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A Real Character

September 4th, 2017 | Posted in:

I’ve known Robert Mullen (aka Bobsie) since 1997 when he was running McPhabbs. By that time he was a veteran in the trade having started out more than a decade earlier as a dishwasher in Poacher’s Restaurant and Back Alley. He went onto to work in Chimmy Chungas, PJ’s, John Street Jam, The Firestation and The Couch and Slouch. But it was while managing Rab Ha’s in the Merchant City, for Colin McDougall in 1991 that things really started to come together. Bobsie tells me, “I was really lucky. We were all having a great time. In fact I would say it was all a bit crazy. We were young and we knew how to work hard and party even harder. I was also in a band called Giant – although I was never the best vocalist, and it was at the time of Del Amitri, Hue & Cry and The Bluebells. We all hung out, became great friends and partied. But luckily for me I met my wife to be, Angela, at Rab Ha’s. She reigned me in a bit and anchored me.”

He admits that he was always a hard worker. He explains, “My family moved to Portugal when I was quite young and I moved into a bedsit, and I turned up late to a shift and my manager said ‘if you do that again you’ll be out the door.’ I got a fright because I knew that I needed to pay my rent. Ever since then I’ve always worked hard at it – I also think that a shift always goes much faster when you are working hard. I believe if you work hard things always will turn out okay. I’ve kind of stumbled my way through and I’ve found that if I work hard I don’t tend to fall over.”

Bobsie Mullen

He has certainly not fallen over. Bobsie has made some astute purchases over the years and some timely sales. It started when his business partner bought him out of McPhabbs in 1999 – he then spent a couple of years out of the trade before buying the freehold of Universal in Sauchiehall Street Lane in 2002. He sold that in 2007 and then he bought The Griffin in April 2008, which he then sold to Stephen White and Oli Norman in 2016. Today he has just taken over Rab Ha’s. Says Bobsy, “Angela and I have come full circle. It’s funny to think that after all these years I’ve finally returned to Rab Ha’s. In fact the first person I phoned when I did the deal was my old boss Colin. He said ‘You’re a …nutter! But I love the fact I’m now an ‘Innkeeper because we have letting rooms – I inherited more than 80 bookings. I love it.”

The couple are currently giving the pub a make-over. Says Bobsie, “We are just restoring it – bringing back the stone and wood panelling, and brightening the place up. We are re-instating the fire and downstairs we’ve painted and fixed the upholstery and such like. It will be an extension to the bar but we can also use it for private dinners and functions.”

“DO YOU KNOW FOR A WHILE I KNEW PEOPLE BY THEIR DRINKS AND NOT THEIR NAMES. INFACT SOMETIMES I SEE A CUSTOMER I HAVEN’T SEEN FOR YEARS, I CAN’T REMEMBER THEIR NAME, BUT I CAN REMEMBER THEIR NAME, BUT I CAN REMEMBER WHAT THEY DRANK!”

He likes the fact that they will be putting their stamp on it. He explains, “I like it when we create something new. For instance when we took over McPhabbs it was called Bollinger. We sat on the doorstep of the pub and thought there is hardly any people going past here, so we knew we knew it was going to be hard. It was the time that everyone was opening theme bars so we decided to do a Scottish theme – but the only theming was really in the name and the fact we served Haggis, and had a few whiskies. Then when Angela and I bought Universal it was for everyone – and it was totally our creation. We wanted to create a place where everyone felt comfortable and it was a happy place. But when we bought The Griffin we realised that actually The Griffin is owned by the people of Glasgow. Even thou’ we cleaned it up people didn’t notice. But they noticed if we put the price of a pint up. It wasn’t our creation at all. But even so we were there for nearly eight years, and we sold it off market. I don’t really put anything up for sale, they kind of sell organically.”

Bobsie Mullen

He continues, “At Rab Ha’s we will be focussing on creating a nice atmosphere. We will have decent service and decent food. Hopefully we will create a wee scene. I’m even employing two of my kids! He jokes, Angela and I make a good team… Angela is not a bad waitress … and I need someone to wash my blackboards!” Before continuing, “Angela and I will be waiting tables at Rab Ha’s, after all I am basically a professional waiter. In fact on my daughters birth certificate where it says profession we have Waiter and Waitress!I wish that it was considered a profession here, like it is in Europe. I remember going to France and Paris and all there were all these middle aged men dress up to nines in their waiting outfits – they consider themselves professional waiters. But the craft of being a good waiter is disappearing. You have big chains that get you to order at the bar. They ask you for your table number… What waiters do you know by name now? Not many. Angela and I used to go to restaurant because maybe there was a particular waiter or waitress we liked, who’d give us great service.”

I reminded him that I used to go to McPhabbs because I loved the fact that he remembered our drinks. Bobsie laughs, “Do you know for a while I knew people by their drinks and not their names. In fact sometimes I see a customer I haven’t seen for years, I can’t remember their name, but I can remember what they drank!”

He likes the fact that he is just about to be hands on again, although he is also loving getting in and about the refurbishment. He explains, “Well I’ve kind of had 18 months off.” Although that is not quite true because for the last four years he has been managing the bars for Regular Music at the Kelvingrove Bandstand. The ‘Summer Nights’ event takes place each year during the first two weeks in August. Says Bobsie, “I’ve known Mark Mackie at Regular for a number of years, we met through my music connections. I like the fact that as a promoter Regular are happy for me to employ the right number of staff to do the job, and we also sell our beer at a sensible price. It’s been fantastic – but we don’t do all the bars throughout the year. Some people think we do, but we only do the Summer Nights and it is good work for the 50 folk we employ. They get two weeks work and get to hear some great music too.”

Talking of music, Bobsie admits that he still likes to jam a bit, but what he is really loving is looking after his hotel customers. He says, “Despite the fact that they are staying on a building site, they have all been great. I like the hotel side of the business.” Although his plans to turn a townhouse in St Vincent Street into a boutique hotel have had to take a back seat for the time being. He tells me, “Right now I’m concentrating on Rab Ha’s and I will come back to that.”

Angela and Bobsie live in Glasgow’s West End and also socialise there. Although he tells me if you ask Angela “she’’ll probably say ‘we never go out!’” He adds, “We do go out locally to the likes of Caffe Parma and Nick’s with the kids… we went for lunch at Gandolfi a couple of weeks ago. We also like to go on the odd culinary European city break – in the last year we’ve been to San Sebastian where we ate at Kokotxa and we went to Copenhagen where we ate at Kiin Kiin. We also went to the fantastic street food hall in the harbour. Angela loves her spice and Benares in London gives her a much needed fix while Munich also provided some necessary beer tasting hours with lots of research into the many different ways of serving up pork.”

But these wee breaks may be on hold for a short time as Bobsie and Angela concentrate on Rab Ha’s. I for one am looking forward to re-acquainting myself with one of my old favourites! It will re-open in September

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