Battle of the bars

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Within a few weeks of my first semester at St Andrews, there seemed to be one thing people I spoke to agreed upon: the nightlife – or lack thereof. Though St Andrews is abundant in bars and pubs, the complaints were more directed at the absence of nightclubs. I remember how, at an open evening, some older students warned me of there being no ‘real’ clubs in this little seaside town. The emphasis on ‘real’ slightly confused me and the other hopefuls at the table, because what exactly is a real club? More importantly, how could a university town not have one? 

What the older students meant was, “ha, there are clubs, but they’re not, like, proper clubs. You’ll see if you come here.” I have since seen and understood.

The clubs of London, Edinburgh or Glasgow seem to provide the prototypical ‘night out’ sought after by most students, hence the cause for complaint in St Andrews. However, when you happen to be studying for 4 or 5 years at a university in a town with such limited options, you learn to make do with what you’ve got. In our case: Ma Bells, Vic, and the Lizard Lounge.

Ma Bells

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Photo: Ma Bells

Located on the Scores, the underground bar tends to be frequented mostly by Sallies residents and their pals. Possibly because it’s closest in proximity though many will say it’s because of the reputation the bar has. 

Pros:

  • Unlike the Lizard and Vic, Ma Bells has free entry and, the times I’ve been, the queue has moved fairly quickly. 
  • Ma Bells has always had great music when I’ve been there, thanks to the likes of DJs Scott Gordon and Joe Grimeh.
  • I’ve never had a local pull at my hand or shout at my friends. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a local here when I’ve been out.

Cons:

  • If you’re heading there on a Friday night, do yourself (and your wallet) a favour and go hard at pre-drinks.
  • Temperature: rivals the Lizard and Sandy’s bar for the crown of biggest sweat-fest. Not nice.
  • I don’t know what it is, but Ma Bells and the Union seem to be the only bars in town that attract the odd, rude student. It ruins the mood when you see a bartender getting treated like they’re there only to serve and they’re not just another human being.

Verdict: Though it’s definitely the place to go on a Tuesday night if you’re out, it wouldn’t be my first choice on a Friday.

Vic

vic
Photo: The Vic

Popular with both students and locals alike, the Vic is the closest in proximity to the Union, Empire, Courtyard and Dervish, meaning that for many (see: me) it’s already the place to go.

Pros:

  • There are two bars: the aptly named Main Bar and the Social Club. Each plays different music, with Main Bar tending to host the excessively popular events put on by TEA and the Social Club lending itself to Asquire.
  • TEA brings to St Andrews the hip-hop/grime/trap element it previously lacked, recreating the vibe that the dearly departed Moodroom had, the kind of atmosphere you would normally experience in clubs in the likes of Glasgow or London. A welcome change – there’s only so much Kygo one can take.
  • Decent cocktails – particularly the Raspberry & Elderflower Collins and the Pineapple & Black Pepper Margarita.
  • Unlike other clubs, the Vic’s smoking area is probably just as popular as the dance floor. It’s heated and inclusive, making it much easier to get back inside as you don’t have to re-join the queue.
  • Social Club has always had small queues for drinks, unlike Main Bar. Usually, you will get served within 10 minutes here.

Cons:

  • TEA has moved to the Rule.
  • Queues upon queues upon queues. I’m British and I know we’re supposed to tolerate queuing but when you’re drunk, that tends to go out the window. To ensure a spot at the Main Bar or Social Club, aim to get in around 11.30 pm. That way, you won’t catch everyone leaving pre-drinks. If you leave pres after midnight, know that you’re going to be spending a good 30-40 minutes of your Tuesday/Thursday/Friday night outside in the cold sobering up.
  • Main bar takes an average 25-30 minutes to get a drink.
  • Queues for the ladies toilets are ridiculous, not helped by the fact that usually there’s no toilet paper either. Welp.

Verdict: A must when a proper event is on, and a strong plausible first option for a Friday night, but for the rest of the weekend stick to bars and pubs to avoid the locals. 

Lizard Lounge

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Photo: Lightbox Creative

For some, the Lizard is the last port of call on a night out, for others it’s the only place to be. To paraphrase my good friend Natasha Franks – you either have LIZ 4 LYF tattooed across your chest or you have vowed to never set foot in the damn place. There is no in between.

Pros:

  • DJ Ian. One of the most bizarre nights out I’ve ever had was in the Lizard and I would class it as one of the best solely because of DJ Ian. If it’s your birthday or, in my case, ‘birthday’, drunkenly tell him so. Request your favourite song (Blue by Eiffel 65), and marvel at being given countless shout outs as you stumble across a floor which lights up.
  • It’s an experience that you’ll never forget, no matter how drunk you are.
  • To be honest, you really have to go to the Lizard to understand.

Cons:

  • Touchy-feely locals are rife here, and some still like to think that ‘no’ means ‘yes’.
  • Incredibly hot. Very, very sweaty.

Verdict: The Lizard is the most controversial of clubs in St Andrews and I can’t yet say I’ve been turned off from it. I will say, however, that I prefer it for special occasions. Like that one time the Union was uncharacteristically busy for a Saturday night and the fire alarm went off or on a Friday, when the queues were too long elsewhere.


The reality is that the nightlife in St Andrews is limited once you’ve had enough of the Brewing Company’s Thistly Cross (an unlikely scenario) and the Adamson’s cocktails. Nevertheless, the ‘clubs’ we do have are unique to our town. I don’t think I’ll ever find another place quite like the Lizard – and I come from Glasgow. Each joint in town has a different vibe, a different sound, and I enjoy them for that fact. You will never get a repeat.

If I were to rank them, in order of first choice to last, I would pick the Vic, for the venue and the music. The Lizard would be my second choice because bizarre experiences aren’t always a bad thing. This leaves Ma Bells to receive last place. Not because I don’t enjoy it, but because I don’t enjoy it as much. That being said, this article is based off mostly my own opinions, so by all means I recommend visiting everywhere before making any proper judgements.

And hey, if, after sampling all that St Andrews has to offer, you’re still bothered about going to a ‘real’ nightclub, I’m sure Fat Sam’s in Dundee would love the custom.

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