56 West Regent Street, Glasgow. G2 2RA. Closed.
In 1948 56 West Regent Street was a plumbers store owned by John Richmond & Company. In the 1950s it was opened as “The Nosh Bar.” In 1960 it was owned by Mr. A Nobile. The premises was also known as the Colony Restaurant. However it will be best remembered as Burns Howff for its live rock bands, music and sing-a-longs.
John Waterson took over the pub in March 1967 and turned it into one of the best known bars in the city. He formerly owned Burns Cottage in Paisley Road.
Burns Howff, West Regent Street.
Glasgow architect Dan Kemp was responsible for the transformation of the new Burns Howff which was formerly the Colony restaurant. The popularity of music in Mr. Waterson’s other premises the Burns Cottage was on a television show about a singing competition, see Burns Cottage, the popularity of the event sparked Mr. Waterson to open up in town, which was the first free house in the city for some years.
A public lounge bar had been laid out on the lower floor, with spacious seating, in black leather upholstery. Red lights were sunk in the low ceiling, while the bar was simply illuminated, including spot lights on the gantry pointing to the bust of the Bard.
John Waterson in the long bar of the main lounge in Burns Howff. 1967.
Upstairs another long bar had similar seating for about 140 and here Grace Boyle presides on the bar, designed on a smaller scale with the main bar downstairs. Another form of entertainment in one corner holds the five-piece “Ploughman” group which performs daily, except Saturday mornings, when the Jazz Centre offers music.
Closed circuit TV had been introduced, if the demand is there, to permit customers in the lower lounge to watch the band performing above. The music is relayed throughout the premises.
At the rear of the premises on the lower floor there was also a special cold room which had something new in beer containers. These were three stainless steel containers each holding the equivalent of five barrels. They are thermostatically controlled. A pilot light at one end of the main bar indicates where beer is being drawn at any particular time.
In charge of the Main Bar was Margaret MacNeil, while managing the premises was Mr. Tom McGunn. Mr. Waterson, who was carrying on the Burns Cottage and the Market Bar, Paisley, has been in the Trade for some 30 Years.
Another photograph of John Waterson with full highland attire. 1960s.
John Waterson with the leaders of the Bards and Sabres. 1966. Also see Burns Cottage.
Burns Howff, Exorian. 1982.
John Waterson on the right next to Anthony McAulay of the Pig & Whistle and J Donaghey of the Devon Bar. 1970.
Mr. John Waterson with Miss Kronenbourg, 1970.
Miss Kronenbourg, Fiona MacDonald from Glasgow, being introduced by John Waterson at a reception at Burns Howff, West Regent Street, Glasgow to promote the French lager. Miss Kronenbourg had just completed a tour of central Scotland and the Borders accompanied by salesmen from Tennent Caledonian Breweries, agents for the lager in Scotland. 1970.
Left to right Mr. J Flynn, president of the Glasgow Vintners; Mrs. Flynn; Mr. George Ramster, secretary of the Glasgow Association; Mrs. J Waterson; Mr. W Martin, Calypso Bar; Mrs. Ramster and John Waterson. 1974.
Left to right, Bailie McGrath; John Waterson; Mrs. A Stewart; Mrs. J McCabe; Mrs. J Waterson; Mr. J McCabe; Mrs. McGrath; and A Stewart of Buchanan Booth’s. 1973.
Burns Howff finally closed in 1984.
Farewell to a true trade man.
Mr John Waterson.
February 21, 2013
JOHN Waterson was one of the great characters of the Scottish trade. Well-known and highly-respected, he had a successful career spanning more than 70 years.
Not only did he own some of Glasgow’s most famous pubs, but successful hotels, nightclubs and off-sales too.
A former president of both the Strathclyde and Scottish Licensed Trade Associations, John was also very active in trade politics. He was a past director of The Scottish Licensed Trade Benevolent Society, a member of The Incorporation of Maltmen in Glasgow, a past chair of Strathclyde Youth and formerly a member of the Children’s Panel in Glasgow.
John Waterson was born in Great Hamilton Street in the Calton district of Glasgow in 1925. Not too much is known of his early years, although growing up in the Calton in the mid 1920s and ‘30s must have been interesting to say the least. He went to St Alphonse Primary School, but to suggest he had a good attendance record would be stretching the truth – he always said he was far too busy for lessons.
In 1938, aged 13, he popped into The Central Hotel in Glasgow on a whim to ask if there were any jobs. He was told that if the bellboy uniform fitted he could start the next day. It did, and so started a career that would last a lifetime.
His next step was as a waiter, and he learned his trade in various Glasgow hotels and restaurants. After the war he joined MacLauchlan’s the brewer, which employed him as a waiter in the famous Whitehall Restaurant on Renfield Street. Later he took charge of the cocktail bar and became an active member of The United Kingdom Bartenders’ Guild.
In 1957 MacLauchlan’s leased him The Moss-Side Inn in Paisley. This was very successful and in 1962 he bought his first pub – the run down Burns Bar in Govan.
On the face of it, it was perhaps not a great career move at the time – a Catholic buying a run-down Rangers pub in Govan, frequented by hardened dockers. On his first day the regulars came in only to tell him they had all barred themselves. By closing time he had sold two pints of heavy – one to a Catholic docker who wanted to meet the bravest publican in Glasgow, the other to the Jewish shopkeeper next door who wanted to meet the most stupid.
However, slowly but surely he worked his magic. Regular customers came back, the Rangers bus ran from the pub again, and within a year he had revamped the décor, filled it with Burns memorabilia and changed its name to Burns Cottage. It became one of only two pubs in Glasgow licensed for live music, and musicians flocked there in their droves.
John was one of the first to turn Scottish pubs into more than places to drink. He was involved in the Scottish music scene and between the ‘60s and early ‘80s gave a platform to many aspiring musicians.
He installed closed circuit television so patrons in the bar could watch the live bands in the lounge, which was revolutionary at the time. STV even broadcast a live talent show from the lounge on a Saturday night – a 1960s Scottish X-Factor from surely Britain’s first themed pub. He was always ahead of the game.
He opened his most famous pub, The Burns Howff in Glasgow, in 1967. Both the Cottage and The Howff played host to most of Scotland’s best musicians, including Maggie Bell, Frankie Miller, James Dewar, Alex Harvey, Simple Minds, Midge Ure, and The Average White Band. All played for John, although his relationship with musicians could be fraught. When one was interviewed he said he would never forget John for giving him his big break, but bemoaned the fact that he and his band were only paid £20 a night. John retorted that this was slander – he never paid any band more than £15!
Over the years till the mid-’90s, surely the golden age for the pub business, he also opened The Burns Howff in Renfrew and The Wee Howff in Paisley. Other acquisitions were McCalls Bar in Hope Street, which became The Pot Still. Much to his enjoyment he also bought The Whitehall, which became The Maltman, in 1982. The 39 Steps followed in 1986. That was the last pub John Waterson owned. He moved into hotels, first at the Gleniffer in Paisley then The Stuart and Bruce Hotels in East Kilbride and lastly The Golden Lion hotel in Stirling, which the family still owns.
Underpinning everything he was a licensed trade man, a publican through and through. Professional, disciplined and totally dedicated, he expected the same from everyone else. He instinctively knew what his customers wanted and always saw change coming – who else would have taken the chance and opened a no smoking bar, the successful Maltman, in 1982? He said he would never retire and never did, in fact he was still doing deals well into his 80s.
John is survived by his wife of 65 years Josephine, children Paul, Josephine, Jonathan and Mark, 11 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. His eldest daughter Kathleen was tragically killed in a car accident in the USA in 1979.He was always thankful that the bellboy’s uniform at The Central Hotel fitted him on that fateful day in 1938 – so was the licensed trade of Scotland and its customers.
John Waterson’s son Paul who was, until recently, the chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), a post he held for 16 years.
In the NEWS…1970.
Pubs Where You Queue To Get In
If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would not have believed it. Even having seen it, I could hardly credit it.
I had heard of queues at bingo halls, dance halls and cinemas, but until last Saturday I had never seen a queue of over 200 people waiting for an hour to get into a pub. Yes, queueing for an hour on Saturday mornings.
The place? The Burns Howff., in the centre of Glasgow. I knew the beer there was good – but this was ridiculous! The bar opened at 11a.m. sharp, and by two minutes past every seat in the 200 – odd capacity lounge was occupied. John Waterson – who owns the Howff and a couple of other places, was smiling broadly, which is hardly surprising. “It’s been like this for weeks. I could fill the lounge five times over. Last week I turned away about a hundred good customers by half-past eleven – then I stopped counting.” he said.
The reason. John admits, that the place has become so popular is not the good grog but the group who are on the stage – Beggar’s Opera, a poperatic group with a fantastic musical range. They mix pop with high opera and do all their own intricate arrangements. John, one of the men who first started music in pubs, say – “They are the most brilliant musicians I have heard in all my years in this business. They must go to the very top. It is inevitable.
“The audience sit almost hypnotised and hardly a soal leaves the lounge until we close at 2.30 p.m.” Beggars’ Opera, incidentally, will not be on the stage in the Howff to-morrow, just in case you are thinking of joining the queue. John has only one disappointment – he cannot afford to have them in every night in the week. The reason – the boys are making such good money. Says John – “I feel that the magistrates should unbend just a little and allow us to charge an admission fee at the door. This, as far as I can see, is the only way that publicans are going to be able to raise standards of entertainment.”
Do you remember Burn Howff? If so please leave a comment and we will post your views.
Robin Patrick says
My band played at the opening of the Burns Howff Glasgow. I later joined the Bards in the Burns Cottage and after the band split I played in another band at the opening of the Burns Howff Renfrew. John Waterson was a big influence to me and I later entered the Licensing Trade and had Pubs until I retired in 2008, but I still play in pubs in Rothesay where I live and was born.
Stewart mathers says
Went in to the howff from 77 onwards remember the juke box in the corner downstairs and the brilliant bands upstairs 👌 where they only served half pints wonderful memories