West side story
Kirstin Innes explains why through it all, she’s a West End girl, at home in Glasgow’s most fashionable quarter
For decades, the West End has meant one thing to non-WEndies: Byres Road, and while that esteemed thoroughfare is still geographically pivotal, its tributary roads have formed little communities of their own, each with an increasingly distinctive identity.
Around Woodside Road and the top of Great Western Road, halal shops and antiques stores sit happily alongside twitchy hipster dives such as the Halt Bar and the little slice of Brooklyn at the Captain’s Rest.
Over in leafy Hyndland, a self-consciously classier type of resident fills up Cottiers’ fairylit, ivy-hung beer garden on summer evenings or meets for coffee at Jellyhill then totters down the road to get a laid-back gourmet bite at Café Zique. Nearby, Mansfield Park has recently opened out into a social area; the traditional music spilling from the Lismore clashing pleasantly with the mix of spoken word, live cabaret and great DJ sets usually heard across the road in the Rio Café.
The up and coming SoFi (er, that’s South Finnieston to you and me, likes) deserves a mention too. Formerly a scuzzy collection of takeaways and 24-hour shops studded with gems such as bistros Firebird and Fanny Trollopes and the Ben Nevis whisky bar, it’s now … well, it’s still a scuzzy collection of takeaways and 24-hour shops. But that’s what gives it character, right? The artists who’ve moved in on the area certainly seem to think so. It all started in 2007, when local art hero Muttley took over the Commes Des Garcons guerrilla shop space under the Finnieston train tracks and turned it into SWG3, a paint-spattered complex of artists’ studios over a gallery space and occasional club venue. This year, he was followed by the brilliant Washington Garcia artists collective, who’ve found a home in one of the railway arches. It’s having a knock-on effect on the various bars up the road on Argyle Street too: exciting openings this year include the Ivy (taking over the space left by 54 Below), which has become the unofficial headquarters of the LuckyMe artist and DJ collective, as well as housing streetwear designers Land of Odds, and everyone’s new favourite seafood gaff Crabshakk.
We’re not short of awe-inspiring architecture or culture here, either. Of course, there’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, its accompanying park, the craggy wonderlands of Glasgow University and the Hunterian Museum, and the lovely vistas from a floodlit Oran Mor across to Kibble Palace, but there are a wealth of smaller places too.
Finally, what’s great about the West End is it maintains its independence. The odd M&S and Tesco has crept in, but WE residents still choose to reward local businesses such as the lovely Lost in Fiction bookshop, the arty displays of Grace Flowers, Crow Road’s Control Hairdressers and the vintage treasure troves of Watermelon and Retro. Ashton Lane may be increasingly in thrall to chain bars, but canny residents still know to go to Brel or the Ubiquitous Chip for a drink, and recently Chillies on Woodside Road has been able to expand its hugely popular takeaway into a proper Indian restaurant thanks to local support.
Hailed on style blogs and bargain-hunting sites as ‘The Golden Mile’, Dumbarton Road’s lengthy charity shop trail is unparalleled. Start at the excellent Salvation Army near Kelvingrove, be sure to stop into hidden vintage trove Handbags and Gladrags on your way, and experience bafflement as the selection gets increasingly eccentric past Crow Road. ’Mon the stuffed parrots!
Do brunch, yeah?
Trendy WEndies are all over the New York institution, with most cafés and bars offering specialist weekend brunch menus. Glossy Sex and the City-istas flock to the Left Bank on Gibson Street; Kember and Jones is a reliable foodie staple on Byres Road, while hungover students and arty types hustle for space in 60s-theme caff Pop or Tribeca, where there’s a menu just for egg dishes.
Play local celeb bingo
For some reason, the West End has a denser population of well-kent faces than any other area, mostly artists, writers, musicians and actors. Off the top of our heads: AL Kennedy, Alasdair Gray, Stuart Murdoch (and most of Belle and Sebastian), Eddi Reader, Greg Hemphill, Sons and Daughters, a good half of Idlewild, Douglas Gordon, plus minor members of the indie aristocracy – HOUSE!