They say third time’s a charm. Glasgow’s Cafe Source number three, Nivens by Cafe Source, on Nithsdale Road, happens to ooze plenty of the stuff, which is in no small part due to a subtle design that’s wholly sympathetic to the building’s history. Plus co-owners Paul Laurie and Kenny Donachie’s latest offering dovetails with the rest of the family, Cafe Source Too in the west end and Cafe Source at St Andrew’s in the Square, without being copycat. This characterful B-listed building on Nithsdale Road is a premises that started life as a butcher’s shop (estimated to date back to the 1800s) then a car mechanics workshop called HG Nivens, hence the name, then a bar named Salisbury, and most recently it was a Chinese restaurant called Kowloon.
It’s a fairly compact space with a bar on the left as you enter from Nithsdale Road – there are two entrances, one on Nithsdale Road, and one on Nithsdale Street – with windows on either side, banquette seating, oak-top tables, exposed brickwork and metal work in what are effectively two areas, separated by a servery. There’s also a kitchen on the ground floor, with toilets and an office at basement level.
Conor McGeady is GM and he gave me the guided tour including dropping a few gems about the building’s history – and heritage swayed, shaped and guided this refurbishment. He said, “We had to work closely with Strathbungo Conservation Society.”
He continued, “There are many original features that have a lot of character, like the wood panelling on the wall which has been fully restored. We thought that the hoist on the ceiling of the venue dated back to the workshop days, whereas it was actually part of the butcher’s shop and its original sign above the Nithsdale Street entrance dates back to the 1800s and it took the guys two days to expose, which they did by dedicatedly chipping away at all the plaster and then applying a protective layer.”
The building that houses the bar tapers to a curved corner like a thumb, which is why it’s accessible from two sides, although currently it’s only the entrance next to the bar from Nithsdale Road that’s currently in use. Come next summer, Conor assured me, and the planned use of outdoor tables and chairs, the entrance on Nithsdale Street (below the butcher shop sign) will also be in use. The space is quite compact and the layout is the same as its previous life as a Chinese restaurant with the same bar and floor, yet the whole place has been given The Cafe Source treatment. Conor explained, “The bar is in the same place, but we polished up the tile front and exposed brickwork and added shelves. The parquet floor is also original, as are the metal stairs leading down to the toilets. These were sanded down, buffed up and then we add a non-slip material.”
I also managed to catch up with owner Paul Laurie who also explained a little more about how they arrived at the design and who was responsible for what. He said, “The design concept was a real collaboration between the architects and myself. For instance they came up with the colour scheme but they had to base it around the green mottled snakeskin wallpaper that I chose. I also sourced the vintage car seats from a company called Peppermill Interiors.”
The colour scheme is a dusty teal on the wood panelling and the banquette seating, which marries really well. The vintage car seats are more gun metal grey, and this is such a quirky touch that really suits the space and chimes with its history – plus they’re really really comfy. The oak wooden bar tops match the parquet flooring throughout and, together with the exposed brickwork and natural daylight and the exposed filament lighting and green snakeskin wallpaper that’d survive armageddon it’s so durable, shouldn’t perhaps work together on paper, but they actually do in reality. The illuminated back bar shelves on the exposed brickwork add a twinkly effect. Another great design feature, a legacy from the bar’s past, are the metal stairs down to the toilets, next to which are exposed bricks painted in black.
Finally, as Conor also explained, the cherry on top of the cake was the design seal of approval from a relative of the previous owners of the building, the Nivens family. The son of the original proprietor came along on the opening day plus his daughter sent Paul a message of congratulations – which was a real cracking endorsement.”