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Thursday, 9 September 2010

The In-Crowd

The Corinthian Club, 191 Ingram Street, G1 1DA

One of the many benefits in being The Bar Biographer is the invites you receive. And I don’t just mean on Facebook (though these are, rest assured, gratefully received). No, I’m talking film premieres, book launches, gallery openings. Well, the pub equivalents of these, anyway.

The latest was the re-birth of Corinthian. This was received via my parallel working life – an RSVP email to be specific – but who cares. An invite is an invite.

It was the night before the casino/club/restaurant complex opened for the general public and I was striding to the grand entrance. A bit too busy for a select gathering I thought, as we moved through the crowd, past the outer doormen and up to the reception desk.

A pleasant lady smiled but said nothing. “I’m on the guest list,” I volunteered. She looked at no list nor reached for a clipboard. “****** plus three guests” I continued – my companions being The Muse, LJ and HT – but she just smiled and handed us all some bits of card. That was it.

So on in we went. Through the impressive lobby and by the grand staircase – the maelstrom of folk all around making it impossible to stand, observe and admire – and then in to the Teller’s Bar & Brasserie, the largest area within the complex.

I believe they also call it the networking bar. There are two actually, at opposite ends of the room on either side of the 26ft glass-dome which is one of the design highlights. Sumptuous cornicing and elaborate panelling are features obvious even to design laymen like myself. Blurb I’d read beforehand emphasised the employment of local craftsmen within the overall Graven Images contract – a company behind many Glasgow pub/club refurbs – and here their work has found full expression.

Fine period furnishing: drop chandeliers, wing-back chairs, heavy-based tables, live up to the standards set by the room itself. A more modern touch is the full-length wall couch in purple, offering bling that doesn’t overwhelm the classic feel of the room.

After a drink and a mingle we aimed for the basement. In its previous incarnation the access downstairs was via the narrow corner stairway, which now seems to be a staff area, but now a broad staircase drops from the middle of the room.

From this wide, open scene upstairs we descended into the confines of the Mash & Press Rooms and Club. Probably the vaults from the building’s use as a bank in the 19th century or the cells when it operated as courts from 1920 onwards, the ceilings are low and large stone pillars further cramp the space.

But this aids the atmosphere in this more communal, casual area. As does the clever lighting, white-tiling and benches. Less effective are the beech doorway frames, they just don’t fit the colour or feel of the underground space, the shape of which is largely unchanged from Corinthian of the early 2000s, where it was a sweaty hangout – similar to downstairs at Aarta – in contrast to the space above it. The designated club area is probably smaller now, accessed through the only closed door in the whole area.

Small snacks – most of which are finger-food - and craft beers seem to be the staples down here. The craft beers are marketed on a level with the wine selection, a further confirmation that nowadays beers are being treated as near equals in the connoisseurship and high-end hospitality stakes with fine wine. It’s a little disappointing though that the speciality beers only really cover the Brewdog range in any detail, but their 77 lager is a welcome addition as a draught.

Returning to the ground floor, the numbers had lessened in the main room presumably they had dispersed to do their own exploring of the 5 floors and 14 rooms. Now there was space to admire the way that this area has now been opened out. Windows previously blacked out have been reinstated allowing us the privilege of seeing outside, placing this building in its city context. Daylight will add another dimension.

The 1920s conversion of the building into a judiciary court covered much of the Victorian features – the bank itself a replacement of an earlier mansion dated from 1752 – and this latest version of the building is touted as being a restoration rather than a simple refurb; revealing the interior’s original glory, but how much of this was done on this occasion and how much from the 1999 makeover is hard to tell, I don’t have the photos to compare.

But this is now, I reflected, so enjoy it. I tried, but my realisation that this was not the select evening I had expected dampened my enthusiasm. This may have been re-invigorated had I realised that names such as Carol Smillie and Suzy McGuire were in attendance, but then again maybe not. The less said though the more my chances of a decent night in 29 again.

A new thing is the view from the Tellers bar through to the glass-sided suspended gallery above the gaming room. This is a grand perspective, like viewing the main chamber of an art gallery. We strolled through to the tables. Not many were gambling tonight, most preferring to watch or pose, some from the floor, some from tables above in the gallery, and from the small bar also overlooking the room.

The impression I had been given was that gaming would be throughout the complex but it seems it is only in this room. And it is in here and the main room that the bulk of the £5.7m investment seems to have been spent. Viewed as a whole it does remind you of a Regency palace or French chateau. (No, I hadn’t drunk too many sherbets, thank you very much).

We had been given a gaming voucher each – in effect a free chip – from reception on arrival but we decided to keep on moving. Back into the reception area, which remained as busy as before. This bottleneck would be a problem and a hindrance on any busy evening, too much come and go through this area. The main toilets were accessed from here and smokers headed through to the only smoking area – outside the front entrance – as well as those entering or leaving. The lack of smoking provision remains an issue in this venue, I guess the listed nature of the building and its central location prevents alteration such as a new door or terrace.

To the right as you enter the building there is the Boutique bar, previously a piano bar which was tending towards the shabby before the rebirth. The centrepiece in here is a catwalk-style table. The fashion/retail theme is continued with display cabinets and drawers, the content supplied by high-end designer labels from shops in the nearby Style Mile. The ladies in here – for this is a definitely a girlie space – seemed more comfortable than those who had looked slightly bewildered in the gaming area – maybe because there is no doubt in here, you won’t be getting your money back -especially those in the fabulous window booths.

Across the hall the emphasis is more masculine. Bootleg concentrates on ‘mature spirits’ in a prohibition setting. This ‘theme’ has been explored in quite a few new bars inside the last year, lessening this joint’s impact somewhat but there are some nice touches such as delicate silver tankards and safe doors built into the bar. The staff wear flat caps straight out of The Sting which complement the grey suits and black shirts wore by the rest of the Corinthian staff.

The Malt Whisky Flight is a good idea. For the decent price of £7.50 you get a taster of four nips of malt, said to fit the main flavours you’ll find within the range of Scotland’s national drink: Light & Floral; Fruity & Spicy; Rich & Rounded; Full Bodied & Smoky. In addition to a big range of whisky they stock some less well-known US whiskey such as Elijah Craig and Jefferson’s Reserve. The rum selection is extensive too.

The upper floors are largely occupied by private function rooms but there are reasons to go upstairs for the ordinary punter. And the main staircase is worth the hike alone. The Laird’s Room is billed as a private space but I’m not sure if it was on this occasion. Seems to be Corinthian’s concession to Scottishness. Nosey Parkers is similarly, a place to hire. That is a pity, because it overlooks the ground floor, the general public thus denied a great view.

Somewhere everyone can access is Charlie Parkers, also on the first floor. It is named after an early style bar in Royal Exchange Square which closed around the early 80s. A legendary place, in some circles, but beyond even my vintage. The new version is good fun. Lowered lighting and décor that you would expect in uptown Manhattan.

Just like Boutique downstairs this lends itself to the ladies’ requirements and will be doing a great trade in champagne and cocktails. This evening there were many people of a certain age, enough to make one wonder how many had been regulars in the original CPs. But not faces I recognised from the Vroni’s, All Bar One, Rogano, One Up/29 circuit. Where have they been hiding all these years?

Charlie Parkers is a live piano bar with the bar counter itself shaped so that bar seating surrounds the piano player. Those said ladies crowded round the pianist, one Tom Urie. He had a reasonable repertoire and a good voice, in an old-fashioned crooner-ish way. This man also appears in our very own River City so is a moonlighting crooner to boot. There are many detractors of RC – including me - but it says something for the quaintness of this soap that Big Bob can appear here and no one bats an eyelid. Can you imagine Phil Mitchell tinkling the ivories in such a manner?

My shattered dreams of reaching VIP strata withstanding, an interesting time was had. Corinthian is large enough to offer a variety of experiences and the millions have been well spent, creating a complex that is, in parts, magnificent.

However, the 1500 people reputed to have attended this opening evening were easily swallowed up by its sheer size and it will need this amount of people on many nights if it is to be viable. Is Glasgow big enough or rich enough to provide those numbers? The roulette wheel is spinning; place your bets ladies and gentlemen.


  1. Thanks for the review. Never been there, but sounds like a place I may take the Mrs.

    Loving your work BTW

  2. Thanks, Cosby. Glad you like the blog.

  3. Looks as if its a big place - must pay it a visit to at least get a River City's Stars autograph. The piano bar sounds good. Wonder if the food is good.