Stroll down Argyle Street into the heart of Finnieston nowadays and you’re met with an almost bewildering choice of venues. From the trendy to the traditional, the extravagant to the minimalist, the food-focused to the alcohol-oriented.
The Holy Grail for the area’s proprietors is surely to combine as many of these attributes as possible in one unit, but it’s easier said than done.
However, by transforming Neighbourhood Bar & Kitchen into Taphouse Bar & Kitchen – completely revamping the décor, menu and drinks selection in the process – owner Phil McDonald believes he may have done just that.
Following a whirlwind 11-day refurb masterminded by Stephen Paterson of Burns Design and carried out by GID Contracts, Phil set himself a financial target for the period immediately after his April 27th re-opening, and totally smashed it – to borrow his own phrase.
He said, “I’ve got to be honest, it’s been phenomenal. We had a great atmosphere on the 27th, with a DJ playing, an Edinburgh Beer Factory pig-nose van outside and loads of invited guests. The instant feedback from people who had seen it as Neighbourhood was that we’d done a fantastic job.”
Unsurprisingly given the quick turnaround and high-quality finish, Phil is effusive in his praise of GID, Russell Aitken Decorators and all those involved in the revamp.
“It went exceptionally well, it probably couldn’t have gone any better. Any future stuff I do renovation-wise I would definitely use GID again.”
Phil, a former head chef who’s worked in and ran outlets all over Glasgow, from Giffnock to Shawlands to Princes Square, went on to explain the logic behind the change.
“I wanted to take the bar in a new direction. Although I liked the concept of Neighbourhood, I felt like with the way Finnieston has become, and also what I wanted to do with the bar, I wanted to be more craft beer-focused, more high-end products, possibly take out some of the major brands and replace them with some smaller ones. I really wanted a wow factor, and although my wife Giovanna, who co-owns the bar, was averse to me changing the name, I wanted a whole new concept on the street.
“Finnieston is full of tremendous restaurants, but bar-wise I felt it was missing a wee trick, which is why we put high-level seating in. I want it to be distinct, to be known as a bar but have a good food offering, rather than being a restaurant where you can come in and have a drink. We were always strong on our burgers, so I’ve increased the range of burgers and we now do hot dogs and suchlike, more pizzas”
Phil’s main specification in terms of design was “an open, airy space”, and that’s certainly what you find when you step inside the premises at 1046 Argyle Street. Small yet significant touches like sanding the floor and installing vintage Edison bulbs make a big difference in that regard, as has knocking through the wall that separated the main area from the section housing two large booths. A flash of pink neon lures you towards the bar, where you find an eclectic selection on tap – including The Edinburgh Beer Factory’s award-winning lager Paolozzi – a large collection of rums and an even larger offering of gins, entailing over 25 varieties from all over the world.
“Stephen (Paterson) is a great help to me because he’ll see things that I maybe don’t,” Phil remarked. “I throw my own bits in; I wanted the hanging gantry, the neon behind the bar, reclaimed tabletops and scaffolding, brick slips, a corrugated bar front, the floor sanded to brighten up the place. I think it’s good for an owner to have their own ideas, but it’s also important to have a professional onboard.”
As a fully paid-up member of the ‘here before it was cool’ club, he and Giovanna having established Neighbourhood over eight years ago, Phil understands that nailing it in Scotland’s answer to Shoreditch is as much about creating a vibe as it is trendy touches like baconnaise and exposed brickwork.
“I was keen to attract a younger demographic but not alienate what I already had, and a couple of regulars have said we’ve achieved that,” he added. “I’ve noticed the age group of people coming in on Friday and Saturday nights has come down. The youngsters will feel it’s hip enough, the older people feel it’s comfortable enough.”
But what of the future?
“I’ll always look at new opportunities, but I’d rather get this unit like a slick operation before I can even think of doing something else,” Phil concluded. “What I don’t want is to lose what we have. Some will slip away, that’s the nature of the beast, but I think we will maintain a lot of these people.”
And with that I headed back down Argyle Street in the rain, reassured that I won’t find it quite so difficult deciding where to go when next in Finnieston.