BY Susan Young
Walking into Mario Gizzi and Tony Conetta’s new Anchor Line Bar and Grill on St. Vincent Place it’s quickly apparent that the pair have paid homage to the building’s nautical theme. It was originally built in 1899 to house the eponymous Scottish shipping company, which was subsequently bought over by Cunard in 1911.
The Di Maggio Restaurant Group spent £1.5m on restoring the grade A1 listed building, which was purchased five years ago. The initial plan was to open much earlier. Says Mario, “Tony and I wanted to create Glasgow’s premier bar, and it took us slightly longer than anticipated, but we are delighted with the result. To be honest, The Anchor Line is Tony’s baby. He was inspired by bars in New York and London and he worked closely with CM Design who were responsible for the design.”
Many of the building’s original features have been kept due in part to the fact that it is listed and also to the duo’s intention to celebrate the history of the grand ocean voyages of the 1920s and 30s from Glasgow to New York which the original Anchor Line shipping company was famous for.
The walls are decorated with old shipping pictures including Anchor Line’s iconic marine-inspired advertisements and memorabilia from the company.
Lesley McKellar Annison, Senior Interior Designer at CM Design Consultants comments, “We have been working with Mario and Tony on the concept and design for the Anchor Line for a couple of years and are really pleased with the finished project. The former booking office for passengers sailing from Glasgow to New York has been restored and transformed into a fantastic bar and restaurant. We did a lot of research into the Anchor Line and its history and how we could re-create the 1920/30’s feel. The main structure and finishes where restored to their former glory from the marble floors and ornate cornicing to the grand exterior and the timber wall panelling.”
Tony adds, “Glasgow University Archive Department have been fantastic. They helped us to source the archive material which we have used. I think it is great that a bit of Glasgow’s history has been preserved and given a new audience.”
The Anchor Line is a big venue. In total it can hold over 220 covers, with 120 seated in the restaurant and 40 in a private dining room. While the bar can hold 60 covers. What strikes you is the quality of the restoration and the quality of the furniture and fittings. It’s pretty obvious no expense has been spared.
There are two entrances, although only one is being used permanently. It takes you into the bar, which is dominated by a striking rectanglular island bar which sits below a massive elaborate round cornice. The bar is made of marble. Not just the bar top but the bar’s base is marble too. The contrast of the Portoro Gold marble on the base, and the white Arabescato marble on top is striking. The structure which sits atop the marble bar is also impressive. Says Mario, “We nicknamed it ‘the cage.” The specially commissioned bronze framework has brass fittings while warm amber-coloured Murano-style glass has been used on the top. This not only adds a glow to the bar area, but is a striking feature of the room. The framework also acts as a back bar with glassware hanging from the frame and drinks bottles displayed prominently.
Lesley says, “We designed and detailed the fantastic island and restaurant bars, both of which look stunning. The custom designed fixed and booth seating with their fine detailing and contrasting leathers and fabrics sit well in the spectacular surroundings.”
Scattered the length of the bar are tall, leather-upholstered blood red bar stools,studded with old speckled studs, and throughout the building there are matching dining chairs to match – all supplied by BDP Furniture.
During the day you are aware that the bar and restaurant benefits from natural light from almost floor to ceiling windows. They are draped with cream voiles and framed with dress curtains that let in the light beautifully. Immediately to the left as you come in there are small round solid ash tables with small lamps on them, and comfortable olive leather tub chairs. This area appears to be more a place to while away the time with a cocktail or two, while olive leather-upholstered booths line either side of the bar and are bordered with fabric which includes the colours gold, silver and black. The walls are littered with Anchor Line memorabilia – beautifully framed old posters, original postcards and photographs of passengers and ships, old menus, original cutlery and ship captains brass buttons .
The black and white marble flooring which runs from the entrance to beyond the bar, has been completely restored and is quite beautiful, as is the ornate carved fireplace which features the original Anchor Line logo. The intricate cornicing on the roof is quite spectacular and has been left plain white. In fact when you look at the bar itself it appears that it is suspended from the ornate ceiling rose. The wall panelling is painted a warm, neutral grey and this is continued onto the custom designed folding doors, which divide the main area from the private dining room at the rear. As you might expect, a room of this stature also boasts marble pillars which add emphasis to its historical roots.
All the fixed seating, and there is quite a bit of it, was done by Dimension, and feels and looks luxurious. The long areas of fixed seating are interspersed with elbow rests – just like you get in prestige cars. The fixed seating is primarily the same blood-red although the three main booths in the restaurant are also the olive colour.
Lighting too is varied. Lesley comments, “The lighting was a crucial part of the overall design as we were limited by the Grade A Listed interior. We wanted to emphasise the ornate plaster cornice and frieze and create a warm glow throughout all the individual areas. The bespoke, feature pendants and table lights have the look of fittings that have been there since the days of the booking office.”
To the rear of the main bar there is a piano, and a substantial area which differs from the main bar mainly because it has a striking black and cream carpet. It is has booths along one side, self-standing tables down the middle and fixed seating to the far side. Mario comments, “We didn’t have the booths in originally and have just added them. It’s always the same when you open a new place, sometimes on the plans it looks different. This area is used for diners that are using the bar menu.
To the rear of the bar and to the left the flooring changes to dark parquet flooring and this leads into the large restaurant which features a large open kitchen where the hustle and bustle of the chefs mingles with the chat of the diners.
The restaurant has its own bar, which you can’t miss. This is a smaller version of the main bar and sits alongside a wood panelled wall. It may be smaller than the original however it is not small by another other standard, and it is also made of matching marble, and has a spectacular back gantry with the same Murano-style glass.
A central reservation is flanked on either side by tables but the very front of the restaurant boasts two circular booths which can take around ten people, and there is a similar booth at the opposite end. There’s is also a second fireplace in the restaurant beside a maitre d’ station.
Tony comments, “I think the bar is amazing. It looks the part – I wanted it to reflect the style of the Prohibition era of the 1930’s and I think it does just that. When you walk into the bar, even if it is empty, it has a cracking atmosphere.”
Says Mario, “We wanted to create best high-end bar in Glasgow and I think we have achieved that. That doesn’t mean to say we won’t be tweaking things, we already are. Since we have opened we have been busy beyond our expectations and we have been changing our design slightly to ensure that our customers needs are met. In the next few weeks you will see some further changes with large sofa’s being introduced in the bar.”
Lesley concludes, “The finished design is in the fine detail throughout. The reclaimed trunks at the doorway, the custom Anchor Line clock on the wall, the ships names on the ornate frieze. Every time you visit there is something else that will catch your eye.”
It strikes me that the Henderson Brothers who originally commissioned the building would be very impressed by the look and feel of The Anchor Line. I certainly am.