Gleneagles The Quintessential Harbour Bar In Gozo.
For five decades, brothers Tony and Sammy have remained at the helm of Gleneagles, one of the most loved bars in Malta.
When someone tells you that they have been the owner of a bar for 55 years, you gotta really drink that in. Think about it. That’s over five decades starting in the roaring sixties. Imagine how different life was then. Imagine how intrinsically different Mgarr Harbour looked back then.
“I still love it.” Tony beams. Tony and his brother Sammy have run Gleneagles from the beginning.”It has always been in the family. We love meeting people and love to see the place busy.” This is crystal clear when standing face to face with these warm and friendly men. “I started when I was fourteen.” He continues, “I have 6 brothers and 3 sisters. We were a big family. Some went to Canada in 1964 or 65, one sadly died and the rest are here in Gozo and Malta. But Sammy and I, we took over here.“
Tony was 14 when he started. All schools finished at that age back then and he was glad to get out, not liking school too much. He had early dreams of going to England, to be a seaman or work in a hotel or bar, but his older brother persuaded him to work in the bar for a few years until he was 18. He had to have his mother chaperone him until he was 16 and by that time, through a 50-50 balance of duty and challenge, and with his younger brother by his side, the two of them knew this was their calling and felt excited to build the bar from the ground up.
I’m sure these local brothers get asked many a time about how the bar was back then. “We opened about 6 am until 5 pm and we sold tea, coffee and cakes. There were no tourists then, our customers were cargo workers who loved to gamble. They would meet here to play cards, they were crazy to play. It was like a casino! It was a very different time.” But in 1965 things changed and they were told to kick the gamblers out if they wanted to continue running the bar. It was at this time, that they made some internal and decor changes and started to stock more supplies for the increasing visitors but since then the bar has wonderfully, looked the same.
Soon after, tourism was on the rise and even more so through the 80s. One of the incremental reasons why perhaps was English thriller novelist A. J. Quinnell wrote his now best-selling book Man On Fire here in 1981. He had made Gozo his home and refers to the ‘Gleneagles Pub in Ghajnsielem’ as his office in the book. Suddenly, the avid readers from all over the world were coming to visit the little island the book mentioned so much. Especially the author’s local bar! The book was adapted to film in 1987 (Scott Glen) and in 2004 (Denzel Washington).
Many characters have walked through the doors at Gleneagles. Robin Askwith, Brigitte Neilson, Billy Connolly, Liam Gallagher… Imagine those folks around the same dinner table.
Celebrity aside, you couldn’t meet more humbling souls than Tony and Sammy. Proud of their achievements, and married to the job they’ve spent many long hours and late nights serving others at this wonderful old bar. Superior dedication and all in the name of other people’s happiness.
Every day like clockwork, Tony and Sammy open this no-nonsense taproom at 3 pm each day. They get along like a house on fire, are always smiling and laughing and are clearly cut from the same cloth, thriving from seeing people enjoying themselves in their bar.
Nowadays, they employ staff in the evenings but habitually, they are still on hand to help out and chat to customers at night. Both are adamant that it has to remain as a bar when they are long gone. And we agree…how could it ever be anything else?
Gleneagles is a historic Gozitan Institution. It’s legendary. It’s a pit stop, a meeting point, a hideout a shelter. It’s a place to have fun and dance the night away. It’s a ship-lovers Shangri-la and a people-watchers dream. It’s a social hub, a uniting of characters, of all people, locals and visitors alike. It’s a habit for some that we won’t ever break. And why should it?
It’s everything it should be and no more.
Here are some really early pictures of Gleneagles (1800s), or what it was known by back then 'Il Barrakka. It was built in 1732 by the Knights of St John, originally the harbour's barracks and a cabin for passengers to take shelter while they waited for boats back to the mainland. The bar was renamed Gleneagles after the first Gozo Ferry Line ship in 1885. Bombed during the war, it was rebuilt in stone, as it stands today.
Make a pit stop for a Cisk when you are next in Gozo. Click here for more information and opening times.