ELAINE SCOTT, AS MANY OF YOU KNOW, IS A GREAT FRIEND OF MINE AND AS OF JANUARY SHE HAS RETIRED FROM THE BEN NEVIS, THE PUB SHE HAS RUN SINCE 2005. I CAUGHT UP WITH HER AT THE END OF THE YEAR TO REMINISCE ON HER TIME IN THE TRADE.
Elaine Scott is many things to many people… she is the bubbly blonde with the best one liners around; the landlady that welcomed people from near and far, and who always had a smile on her face, the gatekeeper who could remove inebriated revellers with a well aimed remark, and a woman who welcomed dogs into her pub when hardly anyone else had jumped on the bandwagon.
But she didn’t plan to work in the licensed trade. She tells me, “My first working experience in a pub was a Saturday job. I was working as a librarian at Notre Dame and I needed some extra cash to go on holiday to Australia. So I got a job in the Square Peg at St Enoch’s (now Times Square). I didn’t realise at the time it would lead to my career path.”
Her first full-time job came after her partner Billy bought The Clarendon pub in Maryhill. Although he initially put a manager in it, that didn’t work out, and Elaine offered to fill the roll in the interim. Six years later she was still there, and when Bass bought the pub, she went to work for them.
Says Elaine, “Talk about a baptism by fire. I definitely wish I had written down some of my experiences there. I was like a rabbit caught in the headlights. I could hardly believe what went on, but after the first few months I don’t think anything would have surprised me. But it would have certainly surprised me if you had said then that 45 years on I would have stayed in the trade.”
It’s been a bitter sweet last year for Elaine. She says, “Unfortunately at the beginning of the year I slipped and injured my hip, which subsequently meant I needed an operation for a new hip which I eventually got in November. This meant I was out of action behind the bar, although I could still do the admin. Never my favourite part of the job.”
She adds, “The sheer diversity of people that you meet in licensed trade, and at the different types of etablishments, made my working life a very interesting experience and 99.9% of people you meet are very nice. If you are interested in them, they will be interested in you.”
After The Clarendon was bought by Bass, Elaine went on to work in a variety of their units, but always as a Manager. She says, “At Bass they trained you within an inch of your life. If there was a course to be gone on you went on it. At the time I thought it was a bit overkill, but now I realise how invaluable it was. There were lots of aspects of business that I learned at Bass that you wouldn’t learn in the free trade ie how to balance a P&L.”
She continues, “The general training you got was excellent but I never really had anyone who trained me on a one-to-one basis. We just watched and saw how older managers behaved, and I would ask them what they thought at one of the regular social evenings. Then we also had monthly meetings with other managers in the group – for instance Dave Smith of The Horseshoe was a icon in my day and he was always happy to give advice. There was a lot of camaradrie then, I think today it is different in managed houses because your colleagues are much further away.”
Elaine ended up staying with the company through its takeover by Six Continents, M&B and latterley Tennents. Her role was termed ‘Business Builder’, but the reality was that Elaine was sent in to rescue pubs. For instance she worked in The Allander in Milngavie, which Bass had just refitted, and run as a stylish venue called Illusions. But when, after 18 months it didn’t really work out, they rebranded it The Allander – a more traditional outlet and brought in food – that’s when Elaine took it over. She says, “It was my job to turn it around. Milngavie had a village atmosphere and the people were charming but the pub needed a kick to get it off the ground.” Elaine duly obliged. And the next pub to get her attention was The Three Craws in Jordanhill. It was a new build. Says Elaine, “It had received a lot of resistance from locals who didn’t want a pub in their own backyard. I eventually managed to win people around with community focussed events in the pub.”
Elaine’s last pub for M&B was the Lord Lounsdale in Paisley. She says, “It was very different to the other two and while I was there the pub was rebranded as a Sizzler which was definitely a challenge.”
In 2005 Elaine became master of her own destiny when Colin Beattie asked her and Billy to take on the Ben Nevis in Finnieston. She says, “It was a gentleman’s agreement, in fact we didn’t even have an official lease until a few years ago.”
She continues, “Again it was a completely different type of pub and I had to get to know whisky.” Obviously I knew a little about it, but I needed to become more knowledgeable and I certainly did that over the years.” She admits in last 10 years her customer base has changed. We used to get a lot of regulars in the afternoon, but over the years that practice has died off.” But she adds, “It’s funny the different time regulars don’t know each other – they come in their own time spot – for instance the lunch time regulars don’t know the early evening regulars, who in turn don’t know the evening regulars.” Says Elaine “Over the years The Ben drinkers have become more interested in quality rather than quantity (of course there are still people that like plenty) but people are definitely more discerning when it comes to what is on offer. Gone are the days when men finished work on a Friday and came to the pub to get slaughtered. There are also a lot more women drinking in establishments. When I started out, and even today, you see it happening with the older generation, ladies will wait outside until the friend they are meeting arrives, rather than coming into the pub on their own. But the new generation of ladies find it much easier to come in by themselves. We have quite a few who do this – some are whisky afficionados, or are taking a breather from their job, and some want to read the paper but not necessarily have an alcholic drink. The Ben is certainly popular with everyone.”
The pub was also one of the first in Glasgow to pin its dog friendly credentials to the wall (much to Colin Beattie’s dismay!) Says Elaine, “We were one of first dog frendly pubs – I have always felt that dogs create an atmosphere in pubs that is relaxing and friendly and although there are certain folk that don’t like dogs or are allergic to them it does create a nice atmosphere. As long as the dogs are behaving themselves. Of course it is now a definite a trend.”
Another trend that Elaine started was The Ben’s reputation for folk music. She says, “We used to go the The Star folk club many hears ago. When I took over at The Ben we started off with traditional music on one night – a Wednesday, the regulars didn’t want what they call “tidlee dee” every night of the week, but they were happy with a Wednesday, but as its popularity grew so did the number of nights – so we know do it on a Thursday night too, and on a Sunday – the latter has become a big day for traditional music – which has grown massively in popularity over the last 10-15 years. Some nights in the Ben you look around at the musicians and in fact just about the whole orchestra out of The Conservatoire is sitting there. Certainly one of my proudest moments was The Ben winning venue of the year at The Traditional Music and Song awards.”
The Ben is a favourite pub for many with quite a lot of well known people known to visit it. Elaine says there is too many to mention. But recently news reader Sarah Smith was in, Peter Mullen frequents it, as does Gerard Butler when he is in town. And due to its proximity to the BBC HQ and The Hydro they get some stars too… such as Dolly Parton’s drummer. But says Elaine wryly, “He was just passing the time while he washed his drawers in the laundrette across the road!”
She says, “I will miss interacting with all the folk I have met. The thing about The Ben is it could be a big name walking through the door or the window cleaner I will also miss seeing and catching up with the reps… I’ve always been a fan of Uncle Bob (aka Bob Taylor) I remember him from his Bell’s days. He is always a joy. He breezes through the door and cheers you up – and always has got a great idea…
If reps just came into regurgitate the company blurb I didn’t really have time for them, and some of the young ones today are really too busy being cool. I said to one recently, “Are you chewing gum?” and he replied, “Yes!” I showed him where the bin was! I suppose I am old school and I do prefer the old school reps. They know what we need from them. Then of course there are the lovelies like Gemma Leisegang – I love her!”
I asked her what advice she had for people coming into the trade. She told me, “I would advise them to tolerant of people’s attitudes, and gauge their demeanor. People come to the pub for various reasons but if they wanted to get moaned at they would stay at home. They want to be entertained and if they are a regulars they want to be part of what is going on in the pub. I would certainly say to them all live for today. You don’t now when your check out date is.”
Certainly Elaine’s check out date from the Ben Nevis has been and gone. But she always said she wouldn’t be able to fit a zimmer behind the bar at the Ben. She concludes, “I perhaps would have preferred to have done one more year, when I was literally back on my feet, but instead I will be availing myself of sunnier climes and of course enjoying the company of my customers, but on the other side of the bar.”