Design focus: Down Dog

It’s a case of old dog, new tricks at award-winning Glasgow cocktail bar, Blue Dog, which has recently expanded with a new downstairs bar, appropriately named Down Dog.

Since it first opened on West George Street in 2003, Blue Dog has been a long-time hot spot for cocktail lovers, and is still packed every weekend, to the point where getting a seat or spot at the bar can be a monumental challenge. It’s won Disaronno Cocktail Bar of the Year at the Scottish Bar and Pub Awards for the past two years for good reason.

While General Manager Matt Ronald admits that’s nothing to complain about, he says that opening a new bar downstairs was always on the cards and is a smart move, as space has always been a premium in Blue Dog.

Luckily, there’s a new addition to the pack. Down Dog has found a home in a former storeroom and office space downstairs from Blue Dog, with a bright pink neon sign on the stairway highlighting its presence. Around 40% smaller than the main bar, Down Dog seats 40 and has a capacity of approximately 65.

Matt explained, “I’ve been here eight years and ever since I started I’ve always thought this space had potential. Blue Dog is renowned for being tricky to get a seat or space at the bar so we’ve had plans for a new bar for the last few years, and officially applied for planning in 2015.

“The whole idea behind it was to have a space that was different to upstairs but you still felt you were in Blue Dog, so we didn’t want to be too detached from it.”

Matt added, “We’re lucky to have the same designers on board that did upstairs, so they’ve used similar natural materials and low lightings, but have given Down Dog it’s own individual identity. It was the owner’s wife who came up with the name Down Dog and we’ve decided on a logo of a dog doing the downward facing dog yoga pose.”

Despite being an extension of Blue Dog, Down Dog has its own distinct identity. The small space has a cool, comfortable, laid-back vibe but also feels opulent thanks to a stylish design and refurbishment led by Michael Dunn, who designed the original Blue Dog.

The refurbishment took around five weeks to complete, resulting in a chilled out, stylish space with a muted grey colour scheme which emphasises the bronze, gold and brass tones used across the walls, upholstery and lighting. Low lighting and plenty of natural materials also gives the bar some added character and comfort.

As you might expect, Down Dog has its very own bar placed left of the entrance. While smaller than the one upstairs, it offers the same Blue Dog cocktail menu, along with a slightly reduced spirit and draught beer selection – a stylish metal beer tap at the end of the bar serves Heineken and Caledonian Brewery’s Coast to Coast on draught.

The bar itself is an eye-catching feature, with it’s gleaming black granite bar top and reclaimed wood panels, finished with a grey stain, used on the bar front and the walls on either side. On the bar, these panels are lit from above to highlight the textures and knots in the wood.

The star of the show though is the beautiful design feature on the back bar, created by the designers. On the wall between two rows of tall, wood shelving painted grey with mirrored backs, sits a diamond patterned mosaic of rectangular ceramic, wood and mirrored tiles in a mix of white, black, light grey, brown and charcoal. It’s lit by a row of four hanging glass and brass spherical light fittings, joined by two steampunk-style, upright metal wall lights on the right-hand side of the bar.

In fact, the light fittings used throughout are an eclectic mix of industrial and retro styles, from copper desk lamp-style shades attached to the ceiling, which can be angled to create more or less light, to a small, industrial and minimalist metal chandelier hanging above a large ten-seater square booth.

Banquette and booth seating is used throughout to maximise the space, paired with seven dark mahogany tables and a few seats with burgundy faux leather upholstery. The banquette seating on the left side of the bar is finished in gold, standing out against the dark grey wall above it, on which there’s a sequence of three shutter style wooden strips and three stylish black and brass wall lights. Elsewhere, grey banquette seating punctuated with brass studs has been given a golden sheen to it. The same effect is mirrored in the wallpaper used above the large booth by the bar, designed to look like charcoal grey and gold marbled tiles.

A large grid of square mirrors with dark wood frames has been used on the wall opposite the bar, while three large circular mirrors sit on the adjacent wall in gold frames, set on square panels of the same colour, placed alongside large grey marble tiles streaked with white.

A thick square column to the right of the bar’s entrance, which has marble and mirror panels, boasts a large speaker. This pumps through music from the upstairs bar, ensuring that Down Dog customers don’t miss out on any live music being played in Blue Dog. “That was important, and the acoustics are actually better downstairs,” observes Matt.

Matt says Down Dog is currently only open during busy periods like Friday and Saturday nights but is also an ideal space for private functions – a feature Blue Dog was unable to fully offer before. When it’s closed, two large, black mesh sliding doors allow customers heading to the downstairs toilets to see inside.

Matt added, “We’re only opening on busy times because we didn’t want to dilute upstairs. The good thing about Blue Dog is that even when you have 20 people in, it feels busy and has a good atmosphere.

“We wanted Down Dog to be a good cosy, defined space that has a sense of privacy, meaning we can offer cocktail master-classes and hire the space out for private functions. It’s worked out really well.”