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Big rolls and Thin Lizzy: Remembering the magic of Foreigners bar in Dundee

From big rolls to Thin Lizzy and everything in between: Foreigners was one of the best places to meet in Dundee.

Big hair, big rolls and raucous rock music combined to make Foreigners bar one of Dundee’s most popular pubs in the 1980s.

For many decades the premises at 51-53 Meadowside was an insurance office and it actually has a much shorter history as a pub.

It was purchased by Brian Cummings in 1979 and was geared up to cater for a wide range of customers.

“People are always asking why the place is called Foreigners,” he said.

“It’s quite simple really – first I thought I’d call the place something foreign, and somehow it ended up being called Foreigners.”

Famous rolls

Pub meals were introduced in November 1980 and Foreigners became popular with office workers, shoppers and couples during the day.

Their speciality was salads with a large platter costing £1.20 in 1981.

Turkey breast, leg of pork and honey roast ham were all served with what was described as a “wide selection of mouth-watering salads and a baked potato”.

The interior of Foreigners bar in Dundee which was hugely popular in the 1980s.
The interior of Foreigners bar in Dundee which was hugely popular in the 1980s.

The pub was famous for its salad rolls for 50p.

There was a full evening menu from Monday to Friday.

The vibe changed after 8pm when the rock music was turned up on what was a proper hi-fi sound system with a cassette deck and large speakers.

An advertising feature in The Courier in 1981 said the pub ensured its growth by a “careful attention to the needs of its wide range of customers”.

“Brian and manager Clark Robertson make sure that there is always attentive, friendly service in the pub which is kept spotlessly clean,” it read.

“The aim is to create an environment where people know they can come and enjoy themselves and to look on Foreigners as a meeting place.

“Comfort is the keynote and you can choose from the cosy snug bar at the front or the main bar which is split-level and spacious.

“Doors, the bar itself and the woodwork throughout is in mahogany.

Newspaper advert highlighting the pub’s famous salad rolls which were always packed to the max.

“Walls, carpet and velvet buttoned stools and seating all contribute to the overall attractive effect.

“Both inside and out, attention has been paid to keeping the character of the place.

“Large windows, whilst looking attractive from the outside, create an airy and spacious effect inside.

“An abundance of plants contribute to the welcoming feeling while adding a touch of colour.

“The maroon, black and gold paintwork of the exterior makes an attractive focus for the eye but also blends with the surroundings.”

Thin Lizzy

Foreigners was open seven days a week from 11am-2.30pm and 5pm to 11pm Monday to Friday and 11am to 11pm on Saturday and 7pm-11pm on Sunday.

“We’re really a two-tier pub, there’s office workers, shoppers, couples, and others in at lunchtime,” said Brian.

“Then later the scene changes, the music is turned up at 8pm, and that’s when most of the young people arrive.

“On Sundays we provide live music in the shape of Dundee’s best bands – Colossus, Mafia, the Megazones and Street Level are just some of the local talent we’ve had.”

Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott once popped in to Foreigners before the band’s Caird Hall gig on May 3 1980.

The man who runs the Retro Dundee website – who wishes only to be known as GG – remembers Lynott enjoyed a couple of drinks.

Phil Lynott on stage with Thin Lizzy. Photo by Ian Dickson/Shutterstock.

“The pub was run by Clarke Robertson who used to be in Dundee act, Sleaz Band, and had supported Thin Lizzy in the late 60s and early 70s and so had become friends,” he said.

“A roadie from Dundee, Tam Parks, also worked with Thin Lizzy at one stage, and it was this crowd who were having the booze up with Lynott before the pub then emptied to head down to Caird Hall for the show.

“Foreigners in Meadowside, was one of those pubs where you’d pop in for a pint, then end up staying there for the rest of the night!

“The pub cropped up on the scene around 1979 and became a bit of a regular on my drinking circuit and was usually choc-a-block on Fridays and Saturdays.

“It had blaring music which was a big attraction for us youthful types, even if it was generally rock music blasting out, which of course meant it wasn’t always the most up to date sounds being served up.

Exterior of Foreigners Bar, Dundee, in 1987. Picture: DCT Media.

“One thing it always had in its favour though was a good young vibe in the place.

“Although it became known as a rock music pub, in its early days there was the odd occasion when they did break away from rock and dipped their toes into the new wave scene.

“Simple Minds, Psychedelic Furs, Adam & The Ants, all got rare outings.

“In the main though, they’d pump out rock albums by the likes of Meatloaf, AC/DC, Van Halen and such like, hence their heavy metal reputation.

“It was full albums they played, not just select tracks.

“They had a big stack of tapes behind the counter.”

Huge affection

Roger Kettle’s art work used to line the walls of Foreigners and the bar snack menu increased in range in the mid-1980s.

King-size American hot dogs, Dundee pies and pie and beans were added!

The pub’s tagline was “the original and the best” although it changed hands in 1987 after Mr Cummings concluded a deal with brewing giants Whitbread.

The pub eventually closed in the 1990s but the building remains in use as Conroy’s Bar after going under various different guises in 30-odd years.

There was a ceiling collapse at Foreigners bar in Dundee in 1995. Picture: DCT Media.
There was a ceiling collapse at the popular pub in 1995. Picture: DCT Media.

Live music is still performed there on a regular basis.

There remains a huge affection for Foreigners with a Facebook group set up to reminisce about the glory days of the popular pub.

More like this:

Bally’s nightclub brought the biggest stars of the 1980s to Arbroath

50 years of Thin Lizzy: Remembering the night frontman Phil Lynott took a tumble and fell into a Kirkcaldy crowd

Who was Doc Stewart? Exploring the hidden histories of Dundee pubs

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