Pint to pint: The West Kirk, Ayr

Date:26-02-2014 08:58:05 read:2

Pint to pint: The West Kirk, Ayr

Our guide to the best British pubs. This week: The West Kirk, Ayr

Plenty of choice: a good range of less-mass-market Scottish ales are on offer at The West Ayr pub Photo: PA

Traditionally, the pub is the place you visit after church. At this elegantly vaulted establishment, however, the church (well, former church) is the pub.

What’s more, the West Kirk retains more than a few of its ecclesiastical features. It has a raised wooden pulpit, a first-floor balcony for worshipper overspill, plus a soaring, pointy-spired frontage that clearly signposts the way to heaven. Not to mention a massive suspended light fitting that hovers over the congregation of quaffers like an outsized flying saucer.

There are, however, certain elements that you don’t get in the average apse. Like the wall-to-wall carpet, and the 50yd bar, with outlets that dispense beer rather than holy wine. And booth seating, as well as open-plan tables out in the middle of the room, where the Reverend can keep an eye on you.

No question, though, that as well as being tall, this is also a broad church. On a squally Tuesday evening, the clientele consists not just of bearded men with pints of heavy, but mothers with babies and prams, and teenagers with friends and fizzy drinks. Outside, the hail is beating a lively tattoo on the pavement and the waves are taking it out on the sea wall, but in here, it’s snug and warm.

And unlike many a Scottish pub, the food is not an afterthought. Instead of the odd curly sandwich served with pickled onions, there’s a big menu offering 100-plus dishes, from fish and chips (£7.29) to pasta (£4.99) to chicken tikka masala (£6.99), haggis with neeps and tatties (£5.50) and eight types of burger. Some offerings even come with a calorie count, for the waist-conscious.

And while all the usual big-name drinks brands are in stock (Foster’s, Guinness etc), there are plenty of less-mass-market Scottish ales, all prominently displayed. You can have peaty, dark Houston Warlock stout, brewed in Johnstone (4.7% abv), or a warming winter ale called Blizzard (4.7% abv, brewed by Sinclair, formerly Orkney and Atlas). Then there is meaty, bittersweet Jeddart Justice (4.7% abv, Broughton of Biggar), commemorating the old, rough-and-ready Borders law that dictated that a man should be hanged first, and tried later.

Best beer of all, though, is the fragrantly powerful Mighty XP, a 6% abv pale ale, cooked up by Old Worthy in the Isle of Skye. Plus another four or five north-of-the-border brews: a credit, this, to the West Kirk’s proprietors, who aren’t some small pioneering pub firm but industry giants J D Wetherspoon.

So many watering holes these days find it hard to win the hearts of local people. By contrast, with its come-unto-me prices (£7.09 for an 8oz steak plus pint), its daily promotions (Fish Friday, Chicken Wing-It Wednesday) and its message of welcome for all, the West Kirk is helping to spread the gospel of pub-going far and wide.

God bless it in its work.

58a Sandgate, Ayr, West Scotland (01292 880416)

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