DESIGN FOCUS: VIRGINIA Gin Bar and Rotisserie

Virginia Panorama Indo opt

Down in Glasgow’s Merchant City at Virginia Court, a new bar and rotisserie has opened. This new haunt, owned by Paul Reynolds, is the next venture in a journey that includes Cup in Byres Road, and Gin71 on West Regent Street.

Operating as Cup during the day and turning into Virginia from 5pm, this new bar and restaurant are probably unique in Glasgow, in that the main staple, is chicken.  But I will come back to that.

Paul Reynolds is no stranger to hospitality and he has shown over the past few years that he has his finger on what is trending.  When he opened Cup on Byres Road as a tea room it was as afternoon tea and cupcakes were taking off. Today, between his Cup and Gin71 he is selling 50,000 afternoon teas a year, 100,000 cupcakes and 70,000 scones. He has proved just as successful with his second addition which opened in 2012 Gin71, this too operates as a Cup during the day and evolving into a gin bar at night.

Says Paul, “We opened up Cup on Renfield Street in 2012, with the plan of doing a dessert restaurant at night-time.  But we were a bit ahead of the curve. I had seen them opening up around the world, and I wanted to offer really amazing desserts, and I had an amazing pastry chef at the time. Customers came in and said the loved it, but I couldn’t get the volume.”As a result, the bar evolved into a Gin bar, and today it is known for the breadth of its gin selection, which brings us to his latest offering.

IMG_20150922_174849-2_optVirginia is a spacious modern unit with a glass frontage and a rustic feel inside. Exposed ducting is covered in Ivy. Paul comments, “We have used live Ivies, and they will grow down.” He continues, “We needed to create a space here that was a destination venue. This court,  unless you are walking through, you wouldn’t know was here.  We spent around £120K on the fit-out and we have designed this in-house.  We can still change things, but it’s 95% right. I think we have designed a bar that is easy for bartenders to work in and the kitchen too.”

As you come into Virginia – the main body of the bar is to the right, while on the left there is a staircase with a huge statement wall of grass, with a showpiece clock. Downstairs there is a large area which will be used for private functions and as an overspill from upstairs. It boasts its own bar, wooden floors, and the same rustic furniture and exposed ducting as upstairs. The point of difference here is the bartop has copper coins embedded in it.
Says Paul, “We looked at what was trending with regard to the design details. That’s why we have used the copper and greenery ideas. Both of our other venues are a bit more formal. Here it was about making it much trendier for a younger market. We used Copper in the bartop, the lights, and where we can while the dark wallpaper and the greenery adds depth.  The rustic tables fitted in with what we are doing here. This is a more casual offering. You can come here for a coffee or a gin, and with a group of friends. We didn’t want a nice polished table where you could see all the marks, this look fits in with our food offering. ”

The leather-like semi-fixed seating can all be moved around, which means the layout of the bar can be altered easily, and the mix of round rustic tables and small booths, allow for large and small groups of customers.  The windows all have blinds looking out into the internal and external space. You can imagine that in the summer the outside area will be a real draw for customers.

The bar, as you would expect, is full of gin. Paul describes it as a ‘library of gin’. He continues, “We are trying to make sure we put the right products in front of our customers. They are relying on us to educate them. We still sell more Hendricks than anything else, but Isle of Harris gin is our second best seller. It is a beautiful gin. The flavour profile is really well balanced.”

So to the Rotisserie side of the business. The menu here is very straight forward… there is a whole chicken, a half chicken and a quarter… with various sides from chips to mac and cheese.  Says Paul,

virginia coins_opt“It is a simple offering from the food point of view. But I wanted to offer really great chicken, rather than dilute it by having a massive menu. We could easily have done non-free range chickens, but here it is about quality and the chicken tastes so different. We sourced our chickens from Gartmorn Farm, and I went there to see how it operated. For me, it is more about the quality. They are not mass produced and have got great flavour. We are not suggesting you have a whole chicken to yourself, it’s all about sharing. Some people even share a quarter chicken and some sides. After all our whole chickens are 1.8kg. Fraser who is our head chef is fantastic. For instance for two weeks before we opened we were running chickens through the rotisserie trying to get the profile right. We partially steam them in our Rationale oven before putting them on the Rotisserie – and we get a lovely moist chicken.”  He continues, “It’s a bit like Paesono’s model, they only offer great pizza’s, and deliver them quickly. We can have our food out really quickly too.”

Certainly Paul is obviously bringing all aspects of his hospitality experience to his company. He told me he started out working at Rogano when he was at Uni while Gordon Yuill was there and then moved into hotels working at The Albany when it was owned by Intercontinental, before moving to Marriot where he was Regional Director for the Midlands, before becoming head of agency sales for the group. His last job for Marriot was running its private members club at 47 Park Street, Mayfair in 2008. Situated below the club, which was aimed at high worth individuals, was Le Gavroche, where he now takes his staff he on pilgrimage twice a year to see ‘great service’.

Says Paul, “I got to know Michel Roux when I worked for Marriott, they were the restaurant’s landlord. And when we are there we take the Chef’s table and Michel takes care of us. I also take my team to Artesian see what new sprits they have on offer and how are people mixing. While last year two of my managers went to New York. They had to eat afternoon tea everywhere and drink in the best bars. They came back exhausted.”  Obviously Paul has brought to his business a lot of the corporate ethos from Marriott, he says, “I still think they are the best hotel company in the world to work for. They treat their staff with real respect and that is what I try to do too.” But it was after leaving Marriott and doing an MBA in Boston through the Saltire Foundation, of which is now a Fellow, that he used the entrepreneurial skills he had learned to set up his own business.

Says Paul, “For the past eight years that I had worked for Marriott I commuted between Scotland and England. And after doing my scholarship I did briefly go back into the corporate world with Regis, but after six-weeks I realised that the corporate world was not for me any longer. I have never looked back.”
He certainly hasn’t and he is currently trying to source his fourth venue. Says Paul, “I have an agent on the look-out for premises in Edinburgh.”