This time of the year the weather turns bitterly awful, the temperature dips and energy bills peak, everything seems to conspire against having a fruitful social life. It gets dark early, the town is packed with hurried sardine like shoppers and travelling home to see family can seem a bit daunting with all the aforementioned factors against you.
A concern I personally hold in winter is where to go out, what to do when everybody in their droves has the same idea: to go someplace warm with a cold drink and some entertainment, a nice cosy atmosphere to contrast the unfriendly elements outside.
Realistically it’s difficult in the centre of town to find something to fit your particular bill, there’s a myriad of slightly different establishments that offer a variety of experiences; you may not like the idea of the “starbucking” trend where chain pubs conform to one another robbing them of any discernible charm and character for example. If this is your particular foible, as it is mine, but find the usual alternatives a bit lacklustre in consolation, I may have a solution that will pique your interest, right in the centre of the silver city…
Under the Hammer, is a cosy basement bar located near Golden Square in Aberdeen city centre, at 11 North Silver Street, which has been going the better part of 33 years since 1983, and from start to present day has been run by Colin Watson, the sole private proprietor. The bar originally started as a trendy wine bar; as was popular at the time of opening, but as tastes moved on and lager started picking up in the decade around ’89 they began evolving the establishment. It was coincidentally around the time of opening the owner met his soon to be wife, Susan Stott, a then student at Gray’s School of Art, who convinced him to look into incorporating art exhibitions into the bar’s agenda.
The bar set up on the basis that it would focus on peace and being a welcome cessation of pounding music and perpetual sports channel televisions to enjoy some good wine, ale, whisky or lager over some conversation, married with the warming candlelight on tables and regular art exhibitions from local practitioners. The bar has been through 33 years of business in thick and thin, successfully staying afloat in the oil recession, which is no small feat as the economically conscious among us will be well aware, and once a month feature a bit of an open mic night, where the comedic, musically or poetically inclined can perform whatever their skill level.
The bar features cask ales, a good wine selection, some fantastic whiskies, welcoming staff and as the people who regularly come by will inform you, prides itself on its individuality, selection of products, independence from chain pubs and links with the Aberdeen artist’s community. For many years the owner, Colin, would come by Gray’s end of year shows and offer students the chance to book in an exhibition at the establishment, thereby mutually benefiting the business and the artists’ profiles as practitioners.
On a related note, here’s a shameless plug: there will be an exhibition called “Mostly White” produced, curated and funded by a group of 5 Contemporary Art Practice students from Gray’s School of Art going up in Under the Hammer, open to the public from the 12th of December. The work will display the breadth of these students’ interests and engagements with different subject matters, processes and themes, two fine art photographs of which, belong to myself.
It’s hugely important that in the massively commercialised, depersonalised and frankly almost apathetic impartiality of society, that small individual establishments like this exist, and more so for those looking to work in the creative industries. If nobody supports smaller businesses, big chain companies will take monopoly, the independent businessman will be pushed into extinction, and the culture inevitably suffers. It is rare to find such an open, engaged and culturally inclined business owner in a city like this, and the students at Gray’s are privileged to be involved with this particular venture, after all we have to work together to make the best of our culture we can.
So if you’re interested in the arts, are getting a bit tired of the bars students usually frequent, want to try something new or perhaps a quieter place with a bit of an atmosphere for a date, I encourage you to visit this quaint place just a couple minutes’ walk from union street. If not for the art, then what excuse but a good drink does one need?
Check out the Facebook page and opening hours for 'Under The Hammer'.