Drinking In… Glasgow
Transforming a city from the industrial nebulous of a country to one of the most culture-soaked and cosmopolitan spots in the UK — if not Europe — is no mean feat, but Glasgow seems to have managed the transition rather smoothly, and one appealing result of this is the city’s immense and high quality bar scene.
Housing the talents of the influential Glasgow School artists and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh may have laid the foundations for some of this cultural activity, and the artistic influence still runs strong through Glasgow today, also permeating many of the city’s bars. The Saramago Café Bar, for example, housed in the CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts) is an arty, enjoyable spot to begin a tour of the city’s many bars.
And should you need a further art fix, head straight to GoMA (the Gallery of Modern Art), a fine gallery and also convenient for the nearby Corinthian Club afterward. Full of ornate décor and opulent chandeliers, the huge multifunctional Corinthian space houses some of Glasgow’s finest — and unarguably most glamorous — bars, including the basement Mash and Press Rooms for sophisticated beer and wine supping, and Charlie Parkers for cocktails. There’s even a casino in the Corinthian for when the cocktails inspire some high-rolling confidence.
And should all that plush modernity make your head spin, retreat to the vintage-washed charms of the Hillhead Bookclub for suitably bohemian cocktails (try a Next King of Scotland: Caorunn Scottish gin, King’s Ginger liqueur, cucumber, apple juice) and then on to the flock wallpaper, woollen carpets and funk/soul DJ sets of The Buff Club.
But if the vintage trip has run its course with you, fear not; relaxed drinking in engaging surroundings can be experienced across the city, including 13th Note, Mono, and Stereo, a bar and performance venue housed in a Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed building. Incidentally, the food in all three bars (and many other venues throughout the city) is exclusively vegetarian and utterly delicious. If you’re veggie or vegan, you won’t go hungry in Glasgow.
Stereo also own a marvellous little bar and arts space just over the road from the main venue, The Old Hairdressers. It’s set in, yes, an old hairdressers, with the original fabric of the venue left largely unchanged. Great for a few pints, not so useful if you want an actual hair cut.
Speaking of pints, the WEST Brewery is the place to go if beer is your poison of choice. An independent microbrewery in an old carpet factory on Glasgow Green, the brewery sells only its own delicious tipples (try the Munich Red, a malty beer with a mild caramel flavour) and is reminiscent of a German beer hall in its huge open spaces and long tables. Also features an amazing beer garden.
If you’re all beered-out and seeking cocktail comfort, fear not, as there are plenty of venues to accommodate. The laid-back vibe and warming, wooden decor of Booly Mardy’s is the perfect place to lazily enjoy a Basil Bloody Mary (complete with basil-infused vodka), before moving on to the busier and buzzier Blue Dog, where a Hoxton Hustle (grapefruit and coconut gin, pear cognac, kiwi, lemon and pressed apple) will refresh those boozed-out senses.
And, of course, it would be criminal to visit Scotland and not over-indulge in whisky, and what better place to give yourself a single malt-induced hangover than Dram!, whose former title, Uisge Beatha (Gaelic for “water of life”) should give you an idea of the importance of whisky to Scotland. There’s enough whisky here to kill a herd of sturdy stags, and should you doubt it, look into the eyes of the stern-looking taxidermied stag head that watches over you from above the fireplace.
A good few measures of whisky should provide your belly with enough fire to seek out some cutting-edge nightlife, for which there are few better cities in the UK. Glasgow has spawned and nurtured a hugely important electronica scene in recent years (with the Numbers and LuckyMe crews helping to launch the likes of Hudson Mohawke, Rustie and Jackmaster, and other artists like Auntie Flo, Kingbastard and Rudi Zygadlo also popping up. Herb Recordings is another great independent Glasgow label), and this is reflected in its clubbing options.
Of these, The Arches is perhaps Glasgow’s biggest and most renowned club. It’s a huge, cavernous space, perfect for taking in its massive range of live gigs and club nights, and the sleek, contemporary Arches Café Bar, downstairs, is perfect for sipping well-mixed cocktails before a big night out in the club itself.
Sub Club is also a great bet. This low-lit low-ceilinged affair possesses a ballsy, underground ethos, and was the home of legendary eclectic dance night Optimo for a number of years, currently hosting the equally enjoyable Subculture night. An excellent bet for dedicated clubbers.
Alternatively, finish your night at Òran Mór, a beautiful converted church in the leafy West End that oozes style and romance. There’s a club space here (though it doesn’t quite rival The Arches) which also hosts live gigs, but the atmosphere is best soaked up via some last orders-drinking at The Brasserie Late Night Bar. If you’re feeling strong-stomached, try a Gringo’s Kilt, which sees Scotland and Mexico competing for your battered tastebuds’ approval by combining Macallan ten-year-old whisky and Hornitos Pura Tequila. It’s a daring but rewarding way to end a tour of Glasgow’s unique and thriving bar scene.