Truth be told, the West End’s streets, under cover of darkness, looked much like those one might find in any other Western city. Modern architecture rose to a height of three or four stories. Below, the youth, clad in the latest trends, swept by to either side, and the pubs, restaurants and shops regurgitated people of all ages into the street only to take more in, a continual flow back and forth. Carbon lights painted the streets orange through which cars and public buses rumbled towards some unseen destination. As we passed, G. and I eyed various locations and made a mental inventory of the promising pubs nearby for that night and the following.
Our conversation also turned at one point to the city’s rough reputation in the English-speaking world, perhaps a holdover from Glasgow’s transition from rundown inner city to post-industrial haven, and according to which every other alley offered the passerby a run-in with one of the many knife-gangs prowling the backstreets. Knifeless though we were, we decided to have a laugh and poked our way through more than one alley in search of evening entertainment. While our search proved fruitless, I would not say that we came away unhappy, if anything, relieved that our laugh had proved just that.
After half an hour or so, we made our way back to one pub which seemed promising: enough patrons to maintain an acceptable level of background joviality yet not so many that we would have to shout to make ourselves heard. We headed towards a simple wooden table, ringed and scuffed, situated back and right of the bar. From there, G. and I took stock of the bar’s Scotch collection and took an important step in one quest which we had set ourselves before leaving: sample the flagship offering from each of the Islay distilleries and so complete our personal “Islay Eight”.
If we had both already sampled certain of the Eight, G. was further along than myself. Still, the well-stocked shelves allowed us both to come to know the Bunnahabhain 12, which I followed with an Ardbeg 10, and the barwoman put on a smile for our requests for place-name pronunciations and tasting notes. Pleased with our choices, we talked until late, conversation ranging from plans for the following day and the affordable whisky prices to the pub’s lived-in feel and my own shame at the sound of a group of Americans throwing back fruit cocktails at the bar. My companion indulged my outburst, nodded along and offered a few understanding words, all while tracing, with a finger, the rings left in the tabletop by those before us.