the evening when live music and DJs are the norm (coupled with a late license) I suspect it gets pretty packed.

I then headed back towards the city-centre proper and passed the infamous Fat Sams night-club & music venue (too many embarrassing memories in here)...

...before reaching Albert Square, home of the McManus Galleries and Dundee City Chambers, the lower part of which has been occupied by BrewDog Dundee since June (it's the best building that I think I have seen a BrewDog bar in).

Inside is the same industrial, stripped down, brickwork & metalwork chic of most of the BrewDog bars but there are some nice touches (the corrugated sheeting under the bar and a huge sloping mirror on the side wall) to go with the total of 18 keg fonts, 10 BrewDog beers and 8 guests (although please go back to chalk drawn blackboard(s) for the beer list, it's far more fun). The guests today did happen to include 4 Wild Beers Co. beers, so it was great to try a few of these again and the raspberry & slight cherry sourness of the Amelie for the first time (though I missed the amazing Shnoodlepip by a week, damn).

As always the staff were great, chatty and helpful, but to-be-honest I didn't really pick-up too much in the way of Dundee-ness about the place (although it's still early days) but there was at least this pretty cool typographic map of Dundee to buy - I liked it a lot.

By now it was time to head back to the train station. The haar had lifted enough to allow me to get this shot of RRS Discovery with the Tay Bridge in the background...

...which is situated adjacent to Discovery Point, a place I've still never been into - maybe the next time I'm in Dundee.

Return travel:-
  Train: Dundee to Glasgow Queen St. (~46 on the hour)

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