The Scotia Bar, Aberdeen

In my last post I mentioned a number of Scottish bars that carried draught Guinness in the late 1950s. This was just ahead of the switch-over by Guinness to “nitro” draught.

“Nitro” is filtered beer charged with a mix of CO 2 and nitrogen gas for a soft pint that emulated to a degree the former, cask-matured Guinness.

When describing bars and taverns of generations ago, I often check whether they are still operating. A surprising number stlll does, which is always gratifying to note.

With all the changes – the Covids, wars, changes in mores, in brewing – many licensed establishments prove they are truly established. 

Sometimes they make hay of their long history, sometimes not – having a venerable pedigree earns the right to be insouciant about it, too.

The Scotia, in Summerfield Terrace, Aberdeen, continues as a hub in its quarter of town. Searches reveal its presence since at least the Edwardian era. The image below shows a simple, one-story structure encased in granite.

Aberdeen is, after all, known as “the Granite City”.

 

 

(Attribution: Colin Smith / The Scotia Bar, Summerfield Terrace / CC BY-SA 2.0. Sourced from this Wikipedia file, used under Creative Commons Share-Alike License).

Images in the bar’s Facebook page show that Guinness is still served. Not exceptional of itself, today, but one can see the Scotia has been a long-time customer of Guinness Brewery.

Other images in Facebook show even more clearly the separate entrances of “bar” and “lounge”.

As the Scotia is a Scottish pub, and Scottish bars have a quite separate history from the English example, I reached out to British beer writer Peter Alexander, who blogs under the name Tandleman, to understand better the two forms under one roof.

Peter lives in the Northwest of England and is a long-time CAMRA official (the national-scope Campaign for Real Ale). He has an in-depth knowledge of the British pub and beer scene including in Scotland.

He kindly provided the following information:

In Scotland it was normal to have two bars in a pub, usually with separate entrances. The usual terms were Public Bar and Lounge Bar. The Public Bar would be a basic uncarpeted room with a serving bar, uncomplicated furniture, perhaps with bench seating covered in vinyl or some such. Wooden chairs would not be upholstered in any way. Most customers would be standing at or near the bar.

The aimed for clientele would be working men in working clothes or basically the less affluent. There would be separate toilets too in most cases. Women would very rarely enter, or indeed be welcome. In some cases until the law changed there would be no admittance for women as policy, the exception being bar staff.

Further:

The lounge bar was available to all. If you went out with your lady companion, that would be your destination. Inside would be a carpeted area with its own bar. The furniture would be fully upholstered and the whole area would be plusher and more comfortable. Unofficial dress code would be what we might say today, between smart casual to more formal. Men in suits, women well dressed. Prices would be different and higher.

The norm would be to be seated, the men would often stand at the bar with their friends, while the ladies chatted together. The toilets too would be of a higher standard and service would be of a higher standard too, though usually, still, be bar rather than waiter service. There may well have been bar snacks or food.

A more middle class clientele were attracted, though of course, public bar men would dress up with their wives too. Standards of both public bars and lounge bars varied, attracting different segments of the population… Scottish pubs didn’t really directly compare with their English counterparts in, say, the 50s until probably around 2000.

 

Peter also stated that while the Scottish pub has blurred to a point with its English counterpart, it still often takes a different form.

Equally so, while the public and lounge bar distinctions have blurred, it is not 100%, depending on the bar and area.

We hoist a virtual pint in thanks to a British specialist on these topics, who has deepened our understanding, and that of our readers.

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “The Scotia Bar, Aberdeen”

  1. Interesting article on Scottish pubs. One time, about 1980, when we visited relatives in Ontario, we trooped out to a Chatham bar that still had men’s and ladies’ entrances. We accompanied the ladies to the ladies’ side. I’m not sure whether there were any official rules at that time. Do you think that the separate entrances in Ontario stem from the Scottish (or English) practice of having public/lounge bar separation? Some US bars were men-only until the 70s, but I’ve never separate levels of service at a single establishment in the US.

    Reply
    • Good questions Arnold. At one time the “beverage room” (tavern) in Ontario had a men’s section and women and escorts – or maybe three sections, men, women, and couples. I think by 1980 that was past but older custom especially in smaller towns may have persisted.

      It is quite possible Scottish practice had an influence, as Ontario had significant Scottish immigration in certain parts. I’d have to check further, but interesting questions for sure. Maybe some of our readers can comment.

      Reply

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