The Bell Jar is a novel by Sylvia Plath. It’s also the name of a new bar on Glasgow’s Dixon Avenue, on the city’s south side. It’s the sister bar to Partick’s The Sparkle Horse, and the two names are kind of connected, as one of the owners, Steven Clark, explained to me. “Sparkle Horse is the name of an American indie band whose lead singer committed suicide and there’s a similar kind of morbid feel to the name of this because Sylvia Plath met the same fate.”
The other guys behind it are business partners Barney Waygood and Craig Steel. This is their second outlet and took a-year-and-a-half to come to fruition, as Steven explained, “The pub was previously a G1 venue called the Life O’ Reilly and they couldn’t get it tenanted so they auctioned off the freehold and we got it. We are all southsiders and have been looking to bring a good community bar with a good food offering for ages. There aren’t any pubs in the vicinity that have a food licence. The guys were very hands-on with the design. Said Steven, “We did most of the refurbishment ourselves and we didn’t spend a huge amount. The length of time it took to complete meant that we inevitably lost some earnings, but it also meant that nothing was compromised.”
It’s a corner bar and the exterior was a bit ramshackle-looking before but is now painted in a sleek black with a very plain sign. Despite the finished result looking rather understated, it’s still very effective and a world away from its previous life. The door is right on the corner, and immediately in front of you as you enter are wooden chairs and tables in light wood, and the chairs look like school chairs. It has pistachio walls, plum woodwork and wooden floors right the way through.
Then you come to the bar on the left-hand side, opposite which is seating which has been divided by wooden screens, another original feature, and one of which has the original stained glass, while most of them have been fitted with plain opaque glass. Their plum colour chimes with the richness of the mahogany coloured bar top and front. The bar top, as well as looking the part by being really unusual yet fitting its traditional design, is also very durable. One of its design strengths is that it kind of defies description other than to say it’s abstract. The back bar, meanwhile, is relatively simple, with a banked wooden shelving unit and ceiling spots highlighting all the bottles effectively.
Right at the end of the space is a raised eating area, which has access to the toilets on the left, which can also be accessed via the bar. Steven told me that the guys ripped out an old fireplace and darts area here and also created a kitchen at the back, with a servery directly out into this space. In terms of its design, there are darker green leather banquette seating and the same types of tables as the rest of The Bell Jar. It also has wall lights and lovely white cornicing, another original feature, that’s been painted brilliant white.
On the walls are some really interesting original paintings by local artist Martin McGarry, like the Teenage Fanclub album cover in shocking pink and yellow that looks really striking in this context. Also in the bar are paintings paying homage to the film Gregory’s Girl in the main bar, and a rather disappointed looking Ally McCoist watching over diners in the eating area. I wrapped up my visit by asking how the bar was being received by locals and he said that their clientele is mainly artists, writers and musicians as well as some of the locals looking for a bite to eat and some decent chat. Despite the understated nature of the design, I’m sure it’ll provide a talking point or two should any conversations dry up.