Glasgow estate agents will sell you anything west of the Gallowgate as the Merchant City – in short, it’s been the ‘new west end’ for years now.
The stretch between Glasgow’s shopping district and the gateway to the east end (hello Barrowlands) has become a playground for out of towners in search of cocktails and the moneyed individuals who can afford its swanky new build apartments.
Okay, so it’s not a cheap night out – but we’re starting early and packing a lot into 24 hours, so there’s no excuse not to join us on some of our jaunt through the Merchant City.
From the sights and smells of the fish market and a lane which lets you step back in time through to a packed dancefloor, we’re taking a tour of the hotspots – not to mention more than a few foodie favourites to take you from morning till night.
Breakfast of champions
— Samantha Kennedy (@SamanthaKennedy) September 7, 2014
There’ll be no slumming it today, if you please. You’re in the Merchant City now, darling – and you’ll take your breakfast like the rest of us; in a coffee cup, with a stack of the day’s papers – maybe a pastry. Our money is on Tinderbox. The Ingram St branch may not have the same bustle of the west end one, but it still feels trendy after years on that same corner, and it’ll make you a top notch flat white to fuel you for the morning.
Hike it off
You’ll be needing that caffeine injection before tackling the Montrose St hill. The bain of many a Strathclyde Uni student’s life, that steep slope seems never-ending – but get to the top (okay, the middle) and you’ll find Rottenrow Gardens, a landscaped slice of lush greenery in the middle of the city. Many a Glaswegian was born here, hence the giant safety pin in tribute to the site of the former maternity hospital. Rest, recover from your ascent and take in the dear, green place.
From there, we’d recommend a toddle back along Ingram St for a dose of retail therapy – or window shopping, at least. Cruise, Italian finery, Agent Provocateur – this is where your money goes to play with its friends. Or, if you’re feeling less than flush, we could suggest a jaunt to the Saltmarket, and Glasgow’s Fish Plaice. It does what it says on the tin, really – but it’s a great place to pick up the freshest of catches (although we don’t recommend carrying that crab around for the rest of the day) or just to ogle weird and wonderful seafood on ice.
The trendiest lunch in town
— Louise Donald (@LouiseDonald1) April 7, 2013
Hungry? Us too. It’s high time we headed to the other side of Argyle Street anyway. Our next stop is Kings Court, and the Glasgow institution that is Mono. That small door in the corner opens out into one of the city’s hippest cafe bars; vegan food aplenty, regular exhibitions and gigs, and of course Monorail – an ode to Glasgow’s long-established love affair with music, and one from our pick of the city’s top independent shops. There’s some serious vinyl to be scored in between bites of to-fish and chips or lamachan (Turkish pizza).
While you’re there, a stop-off at vintage emporium Mr Ben is a must. In search of a 60s shift or military garb? It’s bound to be in there somewhere – and, as we’ve said before, half the fun is digging for retro gold.
A wander off the beaten track
Wandering off the lower end of Argyle St and down a shady lane might sound like a recipe for disaster – but follow the (albeit subtle) signs and Stan Laurel plaque and you’ll find the world’s oldest surviving music hall, the Britannia Panopticon. The building dates back to the 1850s, but was neglected for decades behind a shopfront.
Now, volunteers are working their magic to restore the place with shows harking back to the good old days, silent film nights – anything with an oldy worldy theme is bound to get a look in. Head there on a weekend afternoon and you’ll catch some hearty cabaret – and all for the cost of a wee donation.
Had your fill of old Glasgow culture? Then you’ll be wanting to head back in the direction of King St. The famous Transmission Gallery (where all of Franz Ferdinand’s arty pals were hanging out in ‘Do You Wanna’) is just one of the art havens you’ll find, as well as more top vintage stylings at The City Retro Fashion and cakes worth your front teeth at Once Upon a Tart (don’t worry, they take cash instead). It’s hard to miss the pink and black walls and bird cage decor – and it all tastes as good as it looks.
Where to begin? It’s no coincidence that a Merchant City establishment made it to our Glasgow fine dining guide. This end of town comes into its own by dinner time as out-of-towners hop a train for a taste of the city high life – but they’re not far off the mark, because there are some good eats to be had.
Relatively new to the scene is Hutchesons, all glittering chandeliers and continental bar (cocktails are the order of the day, naturally) contained within a beautiful and historic building. Then, there are Cafe Gandolfi (and Gandolfi Fish), Guy’s, Ingram Wynd – all with a towering reputation city-wide (and in one instance, a signature Glasgow dish).
For cheaper eats and more laidback meals, our money’s on the new sunny Spanish Islena with its simple yet oh-so-tasty menu (tuna tartare with avocado, we need you now).
And if all else fails, that other vegetarian staple – and, handily, decent gig venue – The 13th Note has the food, the beers and the beats to keep you happy into the evening. We know, it’s been a long day already – have a drink, you deserve it.
Tonight I had tapas and tapas had me; skewered prawns, marinated chicken, hot chorizo, black pudding croquettes & salty brutti chips. Get your arse to Brutti Compadres in Virginia Court if you like living a life of joy #stusgoodfoodguide #glasgow #brutticompadres #food #foodpics #tapas #foodporn #instafood
In the mood for a craft beer or two (three, four…)? We’re not here to judge. If anything, we’ll positively encourage you. Head to Blackfriars for a taste of the good stuff – and a handy map of where in the world your tipple comes from too. There’s a high chance of a comedy gig in the basement too, and we’re not ones to turn down a laugh or too.
Still peckish? Who could blame you – all that culture can be hard work. Head to the far reaches of the Merchant City, and another hidden lane, for a glass of red and seriously good tapas (angry prawns – enough said) at Brutti Compadres. For the record, that translates as ‘ugly mates’ – so make sure you’re taking someone with a sense of humour or, at the very least, only a slight grasp of foreign languages.
Late night cocktails
We’ve been waiting for it all day. Now is no time to go home – we don’t care what you bought at the fish market this morning. The Merchant City is buzzing, and we know just the places to keep you going.
Cocktails that won’t cost the earth and a DJ booth perched at the top of a winding staircase? That’ll be Bar Home – one of our picks for where to start a night out in Glasgow – but if you happen to stay there until late then all the better.
The glam crowd will head for The Corinthian Club for a pricier tipple – but it might just be worth it for a glance at the former bank building and the chance of a high-backed, practically private booth (ice bucket already attached, naturally – prosecco is practically calling out from the bar).
Then, there are those who just love to salsa. Call it cheesy, strip our street cred here and now – we’re happy to admit that we don’t mind a bit of a shimmy. And that’s why our night ends at El Barrio, a basement club with latin flavour (that might be the mojitos) and a resident face painter to keep the party going (ah, the decisions you make beyond midnight).
And it’s here we leave you to party until you’re ready for that taxi, or until you fall over – again, no judgement. Hey – let’s do it all again next weekend.
Main image: Merchant Square/Chris Close