You know that feeling where you walk into a pub and think: “I wish my local was like this.” That’s the best endorsement I can give for the Bon Accord in Glasgow, home to more than 400 whiskies, a selection of Society bottlings, an ever-changing range of real ales – but perhaps most importantly, domain of irrepressible owner Paul McDonagh.
Paul has been in charge at the Bon Accord for the past 17 years, when he took over a failing ale house in the city’s Charing Cross district with only two bottles of malt on the gantry and set about building an outstanding whisky bar.
“We went from two bottles of malt to 30 bottles in that first week,” Paul tells me. “But to grow it to the level we’re at now doesn’t happen overnight, it takes a lot of time and a lot of money – but I’ve always looked at the process as being a marathon, not a sprint.”
Paul brought his experience as a publican in Glasgow and Edinburgh to his family-owned business, with son and daughter Thomas and Maria also working behind the bar and wife Denise running the kitchen.
As host, Paul concentrates not only on looking after his regulars but in welcoming whisky drinkers from around the world.
“First and foremost I’m a proud Glaswegian – I love the place and I think it’s the world’s best city, warts and all. So forget about business, I want people to have a good time in Glasgow and I want them to come back.”
For anyone with any interest in whisky, there is a never-ending list of reasons to make a return trip to the Bon Accord. The gantry is heaving with intriguing bottlings, including more than 20 Society green bottles.
“People come from all over the world to this pub, and a lot of those visitors might struggle to find a bottle from some of these distilleries in their own countries, so it’s amazing for them to come here and try a dram from so many different bottles.
“The Bon Accord is also home to five different whisky clubs, and they love the fact there are different Society bottlings to sample. The first club I started here is almost 10 years old and we have six drams once a month, but we never do repeats. That’s a lot of whisky, so when our members see a green Society bottle they know they’re going to get something different and a great dram as well.”
Only the most excessive or extravagant will be forking out for the most expensive whisky behind the bar. Carefully positioned out of immediate reach on the top shelf is a bottle of 70-year-old Glenlivet from Gordon & MacPhail’s Generations range, one of only 100 bottled – and selling for £900 a dram.
“I could have bought my wife a nice family car, instead I bought a bottle of whisky and shoved it on the shelf,” says Paul of the £13,500 teardrop shaped bottle. “I’ve sold four measures from it, but it’s a great talking point, and is probably the most photographed bottle of whisky in the country.”
The £900 dram fits in with Paul’s philosophy of the pub as a place where the conversation is in your hand, whether it’s real ale, or any good whisky, at any price level.
“We’ve worked hard to create the right environment for people to socialise in, and to make the Bon Accord a destination in its own right. But it’s not finished – the work continues on a daily basis.”
The Bon Accord is at 153 North Street, Glasgow G3 7DA. Tel: 0141 248 4427
For a full list of the Society’s partner bars in the UK and around the world, visit here