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Friday, 30 December 2011

...and this is not the Hogmanay one either



Last time it was the small, intimate, low-key places so this post will feature the opposite: Big, bold, brash and beloved of show-offs. But as everyone knows, underneath the exterior of any show-off is someone worth getting to know.

There is more luxury elsewhere but here I will only consider the large joints. This is for the rest of the festive period. Okay, Hogmanay is mostly booked out already and/or is prohibitively expensive but there are other nights left and some folk are lucky enough to be off work until the 9th of January.

This non-exhaustive list only includes places where you can walk in without payment (at least before a certain time) and drink till late without any more expense than your tipple.

I have picked 5 each from Glasgow and Edinburgh. Sorry to the other Scottish towns and cities, but, on the whole, only decent-sized cities have these sort of places. So, root out your best suits and LBDs and powder your noses, here comes all that glitters…

Metropolitan in the stylish heart of Glasgow’s Merchant City has been the leading the line for almost a decade. Main ground-floor bar, back area within Merchant Square (pity this can’t be used for a smoking zone), upstairs a restaurant and new piano and cocktail bar. The refurb downstairs has increased the standing and seating square- footage but lost some style in the process. Nevertheless, Metropolitan now has a 3am licence at weekends and a nice duality of atmosphere going on between upstairs and downstairs.

Previously known as Opus, The Living Room on St. Vincent Street has a few things not going for it. It is housed in an office building, it is part of a nationwide chain and the windows are too big. But it overcomes these issues with a judicious use of wood furnishings and fittings and an interesting crowd. Eclectic you could say. It used to be described as WAG paradise but it has probably matured since then. Open until 2am on Friday and Saturday nights.

Tusk (it’s mammoth!) is one of Stefan King’s G1 stable. Not nearly as busy as it used to be but still virtually without rival in this sphere of socialising on the south side. Rather cruelly nicknamed The Pond (old trout and all that) at one time or other, but this gives you an idea of the disdain some feel for the place. This not helped by its own marketing describing it as the place to go for Hen and Stag nights. Tusk has probably benefited from the creation of the adjacent Waverley Tea Rooms. 2am licence.

Another part of the G1 group, The Social sits comfortably amidst the sound and fury of Royal Exchange Square. A dominating island bar (it’s more like a Continent) and a pleasingly dark interior contrast with the light of the outside seating area, roped-off from innocent passers-by. Pre-club certainly, but many planning such an adventure just stay here all night (well at least until 3am) instead.

Once upon a time, pub and club entrepreneur James Mortimer looked upon this building just above The Social and had a dream. Okay, it was only 2006, but his dream had a happy ending. One Up is just part of it, but probably the best-known part. Ostentatious: check. Over the top: check. Lecherous: check. Lacking manners: check. But who cares? Still good fun and with the ability to make you have just one more drink, and it has the best inside-out smoking terrace in the country. You would never get One Up in Edinburgh, not even on George Street…

Talking of George Street, Tigerlilly is the queen of the west end of that famous street. A relative newcomer, coming in on the third or even fourth phase of style bars in the last twenty years, TL attracts the beautiful people like nowhere else nearby. A little bit too pink and fluffy and the anterooms are cold and bland but the place catches the eye, just as one hopes to catch the barman’s on the frequent busy evenings here.

Near the other end of the same street, The Opal Lounge remains the king of late night bar/clubs. Why? Because it does it better and with more oomph than rivals such as the Candy Bar, Le Monde etc Labyrinthian, enticingly lit, character that changes round every corner, and a sensibly proportioned dance floor. New areas such as The Sunken Lounge and The Den Bar seem like moneymaking add-ons rather than part of the whole but show the management are still trying to evolve the place.

There’s less evolving going on in Espionage just up the hill from the Grassmarket, but none of the punters compalin. This slightly notorious multi-levelled playground built into the side of the hill is still bringing in the hordes, who themselves are still trying their luck on each floor. Either that or getting lost at one of the many bars or dancefloors. Some dance to remember, some dance to forget… Walk in from after 7pm and stay as long as your heart, wallet or gut can take it.

Bringing a little modernity to just off the Royal Mile is Hotel Missoni. It and its bar have won a number of design awards already in only a couple of years. Drinking is allowed here from 10am until 2am, 365 times a year. Very civilised. As is the starkly designed bar complete with turquoise walls and high blood red stools. I’ve only been in twice and both times it was rather quiet but it can cope and indeed excel with large numbers. I can tell these things. The website blurb describes the experience here as a promenading living theatre and invites patrons to “take centre stage.” That could have been a title for this blog post.

Lastly, I have a soft spot for Indigo (yard) on Charlotte Lane, west end. The scene of the beginning of one relationship, and the effective ending of one far shorter liaison. Thus I can overlook its relatively early closing time (1am but extended during Festival and other celebrations). Less of a destination, more run-of-the-mill, than before but still worth the effort. One of the first to do the exposed-brick thing and with a notable gallery and lofty ceiling. Not to mention the outside area making use of the courtyard, something less of an asset at this time of year, no matter how intent you are on partying.

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