Having failed to break the United States, recently ending their expansion crowdfunder to the country after raising a lacklustre 14% of their target, the litigious, MBE-laden, and – of course – extremely edgy bros at Brewdog have set their eyes on a frontier closer to home: the Barras. The Aberdeenshire based company recently received planning permission from Glasgow City Council for a new “home brewery educational facility and bar” in a site just off the Gallowgate, directly opposite the Barrowland venue, and it is expected to be open by early next year.
Beyond the immediate issue with Brewdog themselves (our Weekly Wanker feature on them being as good a primer as any), there are a lot of other things to dig into here – from its apparent flouting of city licensing guidance to its location directly opposite homeless accommodation – which I’ll explain below.
We make no apologies for sounding like a broken record when it comes to the Barras, the famous market area that sits on the eastern edge of Glasgow’s city centre. As we’ve frequently covered, a much remarked upon and widely perceived period of “decline” is now being “turned around” by an influx of new bars, restaurants, pop-up events and the inevitable signifier of urban change: repurposed shipping containers.
This is all “breathing new life” back into the market, we are told, and comes after a concerted effort by the authorities to demonise the area, much as they did before forcibly closing Paddy’s Market in 2009. The Barras isn’t going to be closed – for one thing the market is owned privately – but big changes are underway. As we reported last May, a PR-friendly crime blitz in the area led to an announcement that the market had been “cleaned up”. A Tory Baroness (seriously) swanned in to proclaim that they had “ended the reign of criminality in this area” and that she was “happy to see that it is being regenerated”.
Coming at the same times as promises of public investment and the inevitable shiny CGI mock-ups of balloons, hipsters and graffiti murals as its bright future, it was hard to see it as anything other than textbook gentrification.
But don’t tell that to the owners of Sub Club. In an Evening Times article heralding the rebirth of the “abandoned Wild West outpost” of the Barras, the club’s operators described their recent takeover of the Barras Art and Design Centre (itself a fairly recent addition to the area, but now with an added bar in shipping containers outside it too) as:
“the very opposite of gentrification”
Their justification for this quite remarkable statement was, seemingly, that they intend to “make a difference” to poor life expectancy in the Calton through their food offering, which largely involves selling pint glasses filled with moules frites in their “backyard” for £8 a time and – get this! – that there would be “definitely no cafes selling cupcakes”, as though a complex social process of urban transformation started and ended with a passing baking fad in 2012.
Of course, no one likes for their pet project that they’ve poured a lot of effort, time and money into to be described as gentrification, a term which now comes with a lot of stigma attached. But if we take a commonly accepted academic definition – that it is anything which “shapes urban space for the more affluent user” – then it’s hard to see how it does not apply here.
So with all those going on, it was really only a matter of time before Brewdog stepped into the fray, their Barras pub joining their two others in the city – by Kelvingrove Art Gallery and in the Merchant City – and others around the world.
But when is a bar not a bar? When it’s a “home brewery educational facility”, apparently! While Brewdog’s own website promises an “epic bar and beer terrace”, their planning submissions – curiously – seek to play down its bar function, instead emphasising that is will be a “home brewing school”, supporting Brewdog’s “beer education ethos” and offering “beer sampling in a relaxed environment, rather than mass consumption”.
The Barras is actually in an area where the council have a policy of “pro‐active presumption against the grant of further [alcohol] licences”, because the Licensing Board believes there is clear evidence of alcohol related harm in the locality. When Bairds Bar, a celebrated Celtic pub on the Gallowgate and metres away from the new Brewdog site, was closed in 2013, its owners didn’t even attempt to re-apply for an alcohol license, as it was made clear to them they wouldn’t get one.
“We own Bairds and it lost its licence. But the talk going around the trade is the difficulties securing new licences for pubs because of overprovision and other factors,” they told The Herald. “There’s just too many pubs in the vicinity and there seems to be a push to tidy up the area. The feeling was Bairds would never get a licence again so we’ve applied to the council for change of use.”
That bar is now a carpet shop. Yet different rules seem to apply when the applicant is Brewdog or Sub Club, and their intended audience is – to quote a letter sent by Brewdog’s planning consultants to the council – “consumers who appreciate the varied flavour profiles and artisanal methods which go into producing craft beers, rather than mass produced beers and lagers…” There is no subtext of gentrification here – it couldn’t be any more blatant.
There’s another interesting bit of their application too. “There are no residential dwellings adjacent to the application site”, they state in the planning document. This is simply untrue. Directly opposite Brewdog’s site is Wallace of Campsie House, a Salvation Army building which provides single accommodation for 52 homeless people. It may not be defined as “dwelling” in strict planning terms, but it’s still somewhere that people live and sleep every day and night, including many with addiction issues.
They’ll now get to go to sleep every night to guffawing Brewdog patter on an outdoor beer terrace, a move which seems all the more insensitive given that the developers don’t even seem to have considered it yet. But then we know by now that homeless people in the city centre are little more than an inconvenience to businesses, as put very clearly recently by the Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce.
The arrival of Brewdog at the Barras will hasten a process of change that has been underway for some time. The benefits are unlikely to be for the existing residents, businesses or market traders – but then they were never intended to be.