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Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Richmond

The Richmond, 144 Park Road, Glasgow G4 9HB

It’s not often The Muse and I get out together these days. She’s in; I’m out. I’m in; she’s out. But enough about our marital relations let’s get down to the real hard stuff – bars.

As mentioned in my last blog, some old addresses have recently re-emerged with new names and faces. The Richmond on Park Road, Kelvinbridge is one of the new pubs. Bar Bola, its predecessor lay boarded and empty for around a decade.

An unremarkable, mid-market bar situated in the then quiet area between Byres Road and Charing Cross, I had to think hard about anything of note occurring to me or to anyone I knew or, indeed, to anyone they knew. Nothing. Then I remembered Craig Armstrong.

Probably Scotland’s most under-recognised musician/composer he wrote the scores for films including Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge and Ray. For this work he’s received Grammys, BAFTAs and Golden Globes. He is also the composer for the eagerly awaited The Great Gatsby.

Frequent collaborations with artists including Madonna, Nellie Hooper, U2  and Pavarotti further illustrate his influence across popular culture. His solo work – both classical and contemporary - has also garnered a great deal of critical credit. Yet, for all this, he has received very little domestic attention. A great shame when you consider the many mediocre talents we celebrate.

Armstrong was in Bar Bola one early evening when I spotted him sitting waiting. I’ve never carried an autograph book and even if I did I would never deign to actually bring it out but I did think about approaching the guy to tell him, that I, for one knew who he was. 

A companion soon arrived anyway and this chap also appeared familiar. For a moment I believed it was Steven Lindsay, singer from The Big Dish. It wasn’t but it may have been another band member from one of Glasgow’s 1980s bands like Texas, Love and Money and my personal favourite, Hipsway. Armstrong played keyboards for a few of them so connection was plausible.

I left them to their chat and – fast-forwarding through the intervening years – can now look at the bar as it is now. If it wasn’t for the same address (important detail) you wouldn’t recognise the place. For instance the bar, previously a sideshow, is now the centre-point, an impressive mixture of glass and wood that stands out in today’s bar world of each and every bar having a, frankly, impressive counter and gantry. And it manages to carry off a matt white counter.

Seating in the street-side half of the joint is low but comfy grey chair/stools that fit nicely with the harmony of form and function on view. A lovely panelled ceiling and mullioned mirror further enhance the elegant flow of the place. 

The ¾-length front windows can slide open giving the alfresco option absent from the earlier bar in those pre-smoking-ban days. Looking out the back towards the River Kelvin through more large windows there appears to be plans for a terrace extension, which would be a massive attraction.

This side of the bar offers a more spacious, relaxed hangout better lent to enjoying The Richmond’s menu. Once you’ve done so you can go downstairs to the very modern mixed-gender convenience area. Three or four very large cubicles – reminding this reviewer of the Dragon I toilets in Hong Kong – which either ladies or gents can use. Why differentiate?

The owners have spent a lot of time, thought and money on this place and their ambition deserves at least some success as they seek to prosper in a location that hasn’t yet flourished despite or because of the relative proximity of stalwarts such as Stravaigin and The Doublet.

I wish, though, they had spent more time on the name. It has no connection with the area – if it does, somebody please enlighten me – and is, to put it charitably, uninspired.

They can, perhaps, be excused because they are out-of-towners Rahul and Pravesh Randev who have had considerable success developing relatively elegant restaurants/bars in Lenzie and Bishopbriggs, including The Eagle Lodge and Carriages.

These places are designed with a certain brand of customer in mind. Affluent couples who enjoy their food and drink in tasteful moderation before one drives the other home. The next weekend they reverse roles. They may even have a nibble midweek and they will celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, christenings and even divorces there.  Suburban bliss indeed - and good payers too. But the demographics are different here in the city’s west end.

Sample The Richmond: your custom, or lack of, will determine its future and Kelvinbridge needs a little of the smoothness it brings.

Better still, listen to a little of Mr. Armstrong’s music.

Footnote: Just after finishing this piece’s first draft I was walking along Gibson Street and was passed by the man himself walking east. The last and only time I had seen him had been that occasion mentioned above, sometime late last century. Perhaps he was returning to the very same place? Even if not, it shows happenstance is still around.