I’m sitting writing this article with a wee glass of wine… courtesy of my interviewee Jim McSherry, who owns and runs the Wee Windaes in Newmarket Street, Ayr. It was his parting gift to me along with a lovely box of Roses. He is certainly a charmer, and also a very popular mine host, although he would bat this allegation away. In fact there is more in my notes thaT can’t be used, than can. Stories upon stories upon stories. He really is a great raconteur. I’ve also come away having made the acquaintance of everyone in the pub.
When I was finding out a bit about Jim, before I interviewed him, I heard the pub described as like something out of ‘Still Game’. I can totally understand the comparison having now visited the Wee Windaes. It’s what you call a very traditional Scottish pub, and its the sort of pub that I could while away the whole day. It’s cosy, spotlessly clean and with a convivial ambience. Much of that is down to Jim and the characters that obviously are regulars in the bar.
When I joined Jim he was busy chatting to Alan McInally, who since retiring from football is best known for his work at Sky Sports reporting on football. He is a local, and obviously very fond of the bar. In fact the pub is a haven for footballers past and present, this could be due to the fact that Jim is himself a former footballer and manager. His footballing career started at Kilmarnock in 1970 and also played for Ayr United – in total he played more than 300 matches for the Ayrshire clubs and also spent a stint as commercial manager for Kilmarnock. As well as football he also had a career selling to pubs – starting out with Dunn & Moore before moving on to Ind Coope, Carlsberg and Scottish & Newcastle.
He says, “I worked for Dunn & Moore when walkie-talkies were first out. We had to put our orders in through the walkie-talkie. Despite the fact I can’t remember what happened yesterday, I remember that I was Dunn 17.”
In fact he tells me that Billy Dunn, his old boss was in the pub fairly recently. Says Jim, “It was great to see him.”
But it was John Gilligan who got Jim into Scottish & Newcastle or Scottish Brewers as it was best known. Says Jim, “I covered Ayrshire and I loved the job. Not once did I think I don’t want to do this today. It was great going in to see customers. I used to go in and take their orders. I’d have a look at the fridge see what they were missing and suggest they stocked up. It used to get me into trouble with tele-sales. But I am great believer, and in fact I still operate that way, if I see a rep I am much more inclined to give them an order. That’s why I’ve got stock in my cellar which I am probably never going to sell.”
He continues, “I think it is a shame that reps don’t call any more and I think businesses are losing business because we don’t get know people in the company. People buy from people.”
Jim took on the pub eleven years ago. He says, “It had been closed for 18 months when I took it on. John Gilligan had suggested it. I had left Kilmarnock and I wasn’t doing anything, and the pub initially was supposed to be a wee side-line. I knew football inside out, and I had worked on the other side of the pub trade in sales, so it came quite naturally to me.”
However he doesn’t consider himself a great barman or indeed someone who excels at business. He explains, “I take my hat off to Bill Costley, Colin Blair and Robert Kyle they are all really good businessmen and operators. I give 100% to what I am involved in and sales here are never up or down, they are steady. I’ve got great customers they are all very loyal.”
In fact I met a couple of them – John Bell, a 93 year old who drinks Guinness, a couple from Troon, the gentleman from the cafe down the road. He told me when Jim got distracted for a moment, “Jim is great. He is an ambassador for Newmarket Street. Everyone loves Jim.”
The Wee Windaes is open seven-days a week although it shuts early on a Sunday. Says Jim, “We didn’t used to open on a Sunday at all, but then Eileen started working on a Sunday and she has built up a really good trade. The biggest problem is getting people out. It’s that last 10 minutes… whether at 6pm or 11pm. There always time for one for the road!”
Jim runs the pub with the two daughters and grand-daughter Nathalie who was behind the bar on the day I visited. I asked her what it was like working for her grandfather? She told me, “It is great. I started out working in the pub when I was 14 helping with the food, and when I got to 18 I went behind the bar.” She laughs, “He just loves it when someone says to me ‘ask your dad…’ when in fact he’s my grand-dad! I love working here, all the regulars know me, they’ve seen me grow up, and they keep me right.”
But although Nathalie likes working behind the bar, Jim says he’s not a natural. He tells me, “I don’t mind folk ordering pints or wine, but as soon as they say add soda or top it up with black current, I give them pelters! The other folk behind the bar say just serve them! I also don’t like swearing. We have a yellow and red card behind the bar just for that. And I’ll say ‘do you really want a yellow card?”
There’s also a well loved racing club that meets at the pub. Says Jim, “We’ve 26 members, and everyone gets a shot, but I reckon it’s the worst one in Britain as we never win anything, although we do raise cash for the Ayrshire Hospice by hosting race nights.”
It’s certainly a popular pub. And there’s a montage on the wall (above, left) which includes just a few of the footballers that also rate the Wee Windaes including former Scotland manager Craig Brown, Walter Smith ex-manager of Rangers, former Ayr United star Bob Reilly and others too many to mention. But when I asked him who was his most famous visitor he laughed, saying Jackson Anderson.” Who is apparently one of his regulars who says to Jim, “I walk past 20 pubs to get to this one, only to get pelters!”
Jim comments, “The thing is pubs like this one are disappearing. We aren’t just a place to get a drink. We are where people meet their friends, enjoy a bit of banter, catch up. I am sure there will always be a role for the traditional pub, as long as big pub co’s don’t buy them all up.”
On the day we met there was bit of excitement in the air, as Ayr-born Nicola Sturgeon took on the role of First Minister, and she is the niece of one of Jim’s best pal’s sports writer Iain Ferguson who now writes for the Ayrshire Post, but who used to write for The Record. Says Jim, “Nicola’s mother is Iain’s sister”, and he jokes, “He is my PR man.”
Jim mentioned so many others including other customers like Jim Fleeting and Jim Stewart and Andy Sime from the Kylestrome Bar, where the ladies gathered at the bar had just had lunch, Bobbie Lennox and so many more. Says Jim, “I’m afraid I’ll miss someone out.”
Talking of the ladies at the bar… coincidentally they included a acquaintances of mine Fiona Black, a friend of mine from way back, Annie Rossi who now owns the Glenpark Hotel in Ayr, who I met when she had the Old Racecourse Hotel, 20 years ago, and Louise Wylie, Artist George Wylie’s daughter, Tracey Drennan and her mum Anne, another former bar owner (who are all in the centre picture).
Fiona told me, “This is a great pub. We always feel very comfortable here and the banter is always great. I even feel comfortable coming in here on my own. You always meet someone you know.” I can vouch for that!
That’s is the mark of a good pub. Says Jim, “The loyalty of our customers has been brilliant and they are the most important people to me and my staff, we don’t lose them and that’s what makes this place.”
I’m sure his regulars would say that it was Jim that makes the place. I would agree. But the last word goes to former boss John Gilligan, who just before he stepped down as MD of Tennent’s managed to get Jim to swap his beer to Tennent’s from Heineken. Says John, “McSherro my buddy, the worst at paperwork ever, but he could sell you an umbrella in the sunshine! The ‘John Cleese’ of the pub game…”