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Thursday, 9 December 2010

The 925 - Kudos Bar & Restaurant, Grill on the Corner

Kudos Bar & Restaurant, 29 Waterloo Street, Glasgow G2 6BZ
The Grill on the Corner, 21-25 Bothwell Street, Glasgow G2 6NL

Who knows the proportion of office workers in Glasgow city centre who are employed in call centres, rather than, let us say, more traditional and more profitable professions. In the 90s a flat-mate of mine was employed in one of the first call centres to locate here. They weren’t the most sympathetic of employers, with employee intimidation and timed toilet breaks the norm. So bad in fact that we had Channel 4 News round at our Finnieston flat to film an interview with my pal and other call-centre workers. Things, I’m told, have improved since then but the image remains.

Many call-centres are still situated in the main office district that is bounded between Broomielaw and Bath Street, and between Hope Street and Pitt Street. From some angles it looks like Scotland’s answer to midtown Manhattan. Whatever income bracket, from corporate lawyers to the folk manning those phones, come 5pm they have money to spend. And where do they go to unwind?

Options nearby are not as extensive as you might expect. There’s the indie Admiral Bar, host of gigs and club nights in its basement; the incredibly tacky Madness (Theatre of Fun!) Bar & Restaurant on Bothwell Street; the Glasgow outlet of the Living Room chain on St. Vincent Street, an elegant bar and restaurant, smooth but still a chain. An interesting mix but containing no stand-out venue.

Also in the area is the downmarket strip of pubs at the bottom end of Hope Street, the shady part of the street darkened by the massive Central Hotel and Station building. Cheap and basic they may be but the collection of establishments that includes The Alpen Lodge, Denholm’s and McGinn’s probably reveals more about this city than any amount of chain bars. As did the late-lamented Bonkers Show Bar/Buffalo Joe’s with its dancing bar staff seven nights a week.

A completely different nearby joint is the recently re-launched Grill on the Corner. Aiming - according to the manager- to establish the bar as a destination for drinks rather than just a warm-up for dinner. The circular bar has been replaced with a counter at one side of the room, opening up the space, and giving it a more grown-up feel enhanced by the solid furniture, the black and red colouring and the low booth-like seating by the large windows.

However, those windows are still decorated with an over-abundance of fairy lights and the bar gantry is an unimaginative shape similar to a bespoke wall-unit you might find in a large living room. Thus it’s not an area that will retain drinkers and create an all-important focal point.

The drinks menu is heavy on the champagne, giving a clue as to the clientele they have in mind. A nice touch is their monthly choice of wines and beers complementing the steak of the month. The Blackhouse chain of bar/restaurants – of which this is one - have built a reputation on their steaks. Devoted readers will recall my opinions about bar and grills/steakhouses. But despite my reservations, the dining area, with its darker tones and more formal air, does look the part. (However, if I was going to comment more on this section of the venue, the blog would have a different name, and I would be just another food critic).

So, time will tell if GOC’s bar achieves its ambitions but another outlet has opened nearby with sights similarly set upon the night-time market as well as lunch and dinner. Kudos Bar & Restaurant of 29 Waterloo Street, which was launched last month, sits beside premises previously occupied by The Alhambra, a bar with its heyday in the 1980’s, a popular choice for work parties of that decade. In the 90’s it became a far less desirable place. As a taxi driver at the time I can remember the prevalent atmosphere of that corner of Waterloo and Wellington Streets, due to its proximity to the red light district. The pub had then become The Rabbie Burns and many of the male drinkers seemed to be in residence there as well as probably profiting from what is quaintly described as immoral earnings.

Talking of Wellington Street, Kudos actually has another entrance on that street as well as Waterloo, handy for sharp, subtle exits from boring business acquaintances or disappointing dates, I suppose. But that design has allowed the bar to create a Unique Selling Point that, for instance, Grill on the Corner has failed to achieve with its new bar and gantry. Sandwiched between the two halves of the building is what the press blurb has described as a “glass atrium external courtyard” which sums it up pretty well. The atrium’s sides have very high walls reminiscent of those out back of The Courtyard bar on West Nile Street. The cladding on the walls appears like ultra smooth cold steel, and looking up your mind strays to thoughts of falling icicles during this arctic winter.

The creams, oranges and browns that predominate inside Kudos do bring some warmth but also remind me of a cafeteria, rather like another new-ish opening, Mediterraneo on Ingram Street. Added to this, the chef’s hatch and serving counter is a little too obtrusive. Most drinkers/diners will probably enter via the Waterloo Street and they will be greeted by and walk through a rectangular wooden arch, which looks fine, but is placed in a rather arbitrary place, twenty feet or so inside the entrance. As if: you have entered, but now you are really entering. Strange.

On my first visit, a cold afternoon, the place was quiet. A few, casually dressed middle-aged blokes walked around sizing things up, talking to the manager. Tradesmen maybe, but they seemed more involved than that, as if they formed a mini-consortium financially backing this venture. Call it intuition.

Service was fine, apart from the paper serviette on which my pint was placed. The condensation soon reduced the paper to a sodden mess. We need a re-introduction of beer mats, 21st century trendy versions. The toilets are accessed down stairs, above which a massive mirror allows you to survey your appearance halfway through a heavy evening. The toilets are impressively appointed, with the latest mesh hardware installed within the urinals to avoid the dreaded splashback.

On return I headed outside (or inside as it seems) to the atrium for a closer look, and a think about a possible business producing the new generation of beer mats. The glass-encased space is really impressive. The feeling of being indoors, while technically outside for smoking legislation, is a winner, in much the same way as at One Up. And the awnings and mini-hedges recall that bar’s smoking area.

The advantage that Kudos’ atrium does have over One Up’s equivalent is its proximity to the bar itself. Only glass separates one side of the bar from a ledge in the atrium complete with stools allowing you to look into what is happening inside the main room. And it appears that the glass may have a sliding hatch to allow actual bar service when the climate allows.

From my own experience and from the general word, Kudos has made a decent start at attracting a party crowd of an evening, a place for after hours fun in the heart of the business district. Whether it becomes an outstanding bar depends on whether it can appeal to an eclectic mix of people. From the rich to those of more modest means, from management to staff, call centre workers or not.

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