Nightlife in Glasgow: culture

by mike.maceacheran

"Kultir!" - as some Glaswegians say - can be many things to many people. In Glasgow, enjoy a night at the theatre or watch history in the making at one of the UK's best music venues

Glasgow has developed an enviable reputation as the music capital of the UK and is now Britain’s only UNESCO listed city of music. From ceilidh and classical to jazz and Jock rock (homegrown rock and pop), Glasgow is easily the best place in the whole of Scotland for live music – every Friday and Saturday the hotels across the city fill up as music lovers from Dundee to Dunfermline make the long trek across country to make sure they don’t miss out. And neither should you.

Music

The Barrowlands (244 Gallowgate, Glasgow G4 0TT; +44 141 552 4601; www.glasgow-barrowland.com/ballroom.htm)

It may look a nuclear fall-out shelter decorated in neon Christmas tree lights but the “Barras” is in fact Glasgow's best live music venue. A former Second World War ballroom and music hall, it may have been around for more than 75 years but I wouldn’t change it for the world. For the ultimate Glasgow experience, get a ticket to see a home-grown act like Teenage Fanclub, Primal Scream, Belle and Sebastian or Franz Ferdinand, knock back a few pints in a local boozer and get to ready to sing along with another 2,000 hoarse and sweaty Glaswegians. There is a reason why the Glasgow music fans are rated the best in the world you know! “Ah the Barras are better”.

King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut (272 St. Vincent Street, Glasgow, G2 5RL; +44 141 221 5279; www.kingtuts.co.uk)

God bless King Tut’s. Long touted as the best small venue in the UK by Radio 1 and the NME, this award-winning bar and music venue has been the launching pad for hundreds of careers and is the heir apparent to the Scottish throne should independence ever be declared. Going down in history as the place where Oasis signed their record deal – they threatened to set fire to the downstairs bar if they weren’t added to the bill – it has seen the likes of Coldplay, Muse, Snow Patrol and Travis tread its small stage before going on to conquer the world. It’s effortlessly cool and a great place to catch new international talent – and sometimes not so great home-grown bands. I used to be in an indie band and even played to a sell-out crowd a few times – with my voice, God knows how.

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (2 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow G2 3NY; +44 141 353 8000; www.glasgowconcerthalls.com)

Perched at the top of Buchanan Street like a poised thespian, the Concert Hall is home of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the main venue for Celtic Connections, the world's largest winter music festival (read more on my When to go to Glasgow page). The Old Fruitmarket (Candleriggs, Glasgow, G1 1NQ; +44 141 353 8000; www.glasgowconcerthalls.com), another classic Glasgow venue, is always worth checking out and recently played host to MTV when it came to the city.

Best of the rest

It’s a long list but the best of the city’s other venues includes The 13th Note (50-60 King St, Glasgow G1 5QT; +44 141 553 1638; www.13thnote.co.uk), the O2 ABC (300 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, G2 3JA; +44 141 332 2232; www.o2abcglasgow.co.uk), the SECC (Exhibition Way, Glasgow G3 8YW; +44 870 040 4000; www.secc.co.uk), the Armadillo aka Clyde Auditorium (SECC, Finnieston St, Glasgow G3 8YW; +44 870 040 4000; www.secc.co.uk/organise/concerts.../clyde-auditorium.aspx), the Captain’s Rest (185 Great Western Rd, Glasgow G4 9EB; +44 141 332 7304; www.captainsrest.co.uk), Nice’n’Sleazy (421 Sauchiehall St, Glasgow, G2 3LG; +44 141 333 0900; www.nicensleazy.com), the O2 Academy (121 Eglinton Street, Glasgow, G5 9NT; +44 141 418 3000; www.o2academyglasgow.co.uk) and The Garage (490 Sauchiehall St, Glasgow, G2 3LW; +44 141 332 1120; www.garageglasgow.co.uk).

Theatre and comedy

Glaswegians are spoilt for choice when it comes to drama, musicals, comedy and theatre. 

Kings Theatre (297 Bath St Glasgow, Glasgow, G2 4JN; +44 141 240 1111; www.ambassadortickets.com/King's-Theatre)

The grand dame of Glasgow theatre, all the great Scottish comedians and actors have tread the boards here. From Rikki Fulton, Stanley Baxter and Jimmy Logan through to The Krankies and Billy Connolly, a night out at the Kings is part of Glasgow folklore – I used to come to the pantomime every Christmas and be wowed by Johnny Beattie, Elaine C. Smith and Gerard Kelly. Inside, it looks like a nostalgic velvet-lined music box.

The Tramway (25 Albert Drive, Glasgow, G41 2PE; +44 141 276 0950; www.tramway.org)

Tramway won the Scottish Design Awards prestigious Architecture Grand Prix in 2001 and is a multi-purpose art facility, often home to the most cutting edge theatre and drama in the city. Visual arts are its speciality.

The Tron (63 Trongate, Glasgow, G1 5HB; +44 141 552 4267; www.tron.co.uk)

An established small scale theatre, the Tron is a major venue for many of Glasgow's festivals including Celtic Connections, Glasgow International Jazz Festival, Glasgow International Comedy Festival, the Merchant City Festival and Glasgay! Read more about the events on my When to go to Glasgow page.

The Stand Comedy Club (333 Woodlands Rd, Glasgow, G3 6NG; +44 870 600 6055; www.thestand.co.uk)

While Edinburgh’s annual FRINGE festival has a summer monopoly on the Scottish comedy circuit, Glasgow’s International Comedy Festival packs the crowds in every spring. For the best in local stand-up and improvisation outside this time, The Stand is the city’s most reliable comedy one-stop shop.

Best of the rest

If none of the performances at these venues take your fancy, then why not check out the Pavilion Theatre (121 Renfield St, Glasgo, G2 3AX; +44 141 332 1846; www.paviliontheatre.co.uk), the Theatre Royal (282 Hope Street, Glasgow, G2 3QA; +44 844 871 7647; www.ambassadortickets.com/Theatre-Royal-Glasgow) or the Citizens Theatre (119 Gorbals St, Glasgow, G5 9DS; +44 141 429 0022; www.citz.co.uk)?

LGBT

With a thriving lesbian and gay scene, the Merchant City is also home to the majority of LGBT bars and clubs, with many clustered around Virginia and Glasssford Street. The Polo Lounge (84 Wilson St, Glasgow, G1 1UZ; +44 141 553 1221; www.socialanimal.co.uk/GlasgowCityCentre/Polo_Lounge) is the classic choice – with a great dance floor to match, while Delmonica’s (68 Virginia St, Glasgow, G1 1TX; +44 141 552 4803; www.socialanimal.co.uk/GlasgowCityCentre/Delmonicas) caters to a slightly more masculine crowd. As for Bennets (80 Glassford St, Glasgow, G1 1UR; +44 141 552 5761; www.bennetsnightclub.co.uk) the city’s most famous venue, it’s the kind of place that you don’t kiss and tell about. Revolver (6A John St, Glasgow, G1 1JQ; +44 141 553 2456; www.revolverglasgow.com) on nearby John Street makes a conscious effort to shy away from the camp is king approach so often favoured by LGBT bars.

More expert advice on Glasgow

For suggestions on where to stay in Glasgow, see my Glasgow Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Glasgow page.

Read my nightlife overview on my Glasgow nightlife page.

mike.maceacheran

I am a freelance travel writer born in Glasgow and bred on deep fried Mars bars and Tennent's Lager. I have visited 80 countries and I have written for Esquire, Time Out, The Herald, The Scotsman, Sunday Herald, Scotland on Sunday, Geographical, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Sun, News of the World, Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Record, Sunday Mail, Business Traveller, CNBC Business, Holland Herald (KLM), Bangkok Post, Silver Kris (Singapore Airlines), South China Morning Post, TNT, Portfolio (Emirates), Etihad Inflight and Aspire (Etihad Airways), The National (UAE), Oryx (Qatar Airways), Fah Thai (Bangkok Airways), Gulf Life (Gulf Air), Discovery (Cathay Pacific), Premier (Barclays Bank), Zoo, Fall-Line Skiing, Seabourn Club Herald (Florida) and Get Lost (Australia) to name quite a few. I also used to write for The Times and The Independent.

A true Scottish patriot in every sense of the word – you won’t find any underpants beneath my kilt – I have wandered around Glasgow for 32 years spending every restless minute trawling the best bars and restaurants of the Merchant City and the West End, getting sweaty at the country’s best music venues (King Tut’s and the Barras for the uninitiated or inebriated) and shaking my head in disbelief while watching the national team play at Hampden. If I cut myself, I would bleed a sweet electric orange hue as my arteries are clogged with Scottish soft drink Irn Bru.
 

My Glasgow

Where I always grab a beer – Glasgow specialises in dark music bars pasted in posters and crammed full of rock’n’roll credentials, heavenly jukeboxes and bohemian clientele. In the city centre Nice’n’Sleazy, Republic Bier Halle, Brunswick Cellars, 13th Note, Moskito, Mono and King Tut’s are the places where you are most likely to find me nursing a pint of Belhaven Best.

My favourite stroll - Kelvingrove Park or the Royal Botanic Gardens in the West End of the city are perfect to clear your head from the night before or to laze around with a picnic before the night ahead. St Mungo’s Cathedral, Castle Street, and the nearby Necropolis are also recommended for contemplating God.

Fiction for inspiration – Alasdair Gray’s “Lanark” may not be light holiday reading but it’s one of Glasgow’s most praised literary works. For something a little more light-hearted, Christopher Brookmyre’s Glasgow crime novels are hard-boiled Raymond Chandler yarns deep fried in Scottish wit and banter. I’d opt for some of the late great Edwin Morgan’s stunning poetry.

Where to be seen – Princes Square shopping mall off of Scotland’s style mile Buchanan Street represents the Pearly Gates for those carrying a branded handbag but for student types and culture vultures, Byers Road (and its surrounding streets) is the Scottish equivalent of the Parisian Left Bank.

The most breathtaking view – Pointing into the sky like a shoddy compass needle, the Glasgow Tower at the Glasgow Science Centre will have a cracking view if it ever opens… The panorama from Park Terrace across to the Gothic spire of the University and the Kelvingrove Museum is also a cracker.

The best spot for some peace and quiet – The Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) on Royal Exchange Square is my favourite rainy day retreat. When the sun shines, go rummaging through the undergrowth with the wildlife in Pollock Park on the south side of the river.

Shopaholics beware – Glasgow has the largest concentration of shops of any city in the UK outside of London – so hold that credit card tighter than a hand grenade. Particular gems include humourous wallpapers from Timorous Beasties, vintage clothing from Felix and Oscar (both on Great Western Road), lost LPs from Mono (King’s Court) and designer fashion cuts in the hedonistic Princes Square. The Golden “Z”, encompassing Argyll, Buchanan and Sauchiehall Streets, has more gifts and goods than you could stick in your luggage in one trip, so it may be a better idea to just buy another suitcase while you’re at it. Bag and Baggage (Royal Exchange Square) should do nicely.

City soundtrack – As the UK’s first UNESCO City of Music, Glasgow has first class indie pop credentials and over the years has produced a multitude of top class talent. Take your pick from Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, Simple Minds, Del Amitri, Travis, Franz Ferdinand, Texas, Lulu, Paolo Nutini and Deacon Blue to name just a few. Belle and Sebastian’s “If you’re Feeling Sinister” is the perfect soundtrack for wandering around the tree-lined backstreets around the University of Glasgow. “Like Dylan in the Movies” used to soundtrack my walk from Hillhead station to early morning lectures.

Don’t leave without... visiting Charles Rennie Mackintosh at the Art School, wandering through the cloisters of the University of Glasgow, taking tea at Tchai Ovna, having an Irn Bru picnic in Pollok Park, watching an Old Firm football game at Ibrox or Celtic Park, eating fish’n’chips past midnight on Sauchiehall Street, taking in a gig at the Barras or King Tuts, seeing a show at the Tramway, feasting on fresh seafood at the Two Fat Ladies, sailing on the Tall Ship, exploring the House for an Art Lover, greeting Walter Scott on George Square, riding the Clockwork Orange…. In second thoughts, maybe you should just stay for a bit longer?