Behind The Admiral’s closure: How Glasgow lost a ‘successful and solvent’ pub to developers
From catching Artur Boric in the office with a ciggy on the day of the smoking ban, to swingers taking over the bar, here’s the story behind one of Glasgow’s leading venues.
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Glasgow’s music scene took a massive blow on Saturday 4 February, when the institution of sound that was The Admiral shocked the city by announcing their imminent closure.
This was unexpected news for the many punters, artists, and friends of the pub, as the venue has been going strong for 60 years, serving generations of Glaswegians and introducing them to the latest and greatest of the city’s musicians.
The move is not the choice of the owners and current operators of the pub - Marc Ferrier, Simon Small, and Dave Ross - who’ve been clinging onto the property that has been in the sights of developers for over six years.
Initially plans were submitted in 2016 by Whiteburn Projects - who struggled to get their design approved by Glasgow City Council planners - in part due to the resistance from The Admiral as a tenant, and due to the affected B-listed building of Coltas House, an old distillery that would be partially demolished under the plans.
It wasn’t only The Admiral fighting their corner against the development, but also the likes of former Lord Provost of Glasgow and current councillor, Eva Bolander, and The Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, who both opposed another attempt at getting the proposal signed off by the planning office in 2020.
The new plans, submitted by Varsity Developments who recently acquired the property, are the culmination of several different rejected proposals. In an alteration of a rejected plan from 2016, the developer will demolish a segment of the building The Admiral trades in, forcing its closure against the owners’ will.
Under the now approved plans, the building will be transformed into a ‘mixed-use office block’ - with The Admiral to be replaced with a glass-fronted café and restaurant on the ground floor.
Current designs show the building will look similar to other newly installed office blocks on Waterloo Street, a towering monolith of characterless glass and steel, a short walk from Glasgow Central station. Ex-DJ and part-owner/operator of The Admiral, Dave Ross, spoke to GlasgowWorld about the logistics of the development, he said: “It became apparent to us pretty quickly that the developers didn’t want us there and that’s a difficult situation, we’ve absolutely no scope in getting the lease renewed and there’s a point where we all have to give up fighting.
“It’s just one of these things, I’ve not got any rancour or bitterness. I just wish the City Fathers [council] would have actually honoured their own thoughts on mixed-use projects. I don’t think they think of the implication for the wee guy.
“Had we taken the original offer from the developers a few years back, we would have gotten a much better deal than we have now - which would have given us a decent amount of money to move on to new things - but there’s no use crying over spilled milk.”
Hundreds of people have shared messages of support with the venue since the closure was announced on Saturday morning on social media. As it stands, The Admiral has been served their notice to vacate the building by March 20, so the owners are keeping the bar up and running right until March 11.
The latest owners of the pub are in their 18th year of running the Waterloo Street bar, and by all accounts have been doing a pretty good job, hosting countless club nights and featuring musicians from the smallest independent bands to some of the biggest artists to come out of Scotland.
Friends of The Admiral include the likes of Billy Connolly, who frequented the venue with the late Gerry Rafferty in the 1970s, Paolo Nutini, James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem and Franz Ferdinand in more recent times. Jimmy Page played the venue at least once before he became part of Led Zeppelin. The Cribs, and countless other influential names in the Scottish art and music scene all either played the stage or popped in for a pint.
Always the trailblazers, The Admiral would put on just about anyone with a bit of talent and some attitude in their downstairs club venue, ranging from dance acts to indie bands to soul nights to drag shows to fundraisers - every night was different in this Waterloo Street landmark.
Dave Ross, who manages the artistic and fiscal side of the business, spoke about the pub’s history, said: “The Admiral is a pub with a huge history - especially personally, there’s been family marriages through our relations working at the pub, it’s been an integral part of our lives.
“I’ll be really sad when it shuts, it’s tragic. I’ve been involved with loads of great venues in my time - The Tunnel, Buff Club, Fury Murray’s, the list goes on - but the best and warmest place has always been The Admiral.”
The pub was well-known for its sold-out annual ‘Bowie’ nights, led by Dave - one of the most eminent Glasgow scholars on all things David Bowie - which was just one of many fundraisers the pub held to raise tens of thousands of pounds for mental health and cancer charities.
The Admiral also hosted other Scottish and Glasgow greats in the form of Gerry Love of Teenage Fanclub, Lewis Capaldi, Hipsway, The Apple Scruffs, SLAM, Al Murray, Bobby Bluebell, Gerard Butler, Kevin McDermott, H2O and Amber Swallows.
Dave went on to share his favourite memories from the pub, he told us: ”There’s been some brilliant capers over the years. Gordon Strachan came into the pub with Roy Keane and the whole Celtic squad after a 2-0 win against Livingston in 2006.
“It was quite bizarre, Keane had drank about six cans of Red Bull - as if someone as mental as him needed that - it was the day the smoking ban came in and we caught Artur Boric smoking in the office.
“Another time The Cribs played a low-key gig in The Admiral after King Tuts had flooded the night they were meant to be playing. We had to take them in of course but there were a lot more punters than anticipated.
“The police came in, saw there was no front barrier and made them sit down like they were school kids in assembly.”
Dave also recounted the time a group of 20 to 30 swingers drifted into the pub not long after his team took over. In his own words: “A lot of PVC, rubber, and leather in the public bar.
“When it became apparent that they were trying to find quiet corners, under tables, or sneak off into the toilets we had our suspicions confirmed.
“We had to play the Licensing Act card and point out lewd and libidinous practices could not be tolerated, essentially saying that we could lose our licence or they could be jailed.
“They were unaware of the change of management. God knows what went before we took over.”
There were countless other memorable moments in the pubs 60 year history - including the launch night for Franz Ferdinand’s first album, afterparties for Lewis Capaldi and Paolo Nutini, visits from Gerard Butler and pub landlord comedian Al Murray, as well as club nights in the form of Pretty Ugly, Strangeways, Madchester, and Melting Pot.
This isn’t the last you’ll hear from the owners of The Admiral however, as all of them remain incredibly active behind the scenes in Glasgow. Simon Small runs a successful industrial lighting and furniture company ‘Beag and Small’, Marc Ferrier runs The Thornwood pub on Dumbarton Road and most recently went into business with chef Julie Lin in their latest restaurant; ‘Gaga’ on Dumbarton Road.
Dave Ross runs a successful events safety company called ‘Ross Event Safety’ working on some of the biggest affairs in Glasgow and further afield. Currently Ross is working on the upcoming UCI 2024 Cycling World Cup.
Dave teased that he’d be back, planning to go into business with his daughter Siobhan, who is also the current general manager of The Admiral.
The Admiral is still up and running, and will be until March 11. Dave promises they’re going to make the best of it for their loyal punters, with the second week of March set to be one of the wildest and best in the pub’s history.
Owners are currently working to honour all commitments made to the staff at The Admiral, and where possible they will assist in finding them new jobs elsewhere after the pub shuts.
Farewell to The Admiral - much more than just a venue - it steered the ship that was Glasgow’s music scene for six decades, and its influence will be felt long after the doors close for the final time.