Exploring St Andrews' Architectural Pub Potential
St Andrews needs a Wetherspoons. Recently I paid over £11 for a gin and tonic at the Central. At my local Wetherspoons I’ve had a burger, chips and two pints for that price. However, this is not an article arguing we need a Spoons. Rather, I’m resolving a classic St Andrews pub debate (had over an extortionately priced Tennent’s): if we do get a Spoons, where should it be?
For those unfamiliar (Americans), Wetherspoons is the British budget pub chain. Besides its low prices, Spoons is known for converting interesting empty spaces into pubs. Edinburgh’s Caley Picture House springs to mind, a gorgeous 1920s Art Deco cinema, brimming with character. Tunbridge Wells Opera House, Harrogate Royal Baths, the Llandudno Palladium, and Ramsgate’s enormous Royal Victoria Pavillion are all architecturally significant buildings saved by Mr Spoons, and St Andrews is brimming with history for Wetherspoon’s dedicated ‘Pub Histories’ team to explore. Each Wetherspoons has a unique custom carpet too, and the Caley Picture House has a glorious art deco chevron pattern. I propose our Spoons Carpet should have the university tartan, overlayed with the crest, St Andrews crosses, and the odd seagull for visual interest – maximalism is in this year.
My first proposal is the town museum in Kinburn Park (just past the swings). A textbook example of Victorian novelty architecture, this might look like a Scottish castle but is actually a mansion. Its four-square layout is grounded by four impressive hexagonal towers replete with fake balistraria – I wonder if you could fit a booth table in there. I particularly like the engaged columns, which jut out so far above the roof I can’t help but wonder if they once doubled as chimneys. The museum is ripe for pub conversion, gutting the inside would allow for a freestanding mezzanine floor and allow light to stream in through the large rectangular windows which juxtapose the traditional Fife grey stone, giving this mansion its modern feel. Best of all this Spoons would be slightly out of town so it wouldn’t compete with the independents and would be easily accessible for DRA-ers and Madras Kids (not that any of them ever drink I’m sure).
Subway, on the other hand, occupies a commanding position over the very heart of Market Street. It’s even more typical of Fife’s iconic Scots Baronial style than the museum. It has all the key elements: a stepped roof, a turret, and really rather clumsy transitions between curved and straight corners. Also, Subway is overpriced too and therefore I hold a personal vendetta against it.
On North Street, Younger Hall is already painfully out of keeping with the town’s rustic aesthetic in a way I find frankly hilarious but also slightly charming. The way Waterhouse’s art deco façade echoes classical architecture seems better suited to St Petersburg or even Nuremberg than rural Fife. The period details of Younger Hall’s interior really sell the space with lots of marble, metalwork, and a hint of gold. The balcony and stage would allow for multilevel seating and break up what is admittedly a very large space. It’s just a pity the university has just spent a fortune beautifully refurbishing the place and is unlikely to want to sell.
Speaking of, maybe we could save the university a job and convert the basement level of the library into a Spoons. I’ve already written how much I love this striking piece of brutalist architecture and wish the university would be kinder to it Its concrete piers and exposed ceilings are typical of optimistic 70s university buildings – its like Edinburgh University library’s vertically challenged little brother. There’s space out back for a beer garden with sea views, and it could still be a study space during exam season. A blue lagoon pitcher always helps my essay writing.
Quick suggestion: SalMaps house. The Scores is the most expensive street in Scotland (some say), so it could be one boogie Wetherspoons and raise lots of money for the university to spend on affordable housing. Just an idea…
More seriously, however, I think we should draw inspiration from the beautiful Martyrs Kirk postgraduate library and save another church at risk of falling into disrepair. It’s a big space, it was the biggest church ever built in Scotland so there’d be plenty of room for tables. The history team would have a field day, what with its central role in the Scottish reformation and layered archaeological opportunities. Now I admit it may be a bit late to save the cathedral, but it still needs preservation, and its sitting empty so… My only condition is that, in keeping with the Wetherspoons corporate policy of placing the loos as far as humanly possible from the bar area, the urinals must be at the top of St Rule’s tower.
Illustration: Ahira Varkey