Food and drink fuels Glasgow heritage revivals
A handful of visionary restaurateurs and the city’s love of a good night out are transforming iconic Glasgow landmarks
An empty, unloved building can quickly deteriorate. Roof tiles slip, weeds take up residence in gutters, and slowly the rot sets in until it crumbles. Large buildings are particularly vulnerable – the maintenance costs will put off all but the most determined. In Glasgow the hospitality industry has come to the rescue of many such buildings. Churches, banks and even old court buildings owe their preservation to the city’s love of a good night out. They range from the understated and the quirky, such as the Mackintosh building now occupied by Stereo on Renfield Lane to the former offices of the Anchor Line steamship company, restored by local restaurant group Di Maggio’s, and the old Glasgow and Ship Bank on Ingram Street, now the flamboyant Corinthian Club.
In the Merchant City, the 200-year-old A-listed Hutchesons’ Hall had lain unused for years. It was built in the early 1800s as a school for the city’s orphan boys and a hospital for the elderly, and funded by benefactors George and Thomas Hutcheson. It has belonged to the National Trust since 1984 but a use for the unusual space, worth an estimated £1.4 million, had eluded the organisation. Once again, it was in need of a benefactor.
Three years ago, James Rusk, owner of West End steakhouse the Butchershop, spotted an opportunity to open a city-centre business in time for the Commonwealth Games. He teamed up with the Trust – a first for the preservation team in Scotland – and committed, in the process, to a massive restoration.
Rusk said: ‘Opportunities like this are really rare, and it’s a great privilege. With this new lease of life, we’re preserving an institution, and we hope that Hutchesons will complement the already vibrant Glasgow restaurant and bar scene.’
The commitment from Rusk has been deeply appreciated by the National Trust for Scotland. Pete Selman, the Trust’s Director of Strategic Direction, said: ‘It is fantastic to see this classic Glasgow landmark busy and bustling once again. Our partnership with the Rusks has given this stunning piece of built heritage renewed life and purpose, in a project that has been a new approach for our conservation charity. By working with a commercial partner, we have secured a positive future for this historic place.’
It seems the city’s appetite for historical restorations has gone hand in hand with a desire to rediscover heritage in food. The Kelvingrove Café, for instance, has not only restored a former café in the city’s West End, but also revived early cocktail-making techniques, the key ingredient of which is slow-frozen ice, mimicking the ice that rural estate managers would haul from the loch in winter and store in the ice house.
In Alston Bar & Beef, a restaurant in basement vaults beneath Glasgow Central Station, another project of almost archeological proportions has been undertaken. It takes its name from the one and only street of Grahamston village that occupied the site in the 18th century, and which was cleared to make way for the great Victorian developments as the steam railway powered into the city.
The underground tunnels have been transformed into a handsome dining space, with a bar offering one of the city’s widest range of gins and a kitchen serving top-quality dishes using Scottish beef. General manager Matthew Mustard said: ‘We know the people of Glasgow are passionate about the city’s history, and so we were keen to bring to life the story of the Grahamston village which had almost become an urban legend.’
• See our Tiplist of Glasgow’s most atmospheric and interesting dining venues