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The story behind Glasgow's oldest pub names

Glasgow is a city with a rich history and some of its pubs and bars have a fascinating back story, particularly when it comes to names.

Published: October 3, 2017
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So, what's in a name?

Quite a lot if Glasgow's historic pubs are anything to go by, with names ranging from the exotic to the (seemingly) obvious, the stories behind them are often as fascinating as the tales told by the staff manning their bars.

The Star Bar

(537-539 Eglinton St, Glasgow G5 9RN)

Pub names

Picture: Leslie Barrie\

Home of "Glasgow's cheapest three course lunch" - £3 for those of you that are interested - we heartily recommend checking out the Star Bar's food offering if you ever have a free afternoon, as the staff are as welcoming as you'll find anywhere in the city and the pub grub is in no way a reflection of its cheap price - it's actually of a pretty great standard.

As for the name, according to the team behind the bar, no one is really sure where it came from.

They know it has been known as the Star Bar for at least 70 years (early photos show the name on the premises as far back as 1939) and they say that it's probably a safe bet to assume that it might have something to do with the pub's location.

Found at the heart of Eglinton Toll - a busy intersection of 5 roads which forms a natural star - the pub could have been named after this feature or it could have been named after an old Scots word for boggy land covered in grass - much like Starlaw and Starhill - though this is unlikely.

The Horseshoe Bar

(17-19 Drury St, Glasgow G2 5AE)

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pub names

Picture: Trip Advisor Traveller

Probably one of the most famous pubs in Glasgow - if not the most famous - the Horseshoe Bar is, perhaps unsurprisingly, named after its Horsehoe Bar.

And for good reason, claimed to be the longest continuous bar in the UK (or Europe depending on who you speak to), the iconic 104 feet and three inches long Victorian bar is almost as well-known as the popular pub's karaoke nights.

The Clutha

(159 Bridgegate, Glasgow G1 5HZ)

Pub Names

Picture: Thomas Nugent\Geograph

One of Glasgow's most well-known and cherished pubs, it became national news following the tragedy that unfolded there in 2013, now re-opened and back on its feet, the city has rallied behind it like only Glasgow can.

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Named after the Gaelic word for the Clyde, the Clutha has sat proudly by the river since 1819.

Like the nearby Scotia, it was once popular with the crews and passengers from the Clutha boats that would ferry people across the water.

The bar now stands on its own but was originally the ground floor of a four-storey tenement block.

When the building above was demolished, the pub remained.

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For much of the late 20th century it was known as McLaughlin’s. In 1992, Brendan McLaughlin returned it to its original name, The Clutha Vaults.

The Old College Bar

(219 High St, Glasgow G1 1PP)

Picture: Postdlf from w\Wikimedia

One of several establishments to claim the title of oldest in Glasgow, a plaque above The Old College Bar's door proclaims it as “Glasgow’s oldest public house. Ancient staging post and hostelry.”

Its name is a reminder the University of Glasgow was based in the High Street until 1870, before the institution moved to the West End.

Parts of the building are claimed to date back to 1515, but it has been subject to several extensions overtime.

A plan to demolish the well-loved bar, which is unlisted, and several adjoining buildings, was submitted to the council in 2014, however earlier this year it was saved when construction bosses agreed to alter their plans to retain the pub on the site meaning more generations of Glasgow's residents can continue to enjoy its hospitality.

• READ MORE: 6 Glasgow bars that you might not have heard of but should definitely visit


(108 Argyle St, Glasgow G2 8BG)

Picture: Wow 247

City centre venue Sloans was reportedly first established in 1797 as a coffee house in Morrisons Court, named after Ballie John Morrison.

It was renamed after being bought over by David Sloan in the 20th century.

The venue was transformed into Sloans Arcade Cafe which contained a lounge bar, dining rooms and cocktail bar.

Now Grade A listed, the building still boasts many of its original features - including a ceramic tiled entrance, mahogany staircase and acid-etched glass.

Rab Ha's

(83 Hutcheson St, Glasgow G1 1SH)

Picture: Rab Ha's Facebook

Despite sounding like it was named after a Glaswegian clown, the ever popular Merchant City venue actually takes its name from Robert Hall - better known as Rab Ha' - who was dubbed the 'Glasgow Glutton'.

The bar, which is now named named in his honour, is said to have been one of his favourite haunts.

Rab was a Glaswegian rogue with a prodigious ability to consume vast amounts of food, it was said he could put away a stone of potatoes in one sitting or devour an entire calf turned into pies.

His most famous moment came in victory at an eating contest with an Englishman dubbed the 'Yorkshire Pudding' at another of Glasgow's most famous pubs, the old Saracen Head pub in the Gallowagate

The Old Toll Bar

(1 Paisley Rd W, Glasgow G51 1LF)

Picture: SM

Fairly unassuming from the outside, The Old Toll Bar in the Kinning Park area of the city hides one of of the best examples of the city's old style 'Palace Pubs' - those Victorian era waterholes designed to draw in the punters with their grandiose bars and fittings - in this case, lovingly restored by new owner Mido Soliman.

Now revitalising an area that was previously only given over to pubs patronised by football fans on match days, The Old Toll Bar got its name from the era the pub was built in, when the Burgh of Kinning Park near the Toll boundary, would not yet have been incorporated in the city.




Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.

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