Design Focus: Bennets

Bennets

Bennets, on Glasgow’s Glassford Street, is Scotland’s oldest gay club and was just about ready to receive the last rites before divine intervention came in the form of Lynnet Leisure, in the spring of this year. The club was almost a rite of passage for gays of a certain age, but neglect meant it was no longer the hotspot it once was. But a few brushstrokes here and there, new lighting and imagination, Lynnet has awakened this gay giant before he permanently nodded off.
And it is in a safe pair of hands – those of manager, Paul Stirrat. He says, “I am a Bennets’ boy. I came here in my youth and I see the refit as giving a dear old friend a bit of TLC. There are an estimated 117,000 gay people in the greater Glasgow area, and only a fraction of them venture out, and we want to turn that around by enticing them out into a club they knew and loved. This is, after all, a credible clubbing destination with a history and a lot of affection among Scotland’s gay community. And with 28 new CCTV cameras, our customers’ safety is a top priority.”
The first thing that has changed is the exterior. Where once there was a horrendous etched stone carving of something resembling a Roman god – nicknamed Pug – are some sleek and more sophisticated grey tiles. The front door and surrounds have all been painted in gunmetal grey too, putting paid to what was a fairly shabby and uninspired frontage. Explains Paul, “We wanted to try and create a New York vibe, like a warehouse club you’d come across in the Meat Packing district.” There are also under-pavement lights through the old clear drain covers which change colour.
Once inside, there’s a long tunnel corridor with an arched ceiling, embedded with up-lighters that also change in colour. This simple yet effective design provides a bit of a clue as to what Lynnet has done further into the club and, again, this space is a world away from drab and unimaginative blue painted walls. At the very end of the space is where you pay to get in, and further still, a circular area, previously a dead space, now brought back to life as a mini internet cafe with the addition of computers and stools on a wall-shelf, with free Wi-Fi available throughout the building.
Beyond this is a cloakroom, to the right of which is a staircase with a half landing, which has a glass window on to the first floor bar. It affords you a bum-level view of the bar and was part of the original design, only now with all new ‘Bennets’ etched across the glass in big grey letters. On the way up the stairs are gilt-edged framed posters advertising of all the seven nights of entertainment the new Bennets has on offer.
I was immediately struck by how fresh and new the club felt, and it’s all down to relatively few tweaks here and there. The brown walls are no more, replaced by the gunmetal grey colour scheme. There are reupholstered banquettes all around in black leather, but the dance floor remains in the middle of the space, sandwiched between two bars. Glasgow-based Glass Age has provided small mosaic mirrored tiles that you’d ordinarily associate with a glitter ball, but instead they have been used on all the walls that house the dance floor, surrounding pillars etc. It looks great and really lifts the place in amongst all the grey walls and black leather. This space is split level – by three steps – and both levels are served by their own bar.
The first bar is now a Moet Chandon Champagne Bar, with a brand new illuminated gantry and new white bar front, which is also down lit. This is what you can see through the window from the stairs and it’s nothing like the Bennets of old would have ever considered. It works a treat. It’s in a corner so the back bar is shelved in white with some Perspex additions that change colour and it’s another oasis of colour in amongst the grey. There are still some seats near to the bar that are currently upholstered in snake skin, but they’ll soon be changed to white leather, to chime with the bar.
The second, larger bar on this floor has received much the same treatment, although it’s not Moet-sponsored. The main difference is that there’s a chainmail backdrop which shimmers when a bottle is removed. From a distance, it looks like a water feature, and both bar fronts have what looks like the top of a Christmas cake as bar fronts. Like thick icing, painted brilliant white and illuminated in changing hues. Paul took me through all the various colours and it’s such an effective way to change the look and feel of the place – and ideal for the many theme nights they are planning.
Upstairs, via a new huge gilt-edged mirror hanging on the wall, is the second floor. This has been given much the same treatment, although it varies slightly in layout, with one bar and a larger dance floor. But in essence the same formula of grey painted walls, a deep clean and mood-lighting, all conspire to give this floor a much-needed facelift, too. The other main difference is the flooring. Downstairs are stone tiles, and upstairs is a kind of rubberised lino – reminiscent of a sports centre or swimming pool. I should also say that this is phase one of the refit and for phase two, a completely new sound and lighting system is planned.
There’s no doubt that Bennets needed this shot in the arm and Glasgow, quite rightly for its size and status, at long last has another credible gay clubbing destination, other than its arch nemesis round the corner. Let battle commence.

Category: Features
Tags: bennets, caddy, club, gay, Glasgow, jason