Spotlight on Glasgow's Merchant City
The List takes a look behind the scenes of Glasgow’s Merchant City area and showcases the treasure trove of goodies waiting to be found
Look up as you walk around the streets of Glasgow’s Merchant City and you can’t help but be transfixed by the history of an area now best known, perhaps, for its food and drink emporiums. First formed in the 18th Century as a stomping ground for the merchant ‘lords’ shipping sugar, tea and tobacco, the City has developed over the years, whilst never losing the period features so proudly alluded to in its more recent moniker.
By the 19th century if had become a fertile working district of warehouses complete with food markets. Once simply referred to as the ‘cross’ or the ‘toun’, Merchant City has gone through various different guises, the Merchant City tag being given during a recent period of regeneration.
A mix of squares, wide pavements and long inviting streets, the area has tried to pitch itself as Glasgow’s answer to Covent Garden, and to some extent it has suceeded in achieving a similarly laid back feel, and is only a matter of minutes away from the bustle of Glasgow’s busiest shopping spots, Buchanan Street and Argyle Street.
The shops you’ll find here are a classy bunch, and there’s ample chance to flash the plastic. Perhaps best known is the mighty Italian Centre, which boasts among others Versace Collections (the UK’s first Versace store) and Emporio Armani. The Centre’s somewhat affluent neighbours include Cruise, Bose, Escada, Ralph Lauren, Mulberry and lingerie store Agent Provocateur.
Good bars and restaurants mean there’s plenty of reason to stop and loiter. For solid Scottish fare try the fine Flavour of Scotland menu at the City Merchant, or if you’re fed up with haggis and cullen skink there’s excellent fare to be had at the Italian Kitchen and its sister Italian Caffè. Merchant City is the indisputed centre of cafe culture in Glasgow, and there are few more pleasant areas to sit back and watch the world go by.
In a city that has never complained about its lack of clubs, you’re unlikely to get all dressed up and then find yourself with nowhere to go if you’re looking for a night on the toun in Merchant City. Shimmy on down to new basement nightclub Byblos, the luxurious Winchester Club, or Maggie Mays, fast making a name for itself with excellent live gigs and a buzzing atmosphere. And if chips’n’cheese don’t float your post-clubbing boat, sushi bar OKO Express carries on serving into the wee hours, staying open until 4am four nights a week.
As the area has boomed so too has the vision for the space in and around the City. Luxury apartments continue to shoot up, and there’s been a huge increase in the number of art galleries both commercial and public, helping to re-brand the area as something of a cultural quarter, showcasing something for all tastes. Case in point is the annual multi-arts Merchant City Festival, which takes place in September. If nearby Trongate is the yin then Merchant City is the yang with its über-trendy décor and array of styled-up cocktail bars. We bring you a handful of the best places to eat and drink, as well as providing you with a bird’s eye view of where to get the best bang for you buck.
Don't Miss - Merchant City
Fressh, 51–53 Cochrane Street, Merchant City, 0141 552 5532
Summer is here (no, honest it is), so put down your pint glass, albeit briefly, and get fresh in this monochromed hangout at the heart of the Merchant City. Our top tip is an ‘energy burst’ made of pineapple, pear, grape and apple juice – perhaps with an added shot of spirulina – to lift the spirits.
Q! Gallery, 87-89 Saltmarket, 0141 552 7575
Home to Glasgay!, Scotland’s annual celebration of queer culture, this was the first gallery in Scotland to devote its space entirely to queer art and artists.
Devour a Scotch pie
Café Source, 1 St Andrew’s Square, 0141 548 6020
Located in the basement of a magnificent old restored church in St Andrew’s Square, Café Source offers an informal dining experience for those wanting to sample some big gutsy Scottish fare. Several large brown sofas are located at each side of the basic dining area where you can sit and simply enjoy a drink.
Merchant City attractions
Literally a city of the dead, this vast burial ground behind Glasgow Cathedral is a monument to Glasgow’s wealthier 19th-Century inhabitants. Established with a view to being a kind of Scottish equivalent of Père Lachaise in Paris, it may not have the likes of Jim Morrison, but memorials include a 62m high obelisk to John Knox and plenty of spectacularly ornate gravestones and mausoleums.
50 Cathedral Square, 0141 552 3145.
Alongside temporary exhibitions, this Clydeside museum relates the story of Glasgow and its citizens from 1750 to the present day, a richly evocative social portrait of a tough, humorous city surviving poverty and war to emerge as a forward-thinking European conurbation of culture and opportunity. The photographs, artefacts and interactive displays pull few punches about darker chapters in the city’s history, but overall it’s a fun educational experience. Attached are the Winter Gardens, an elegant Victorian glasshouse of tropical plants.
Glasgow Green, 0141 271 2962
A stone-built church has stood on this site since 1136 and the lower church contains the shrine of St Mungo, who died around 612; however most of the present building dates from the 13th or 15th centuries, the most notable exception being the stained-glass windows, renowned as one of the finest post-war collections in the country. Sunday services take place at 11am and 6.30pm and there are daily prayers at noon.
Castle Street, 0141 552 8198.
Six of the Best - Eat & Drink in Merchant City
97–99 Candleriggs, 0141 553 1577
The City Merchant, as the name suggests, was well ahead of the curve in predicting Merchant City’s rise as a top eating and drinking hotspot, setting up shop in 1988 as one of the first upscale outlets in the neighbourhood. 21 years on, it’s surrounded on Candleriggs by an array of similarly smart establishments, but still holds up as one of the best Scottish restaurants in town.
16–18 Blackfriars Street, 0141 552 5055
Housed in a historic building designed by the Adam brothers in the 1790s and tucked away in a cobbled lane just off the High Street, Babbity Bowsters pub and hotel is a Merchant City treasure. Upstairs you’ll find Scottish-French restaurant Schottische, which serves quality, rustic Celtic-Gallic cuisine. Live folk sessions and ceilidhs sometimes run on late into the night.
191 Ingram Street, 0141 552 1101
The jewel in the G1 Group crown, Corinthian’s reputation as an exclusive haunt for Glasgow’s glamourati has dwindled somewhat since opening in 1999 – you’ll find more young professionals than movie stars – but there’s still plenty of reason to be cheerful here. The main restaurant and the adjoining Lite Bar are both stunning examples of Victorian grandeur, with glass domes and towering archways.
64 Albion Street, 0141 552 4462
This tiny charmer of a place, tucked away under the eaves of a former warehouse and crammed with gorgeously carved, hobbit-sized furniture, does much more than just function as an overspill bar for the hugely popular restaurant downstairs. The wine list is extensive, but the dinner menu is simple, short, and mostly composed of honest old-fashioned bar staples.
83 Hutcheson Street, 0141 572 0400
Who ate all the pies? Robert Hall did – or Rab Ha, the ‘The Glesca Glutton’, a Merchant City resident whose appetite was so famed he became the subject of nursery rhymes. And had an independent bar, restaurant and boutique hotel operation named in his honour. Rab Ha’s is no simple filling station, though – eagerly trumpeting its traditional-yet-contemporary, smart-yet-soulful credentials.
The Old Cheesemarket, 62 Albion Street, 0141 552 2101
Arta does well to bracket itself as the ultimate leisure suite for an aspirational generation weaned on Ready Steady Cook and Grand Designs. A cavernous, opulent venue for eating, drinking, disco dancing and live music, its menu accordingly hedges its bets, throwing a beach towel by the Mediterranean and hoping for the best.