Bars

The St Andrews Crusade

John Lamond describes the miracles worked by Lennie Maguire proprietor of the St Andrew's Bar
By John Lamond
The St Andrew's Bar is a real bar. It is what we Scots refer to as a "local", servicing the needs of the drinkers within the local community. Architecturally, it is very similar to many such hostelries throughout Scotland. What makes the St. Andrews Bar stand out from its peers is its publican, Lennie Maguire.Lennie is not a larger-than-life character, he is quite quietly spoken; he is not an extreme character, often preferring to keep his own counsel. No, Lennie makes the difference at the St. Andrews because of his attitude to his customers and his products.Brought up in the local licensed trade in Coatbridge, his father worked for brewers Usher's before Lennie and his wife, Celia, ran the Boundary Bar, in partnership with Lennie's brother. Their next move was to the Lincluden Inn in Dumfries before Lennie started to work for White Heather Distillers, a subsidiary of Campbell Distillers, in 1987. For six years, he was the very personable face of Aberlour, Edradour and Pernod within Lanarkshire and Glasgow, but he always had a hankering after running his own show again and eventually, in 1994, took over the lease of a run-down pub called Penny's, in Airdrie. Within three years, Lennie and Celia turned the bar around as the Cellar Bar and regularly received plaudits from CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) for the range and quality of their ales. He also developed a gantry which contained some 400 whiskies, attracting malt whisky aficionados from all corners of the world. I have taken drinkers from Sweden, France, Germany, Japan and Canada to sup at his bar. On one such occasion, a Sunday, I got Scotland's licensing hours wrong and took a group from Sweden's Systembolaget (Swedish drinks monopoly) to visit him before they caught their flight home. We arrived at noon and, of course, the Scottish licensing laws do not permit the purchase of drink before 12.30pm. Lennie allowed the group to take their choice from his gantry – and would not accept payment.A month or so after his opening night, Airdrie was the venue for An Comunn Gaidhealach, Scotland's Gaelic language music festival. The competitions were held within Airdrie Town Hall and, at 25 metres distant, the Cellar was the nearest bar, with the result that evenings in the bar that week were music-filled, with choirs, fiddlers and pipers informally competing with each other, aided, of course, by the assistance of some alcoholic lubrication.But Lennie still wasn't happy; he did not own the Cellar's freehold and therefore could not effect some of the changes which he would have if had he owned it.So, having sold the leasehold in the Cellar Bar in 1998, he and Celia bought the Saloon Bar in neighbouring Coatbridge in December 1999. The Saloon had, like Penny's, been run down and was closed when they took it over. Renovations were very dirty and extensive. It took three days of hard graft, scrubbing years of dirt away, before it was possible to apply any paint.Now the bar is open and quite airy. The distinctive, linear, art deco stained glass windows have been repaired and uncovered allowing natural light in. At the back of the bar is a small snug which has been a haunt of cabals of the local Labour Party, the Scottish National Party and, for all anyone knows, also the Conservative Party. The snug has not yet been revamped, but Lennie and Celia have plans to develop this within the next year.The word spread and many of the Cellar's customers and their former employees moved watering holes. The bar's name was changed in the summer of 2000 to the St. Andrew's Bar and renovation continued slowly as time, and capital, permitted. The Maguires have kept the riff-raff associated with similar bars from adopting it as their local and, in doing so, have developed a very friendly and warm hostelry.Customer days out to breweries, distilleries, racecourses and golf courses are regularly organised, as are informal folk musical evenings, an investment club and roisterous quiz nights. Lennie originally stated that he was not going to recreate a large whisky selection, but you can't keep a good man down. Fourteen months on and the newly designed and fitted-out gantry presently displays 183 whiskies. The normal drinks mix within the bars in the west of Scotland is 60% beer and 40% spirits; the St. Andrew's Bar bucks that trend at 60% spirits and 40% beer. This means that Lennie's margins are a wee bit better than some of his beer-soaked neighbours, but he reckons that he has a better class of clientele. Despite this mix, he has featured a weekly guest real ale over his first year and demand has increased sufficiently to enable him to run two guest ales each week as I write.His beer range comes from Belhaven, in Dunbar, Scotland's leading small brewer. Belhaven is a company which has seen quite phenomenal growth over the past few years. Unusually, with companies which enjoy sudden growth, the quality of their beers has not slipped and this is why Lennie, and independent publicans like him, have moved to Belhaven.At 35ml., his measures are the neo-traditional Scottish large one. Naturally, he would prefer to be able to sell the even larger (and even more traditional) quarter gill, but E.U. regulations mean that this is not possible. Even then, his prices are very reasonable. His Malt of the Month is £1.30 per 35ml., and a normal standard brand is £1.12 per 35ml. His most expensive dram is currently 1968 Ben Nevis at £6.50 a shot, followed by a 1974 Linkwood at a mere £4.50 per 35ml.Possibly as he was an employee of Pernod-Ricard, he has a fair range of Irish whiskeys, including Redbreast, Locke's and Old Comber. The gantry includes the locally produced Pinwhinnie and Glen Flagler, as well as the Signatory bottling of Killyloch. He has already sold one bottle of Killyloch by the nip over the bar, but is not prepared to open any of these remaining bottles. If you offer the right price, however… Lennie's best-selling malt is Bunnahabhain 12 years old and his own personal favourite whisky, when all the work is done for the day, is Clynelish. He is, after all, a man of taste.He sees the development of the bar as a long-term job. Coatbridge is neither the most fashionable part of Scotland, nor the wealthiest. It is, in fact, one of the country's depressed former industrial centres, with steel and coal as part of its industrial heritage. It is easy to sell malt whisky in the centre of London, or in one of Edinburgh's fashionable (maybe over-priced) bars where the tourists and city high rollers with considerable disposable incomes flock in droves. In Coatbridge, it takes conviction in the quality of the product, determination to spread the gospel and a host like Lennie who can make anyone feel at home and as if they are an old friend.