This sporting summer, it’ll all be kicking off at The Ark in Glasgow

By Gordon Davidson

How Scotland’s national team fares in this summer’s UEFA Euro tournament is in the hands of the footballing gods – but for The Ark in Glasgow’s city centre, only the most pessimistic punter would bet against a glorious victory.

SLTN’s ‘Best Venue To Watch The Match’ award winner for 2023, The Ark isn’t actually branded as a sports bar – within its parent Stonegate group, it is classed as a ‘Social Pub and Kitchen’ – but it has serious sports bar muscles nonetheless.

There are currently 28 screens throughout the venue’s capacious two-level interior and equally generous – and equally two-level – beer garden, all operating off three Sky boxes that allow for ‘zoning’ to dedicate different parts of the pub to different sporting events, or indeed to create a sport-free section, when the occasion demands.

That is some serious audio-visual firepower, but when deputy manager Jamie Amrani showed SLTN around, he made it clear that The Ark is not resting on its laurels, and has ongoing upgrades planned to further enhance the experience for customers.

Jamie Amrani

Top of that list – and hopefully in time for the Euros – is a huge LCD screen for the pub’s focal point wall, to replace the current projector screen, which has the usual drawbacks of vulnerability to strong daylight and a projector that needs consistent ventilation.

“It’ll be costly, but I’m quietly confident the money will be there,” says Jamie, like the manager of a league-leading side contemplating the acquisition of a new Brazilian winger.

Alongside that, there are three new screens being added to the venue’s armoury – two 55” screens for outside and another 70” TV for inside.

The Ark is ‘probably’ Stonegate’s best performing unit in Glasgow, and during the last major international football tournament, 2022’s FIFA World Cup, it enjoyed a 27% increase in trade. 

We had back-to-back record days – the World Cup final was our biggest to date.

“We had back-to-back record days, and that World Cup final was our biggest day to date,” recalls Jamie. “Saying that, some Champions League games have come close…the last three finals in particular.”

Jamie is a keen sports fan himself (he self identifies as Dundee United/Arsenal) who first came to The Ark as a student at Strathclyde University in 2016, took his first bar job there and then ‘never left’. “I do love the place,” he confesses.

A keen footballer in his youth, Jamie seems to have successfully shifted his competitive spirit to keeping The Ark at the top of its game.

“Another thing we are getting ahead of the Euros is an audio upgrade, with a £7k investment in new directional speakers that’ll really add to our ability to zone off areas of the pub.”

This investment will pay off well beyond the tournament. “We do get non-sports customers,” he says. “It is a real mix in here. We’ll have tables of people in for boozy brunches alongside the football crowd, so being able to give them their own space is a no-brainer.”

Being able to give people in for boozy brunches their own space is a no-brainer.

Perhaps surprisingly, for a venue with such a sporting pedigree, the bar splits 50:50 between pints and other drinks, helped along by a freshly-shaken cocktail offer, brought in at the expense of an unloved premix cocktails-on-draft tap.

“We are thinking of putting on country specific cocktails for the games… maybe,” says Jamie, mulling over what base spirits might best represent some of the less culturally clear-cut competitor countries.

For the pint people, there’ll be Tennent’s and Guinness, of course, alongside Cruzcampo, Moretti (including the new Sale di Mare), Camden and Asahi, while the cider crowd can have Old Mout on tap, which has just replaced Dark Fruits.

Another notable demographic shift is visible in the extensive range of low’n’no on offer – Guinness Zero, Erdinger Alkoholfrei, Peroni 0.0, PUNK AF, Old Mout alcohol-free are all things that The Ark will sell ‘a case or two’ of every week, notes Jamie, despite also offering free soft drinks for designated drivers.

The Ark’s food offer is suitably casual and social – burgers, pizzas, tacos, wings and loaded fries – with plenty of sharing options, plus a whole menu tailored for vegan diets.

“I predict the made-to-share things will be a winner over the Euros – the ‘Crowd Pleaser’ is always a hit,” said Jamie, indicating the main menu’s very first option, a vast platter of coated chicken, cheese, bread, onions, chips and dips, purpose-made to create a goalmouth scramble on every table.

A key facet of The Ark’s operation is Stonegate’s clutch of mobile phone apps – for reservations and loyalty ‘MIXR’; working in parallel with the specific SP&K order-and-pay app ‘Crafted Social’; and the fixture-listing ‘WeLoveSports’ app, so the target audience of digital natives can secure their seat, then order their food and drinks without ever taking their eyes off a screen.

App use is incentivised with a ‘5% back on anything you spend’ function, and the offer of app-only pre-booking packages including novel elements like beer towers and even spirits bottles for the table.

An imminent change is the fusion of the MIXR and WeLoveSports apps so that fans can navigate into the system from the starting point of their chosen fixture to reserve a table.

App-based ordering also makes a good deal of sense on busy event days, avoiding the traditional halftime scrum at the bar, and helping keep people in their seats. 

But amidst all that technology, the personal touches still matter. Jamie’s social media push ahead of the Euros will continue his tradition of looking out historic pics of the teams involved to populate social posts, rather than relying on the arguably over-used promo shots provided by the sports channels.

“It helps us stand out. It shows we know the history of fixtures, which sports fans appreciate. And anyway, you can’t beat a good vintage football shirt.”

Sitting as it does on the fringes of Strathclyde Uni, The Ark’s staff is student-heavy, with a typical weekend roster of 13 to 16, including the kitchen, and 10 or so midweek, especially when things like the Euros are driving weekday trade. 

“A lot of students go fulltime for the summer, which will be handy this year in particular,” says Jamie, who is nonetheless currently in a round of hiring, fielding literally hundreds of applications for front-of-house roles. “Our staff retention is good. I’d like to think that people enjoy being part of our team.” 

Sounds like a great place to watch this summer’s football, doesn’t it? Tough. When we spoke to Jamie mid-April The Ark had already booked out all its seats for the Scotland games, fully two months ahead of a ball being kicked.