City limits 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
L ook 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
MERCHANT CITY IS THE INDISPUTED CENTRE OF CAFE CULTURE IN GLASGOW 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.
Get fressh 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. Glasgallery! 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. If you miss out on the main festival in October-November you can always pop along and check-out the ceramics in the year-round pottery shop and bookstore.
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.
14 THE LIST 23 Jul –6 Aug 2009