Craig Platt stumbles into a surprising venue in a city known for its toughness.
“Are you here for the fashion show?” she asks as I ascend the steps to the grand doorway of the venue.
“Unfortunately not,” I reply. But it is quite nice to be mistaken for a fashionista – perhaps two weeks on the road and several days without shaving, in addition to clothing that can kindly be described as 'rumpled', makes me look like I fit the bill. It's travel-writer chic.
I've just arrived at the newly opened Corinthian Club in the heart of Glasgow. For a town best known for traditional pubs and, more recently, grungy rock venues, the Corinthian is something of an anomaly.
A huge building split across five levels and 14 rooms, the Corinthian exudes the sort of opulence more associated with Monte Carlo than Scotland's largest city. The 169-year-old grand building has a fascinating history, including former incarnations as a bank, a court-house and the home of an 18th century tobacco lord.
Tonight, the venue is recovering from its grand opening the night before, when 2000 guests had their first opportunity to enjoy the 5.7 million pound ($A9.2 million) renovations.
I head past the velvet rope denying access to the fashion event upstairs and enter Tellers Bar and Brasserie, where I'm shown to a table in this vast, lavishly decorated space, which used to be the courthouse's courtroom. Indeed, there's still a staircase in the centre of the room that leads down to where the cells once were. Now, it's a way down to more dining and drinking options.
After an excellent rib-eye, I take a place at Tellers' Bar, where I note several of the fashionistas are stopping by for drinks before taking their place upstairs. I strike up a conversation with a young man who, by his eccentric dress style, is clearly part of the fashion scene (though just as obviously not a model). He tells me the event is a season launch for the retail chain House of Fraser and that he runs a model agency here in Glasgow.
Although I imply (perhaps strongly) that an invite upstairs might help with my research into the tourist delights of Glasgow, no invite is forthcoming.
In the end, it doesn't matter. When I return to the lobby the velvet rope has disappeared, so I simply put on a confident look and stride upstairs. Shortly afterwards I'm in the Charlie Parker's jazz bar, surrounded by some of Glasgow's most beautiful people. This sophisticated evening is not exactly what I expected when I headed to this city, that even as recently as September was written up in a Thomas Cook guide with a warning about violence and drunkenness (while also praising the locals' friendliness).
Glasgow has long held a reputation as a tough town, but like so many parts of the United Kingdom's north, it has been undergoing a resurgence in recent years. Glasgow will host the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and signs can be seen around the city, both literally and figuratively. Along the Clyde River, shiny new buildings have sprung up, including the exhibition centre and auditorium (affectionately known as 'the Armadillo', due to its metal shell-like exterior), the Science Centre and the newly relocated Museum of Transport (set to open as the Riverside Museum later this year).
Testament to its transformation, Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011 named it among its top 10 greatest city comebacks.
Its reputation as a centre for rock bands has been steadily growing, to the point that the UNESCO recognised the city as a world centre of music in 2008. (notable acts to come from the city include Franz Ferdinand, Primal Scream, Belle and Sebastian and Teenage Fanclub).
Aside from its music, pride also looms over Glasgow's legend of art and design – Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Born in 1868, Mackintosh studied at the Glasgow School of Art, where he returned in 1896 to create the school's impressive Mackintosh Building – an architectural space where every facet is conducive to either the viewing or creation of art.
Mackintosh was a modern Renaissance man – architect, painter, interior designer and carpenter. While his influence can be found in several buildings in Glasgow, his most prized works these days are his furniture. High-backed chairs, sharp lines with intricate flourishes on tables, cupboards and the like – the style took queues from Japan while mixing with modern European design trends. The result is both classic and slightly futuristic, which perhaps explains why his designs have been favoured by Hollywood art directors and featured in sci-fi films like Blade Runner and, more recently, Inception.
(Incidentally, the Japanese influence on Glasgow is apparent in one other aspect – the majority of pubs loudly trumpet their karaoke facilities, often found in the front bar, so passers-by can pass judgment.)
So important have Mackintosh's interior designs become that his home, demolished in 1963, has been painstakingly recreated, using many original furnishings, at the Hunterian Museum Art Gallery, part of the University of Glasgow.
Both the museum, art gallery and the university itself are all worth a visit. Like so many British universities, the University of Glasgow is an imposing, impressive building overlooking the city.
It also overlooks the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Scotland's most popular attraction (helped by the fact that admission is free). Built in Victorian times, the Kelvingrove is a beautiful building housing a bizarre mix of art and objects.
Among the paintings from around the world are stuffed elephants and giraffes, a RAF Spitfire and a working mechanical model of the solar system. Of the museum's reported 1.5 million items, just three per cent are on display at any time. It's a fascinating place and a nice taste of Victorian entertainments.
Back at the Corinthian, I'm enjoying more modern entertainments – the models and fashionistas shuffle into the adjacent room to watch the evening's musical guest, a local lass named Kelly Mack who has just released her debut single.
I kick back, enjoy the scenery and music and take in a pint or two. It's not exactly how I expected to spend a night out in Glasgow, but then it seems to be a city that is full of surprises.
The writer travelled as a guest of Visit Britain and AirAsia X.
AirAsia X flies daily to London via Kuala Lumpur from Melbourne, the Gold Coast and Perth. See www.airasia.com
Britain's National Rail Network has hourly trains between London's Euston Station and Glasgow Central (about 4 ½ hours travel time). Foreign visitors can book a Britrail pass, providing access to all trains in England, Scotland and Wales. Prices start from $225 for a three-day pass. See www.britrail.com
Radisson Blu Glasgow is centrally located, just across the road from Glasgow Central Station. Rooms from 120 pounds a night per couple. See www.radissonblu.co.uk/hotel-glasgow
The Corinthian Club is open daily, 7.30am-6am (11am-6am Saturday and Sunday). 191 Ingram Street, Merchant City, Glasgow. 0141 552 1101 www.thecorinthianclub.co.uk
If you're looking for a taste of Glasgow's rock scene, the legendary King Tut's Wah Wah Hut is the venue to head for. Although small, it has featured acts from Oasis to Crowded House and is known for playing host to 'the next big thing'. 272a St Vincent Street, Glasgow. See www.kingtuts.co.uk
Things to do
Mackintosh House and Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery. Located at the University of Glasgow, University Avenue, Hillhead district. Open 9.30am-5pm, Monday-Saturday. (Admission to Mackintosh House 3 pounds, museum and art gallery free) www.hunterian.gla.ac.uk
Glasgow School of Art. Tours run several times a day, seven days a week. Adults 8.75 pounds See www.gsa.ac.uk/gsa.cfm?pid=60 for details
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Argyle Street, Glasgow, is open daily from 10am-5pm (11am-5pm Friday and Sunday). Entry is free. See http://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/our-museums/kelvingrove/Pages/home.aspx
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