If Edinburgh is a sleek, Cashmere sweater, then Glasgow is more of a chunky Aran jumper.
While it may lack some of the picture postcard prettiness of its North Eastern neighbor, Glasgow is ruggedly good looking and its cocktail bars have a less chintzy type of clientele.
At least, that’s the sort of thing people say about Glasgow. We hit the town on a suitably chilly afternoon to find out for ourselves…
Tiki Bar & Kitsch Inn: 214 Bath St, G2 4HW
Tiki Bars are always difficult to describe in any way other than: it’s a tiki bar. This one has all the usual accouterments, including large tiki heads, a black coffin leaning against the wall, and the smell of burning cinnamon in the air.
Outside you will find a below-street level garden for smoking your tabs, and during our visit, construction was underway to expand this area.
Upstairs you will find the Kitsch Inn, a restaurant serving Asian fusion style food, complete with wall art that bears a striking resemblance to that found in Trailer Happiness.
Bar Manager Ian Sanderson made us a 1930s-tiki inspired Swizzle which he named Gin & Juice, served in a suitably tiki mug:
Gin & Juice
50ml Bulldog Bold
25ml Fresh lime juice
50ml Fresh apple juice
25ml Velvet Falernum
Combine in vessel with crushed ice and swizzle. Spray with atomized Angostura bitters and top with ginger beer.
Bar Soba: 1 Mitchell Lane, G1 3NU
As you might expect from the name, Bar Soba has an Asian flavour that extends from the Tokyo-hip graffiti on its walls through to its food menu and cocktail ingredients.
It was a little early in the day for us to eat there, but the food we saw coming out to well off-looking, studenty customers looked great, and spanning two floors, there is plenty of space to spread out for a lazy lunch and cocktails. Food and drink prices are very reasonable, especially so for bartenders travelling up from London.
Soba’s Drinks Development Director, Scott Stevens, served us this Bulldog cocktail (which he didn’t name, so we’ll call it No Name Martini, which will make sense to readers who have travelled through Asia):
No Name Martini
75ml Bulldog Bold
15ml Lychee liqueur
4-5 Sprays of Jasmine green tea
Add lychee liqueur to ice in glass, stir then strain out. Add Bulldog Bold and stir again. Double strain into a Martini glass, spray with Jasmine green tea and garnish with lychees.
Little Urban Achievers Club: 508 Great Western Road, G12 8EL
Little Urban Achievers Club, or LUAC as the sign outside reads, is a big, airy American diner-style bar and restaurant. Long trestle tables and lots of space make it idea for group dining and drinking, and the bowling memorabilia and rock and roll music will allow you to imagine you are back at Tales.
The cocktail menu has drinks by such luminaries as Jake Burger, Lyndon Higginson and Andy Gemmell, and the food is suitably American – think chilli dogs, burgers and pulled pork. The staff were visibly excited at the prospect of their new smoking machine, which was due to arrive the following week, and we got the distinct impression you would be in good culinary hands here.
Next visit to Glasgow, we will be eating at LUAC.
Lebowski’s: 1008 Argyle St, G3 8LX
As you may have guessed, this is a Big Lebowski-themed bar. If that isn’t enough to make you want to visit, the 30 White Russian variations on the menu should… we worked our way through several of them and they were all tasty as hell.
The bar itself has a well-looked-after-but-old pub feel, and on our Tuesday afternoon visit, the clientele comprised of a bohemian mixture of old and young, and a very cute dog. All of which we would have happily sat and talked shit with for hours.
Find yourself a leather booth, order a White Russian and spent a whole afternoon happily abiding. A great, slightly weird, bar.
The Kelvingrove café: 1163 Argyle Street, G3 8TB
Being a creation of Mal Spence, the Kelvingrove café was always going to be good. How good it is, however, is difficult to express in a short piece such as this.
Sitting in a beautiful old building, the Kelvingrove is more than the sum of its parts. The venue lay empty for 15 years before Mal took it over, and the team have smartened the place up without over engineering the décor. Rough stone walls and lots of wood make the bar feel airy yet intimate. The music switches effortlessly between NOLA jazz, funk and soul and all of this combines to create a space in which you will want to spend a lot of time.
Downstairs you will find an intimate, dark little bar for all night sessions, and you will get trapped here because the drinks are absolutely first rate.
Indeed, the cocktails that Martyn Nicol, Kelvingrove’s head bartender, made for us are some of the best we’ve had this year. If you find yourself in Glasgow, this is an absolute must visit bar.
Martyn made us this Bulldog cocktail:
20ml Bulldog Bold
20ml Lemon juice
20ml Yellow Chartreuse
20ml Cocchi Americano
Dash Grapefruit bitters
Combine, shake and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Distil: 1102-1106 Argyle Street, G3 7RX
A lot of time and money has been spent on the design at Distil. Open plan and across several levels, it feels a bit like one of those outdoor Ibiza bars, but with a roof.
The cocktail list is fairly contemporary, with a few modern classic twists and a leaning towards rum. The food on offer is Mediterranean in flavour, which adds to the ‘holiday bar’ feel of the place.
Music is a big thing at Distil, with DJs playing various types of music most nights.
Co-owner Tom Booth made us this Bulldog cocktail:
The Mutt’s Nuts
50ml Bulldog Bold
25ml Cloudy apple juice
15ml Agave syrup
5 Dashes Angostura bitters
Stir over ice, serve in a coupe. Garnish with 2 Maraschino cherries.
The Finnieston: 1125 Argyle Street, G3 8N
The Finnieston feels a bit like a Cotswolds pub. It has a low ceiling and an abundance of wood paneling that begs for pipe smoke and ale.
However, that’s where the rustic notes end, as in reality the Finnieston is a seafood restaurant and gin bar, and rather than pipe smoke, the place has the kind of food smells that immediately make your stomach growl.
We ate here, and the food was uniformly excellent, as was the local beer we washed it down with. Menu-wise, think oysters, game and other posh highland fair.
Gin features heavily on the back bar, and as such bartender Julia Bernapovka was happy to make us this Bulldog creation:
35ml Bulldog Bold
20ml Noilly Prat Dry
5ml Muscat liqueur
Combine and stir over ice. Strain into a coupe and zest with orange.
Blythswood House: 11 Blythswood Square, G2 4AD
Something of a Glasgow institution, the Salon Lounge at Blythswood House is one of those hotel bars that manages to be posh yet utterly welcoming.
The surroundings are very plush, with lots of pillars and fancy chaise longue for elegant reclining (you may well spot a celebrity of two doing just so), but these wont interest you.
Instead, you will want to sit at the low, square island bar that just begs you to rattle through cocktails while talking to the bartenders.
You will find all the classics on the menu, with sections dedicated to Daisies and Sours. Needless to say, this isn’t the cheapest place to have a drink in Glasgow, but it is one of the best… The cocktails are all excellent, and the staff have obviously been trained to the highest standards.
Graeme Mackay made us this Bulldog cocktail:
37.5ml Bulldog Bold
17.5ml Triple Sec
25ml Lemon juice
25ml Egg white
3 drops Absinthe
Dry shake, wet shake. Double strain into a coupe. Garnish with a Star Anise.
It felt a little like we saw the tip of the iceberg on this trip to Glasgow. Everyone we spoke to had a boozer or whisky bar that we ‘absolutely had to visit’, and there were at least five other cocktail bars we wanted to see but couldn’t because they were closed.
When thinking about Scotland and cocktails, it is probably most bartender’s impression that Edinburgh is the go-to city, but I’m not so sure. I think it’s honours even between the Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the only sensible choice would be to visit both should you find yourself North of the border.