Glasgow cocktail bars
Kelvingrove Café is dark, atmospheric and painfully hip – all Chesterfield booths, monochrome floor tiles, exposed brickwork, wood panelling and a bar that gleams with brass fittings and glasses dangling from above on old-school wire racks. Cocktails-wise, expect not fruity, exotic concoctions, but stiff and sophisticated ‘mixed drinks’, principally based on fortified wines and Amaro (a herbal liquer), as opposed to spirits. Ice is elevated above its usual supporting role, too – it’s all made in-house with tools and techniques used by café owners in 1930s Glasgow, and divided up into big, shimmering square chunks in copper sinks behind the bar.
It’s all about classy, grown-up concoctions here, predominately based around the 60-plus gins behind the bar at any given time. Try the Finnieston Club Cocktail (gin, house-made orange sherbet, lime juice, grenadine and Chartreuse Yellow), or a Rangoon Daisy (gin, maraschino, orgeat syrup, bitters and lime). The smart, fine-dining feel at The Finnieston gradually changes as the night wears on, and the crowd slowly changes from eaters to drinkers, and a nice atmospheric buzz settles in the bar. The little beer garden out the back is a hidden gem on those rare fair Glasgow days.
The rum-based, tropical-themed cocktails at this brilliantly kitsch tiki bar are served variously in glasses, jam jars and OTT ceramic cups shaped like skulls and pineapples. Flavours range from authentic recipes such as Missionary’s Downfall – a refreshing combo of Pampero Blanco rum, peach brandy, fresh citrus, pineapple and mint – to Tiki’s own creations such as the jovially parochial Auch Aye the Bru, based around a mixture of whisky, rum, grapefruit, passion fruit and, last but not least, Irn Bru.
The cocktails are among the best (and best-priced) in town. This flagship venue on Mitchell Lane (opened in 1999) was given a major facelift in 2013, and much like its moodily lit, industrial chic-styled sister outlets, feels achingly hip between all the exposed brickwork, reclaimed wood and Japanese graffiti. The cocktails follow a fruity, exotic theme, and strike a neat balance between populist appeal and innovation. Classics include coconut and chilli daiquiri, kiwi chi and Drumstick caiprioska (the Drumstick being one of those sticky lollipops from your youth). For the more sophisticated palate there are straight-up options such as the malt whisky-based Auch, Aye! and Smoke Without Fire.
Blythswood Square may be known as a stylish, upmarket hotel but on the first floor of the Regency-era building on the eponymous square, anchored in Glasgow's city centre grid, you find one of the best cocktail bars around: The Salon. It not only attracts a smart crowd but also cocktail enthusiasts and mixology-watchers who come to see what the bar staff might create next. Ice is hand-cracked, fruit is freshly cut or squeezed while if you want to share in the wisdom of the house, its Cocktail Book is available for sale. Alternatively you could just ask the bartender what orgeat syrup is and why it's in your Mai Tai. Cocktail refuseniks can have a pint of St Mungo lager from Glasgow's West Brewery instead, or a nice, smooth Woodford Reserve bourbon served neat.