Design Focus: MacSorley’s

April 13th, 2017 | Posted in: Editors' Picks,Features

MacSorley’s on the corner of Glasgow’s Jamaica St near the River Clyde has been a legendary music venue in the city for decades. Sadly the much-loved pub had previously fallen into disrepair but now its thriving once again thanks to an investment by Punch and Mickey Mullan, the new publican at its helm.

A £250K makeover has given MacSorley’s a new, modern look but the original layout, bar and many original features remain. The concept for the redesign has been spearheaded by Iain Thomson and Alasdair Lindsay of Punch, the pubco which has owned the pub for many years. Iain Thomson told DRAM, “The idea was to drive the fact that there is now live music seven days a week, so myself and Alasdair wanted plenty of references, like The Jam lyrics on the walls and all the band posters.”

He added, “We wanted to keep all original features that customers love about MacSorley’s but make it look more modern and commercial. We’ve known the pub for years and known where it could sit in the market. It really was a personal project for us. We’re really happy to get it back to its former glory and to be working with Mickey Mullan. We think this to be a success for years to come.”

MacSorley’s officially opened January 24th after a five-week refurbishment. Mickey Mullan took over the pub last November and ran it for about six weeks prior to Iain and Alasdair’s vision for MacSorley’s being made into a reality by builders JD Thompsons and Glasgow design company Millsons Associates. Iain adds that a large chunk of the investment was spent laying the foundations to get MacSorley’s back to a fully-functioning bar, such as adding a new music stage and new flooring on both the ground floor and mezzanine section.

The space feels more bright and colourful thanks to an inviting colour scheme of varying shades of blue and turquoise which contrasts nicely with the original dark wood panelling on the walls and central horseshoe bar. The building’s cornicing, once cream, has been painted dark blue to highlight the original gold ceiling. While the original art deco chandeliers remain, new industrial style lighting has been installed throughout the pub, including oversized hanging silver metal light shades along the windows and unusual light features made from metal pipes and pressure gauges.

Throughout the venue, quirky and colourful upholstery is used on the booths and chairs in a vibrant and mismatched mix of orange, mustard, pink, eggshell blue, cream and burgundy. New cherry oak flooring has been put down in a herringbone pattern. Light concrete flagstones hug the floorspace around the bar. A raised seated area right of the main door has been kept and given a softer look with black and light brown carpeting in an alternating diagonal stripe design. There’s a mix of different stools used here and three long booths in more bright upholstery, including a fun design that features The Beatles on a mustard background on the far right booth.

The tables and chairs throughout the venue are mismatched, with four tables placed across the stage and in the space in front of it when there’s no live music playing to increase seated capacity during the day. The corner section on the far side off the bar under the mezzanine has new booth seating and soft lighting, which has made the area more attractive to customers who used to avoid it, says Mickey.

MacSorley’s Grade II listed horseshoe bar has remained largely unchanged. However a row of beer and ale taps custom designed for MacSorley’s by Molson Coors give it a more contemporary feel. The tall, black, cylinder shaped taps have a stylised white gramophone embossed on the bottom which is used on all the MacSorley’s branding, including the menus and exterior signage. The taps themselves serve a range of Scottish craft beer including Innis & Gunn, Brew Dog and WEST as well as several Scottish ales. A new beer fridge has also been installed, crammed full of craft beer offerings.

Long rectangular blackboards placed at the top of the gantry just below the mezzanine shout about MacSorley’s new and improved food and drinks offerings, including its range of 40 gins and “the largest nachos in Glasgow”. Below these blackboards is a new drinks shelf lined with whiskies that is lit from below to create an eye-catching feature.

Ringing true to its long history as a top gig venue, music also lies at the heart of the MacSorley’s redesign. A new slightly raised stage has been added left of the entrance opposite the bar, with huge speakers placed on either side. A column between the stage and bar has been plastered with black and white band and film posters created by local designer Social Recluse. These gig posters for bands like Blondie, The Beatles and Primal Scream which are also plastered across the walls on a staircase leading to the downstairs toilets, and there’s The Jam song lyrics running along the ceiling. These posters have beeb designed specifically for MacSorley’s and have nods to Glasgow, such as the Joy Division poster based on their original one for when they played at Glasgow Apollo. The toilets have been ripped out and refurbished with new tiles and paintwork in a fresh palette of white and light blue.

Back in the main bar, a large black and white, cinema-style light box created by CSI Signage mounted on the far wall reads “Welcome to MacSorley’s: Home of live music” and lists the upcoming DJs and bands. Artwork on the back above the stairs that lead up to the mezzanine seated section continue the theme: three colourful posters by Social Recluse depict guitars used by music legends during iconic Glasgow gigs, such as Johnny Marr of the Smiths’ Gibson ES-335 which he played at Glasgow Barrowlands.

But the most breathtaking and memorable design feature remains upstairs on the mezzanine. Former MacSorley’s employee/artist Chelsea Frew hand-painted a gorgeous black and white cityscape of Glasgow which stretches across the corner wall of the mezzanine while she worked for the pub. She was invited back by Punch during the redesign to touch up her artwork and to highlight other iconic Glasgow music venues dotted across the including the SSE Hydro and Glasgow Barrowlands. Owner Mickey Mullan told DRAM, “It took Chelsea two days to top up this fantastic piece of artwork. Tourists and regulars absolutely love it. It’s like our Mona Lisa.”

Three sections of booth seating in various sizes have been installed in the mezzanine to accommodate larger groups and there’s a row of stools lined along one end to give customers up here a good view of the stage. There’s also a camera here that relays recordings of the live music to TVs in the mezzanine so that those sitting in the booths won’t miss out.

Many original features like the bar and fireplace have been kept and lovingly restored where necessary. This threw up some exciting discoveries for the team at Punch, such as the original brass window frames on the buildings exterior. Iain adds, “We thought the framework on MacSorley’s decorative windows were black or dark wood but after they were given a proper clean and stripped back we uncovered these beautiful brass frames hidden away by decades of pollution. It was a brilliant find!” Chelsea Frew has also repeated sections of her Glasgow cityscape to the exterior, which has been given a slick new black and white look.

Mickey Mullan is thrilled with the redesign, which he says has been a huge hit with MacSorley’s regulars. He adds, “I couldn’t be more pleased. It is very modern but hasn’t stolen the original character of the pub.

“We said from the very start we are not going to pull any punches with what we’re doing here – we want to win awards! MacSorley’s is one of these places that has built up such a name for itself as doing live music but less people might think of it as a place to come in for food and drinks, we want to change that image.

That said, we’re now doing music seven nights a week that is going down really well. As pubs go, MacSorley’s is ‘The Barrowlands’ of Glasgow gig venues (bands like Glasvegas and KT Tunstall all started here) and we want that legacy to continue.”

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Mairi Clark

Mairi Clark

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