Design feature: Ralph & Finns

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Some might say that the 2020 Scottish Bar & Pub awards Lifetime Achievement recipient Alan Tomkins took a risk by spending £600k refurbishing and rebranding popular Glasgow institution Urban Brasserie as Ralph & Finns during a global pandemic. But he’s always been a confident and instinctive operator and when it opened last month early indications were that he was right to go with this impulse because the whole project, designed by Mark Brunjes of CM Design had been a triumph and was very well received by customers before it had to shut for the second lockdown.

The entire project took from 1st September and was ready by the end of October. The bar has been moved and there are now various rooms off the central area – The Whisky Room, The Board Room and The Garden Room with the main structural change being the move of the bar from to the left as you enter to pride of place in the centre of the space.  All your brain tells you when you walk in is ‘wow, wow, wow’ because this is a stunning redesign.

Said Mark Brunjes,  “Spending that much money in this current climate shows how upbeat Alan is about the future of the hospitality industry.

“I had never been to Urban Brasserie before and when I did The Anchor Line for Mario Gizzi and Tony Conetta, it was general knowledge that a lot of Urban Brasserie’s clientele crossed the road to the Anchor Line and I can remember feeling a bit bad about this at the time. But what we have done with Ralph & Finns has caused them to cross back over the road again – and I think that it will continue to turn heads. I had the pleasure of taking some potential clients for lunch and both the food and service were of a very high standard.”

And there was one key factor that Mark felt was lacking in its former incarnation.

He explained, “There was a lack of LED strip lighting in Urban Brasserie which can lift a place and create atmosphere and Ralph and Finns has concealed LED in the gantry and behind mirrors etc. helping to create atmosphere and mood.“

One of Alan Tomkins’ other objectives by redesigning was to throw the appeal of the unit open to a wider demographic and make it more multifunctional.

Said Mark, “Alan wanted to redesign to appeal to a wider section of customers and we achieved this with a lot of different spaces and rooms and I suggested individual designs for each space that all flow together. The Whisky Room, The Board Room, and the Garden Room have all been designed to gel together and Alan’s delighted with the outcome.”

Alan’s daughter Emma MacSween and husband Andy co-manage Ralph & Finns (see this month’s licensee interview) and along with Alan, they’ve been involved every step of the way had nothing but positive feedback from customers about the end result.

Said Emma, “The feedback has been absolutely amazing. Because we were in here every day seeing it evolve you know it looks great but it’s when people come in and say ‘oh my goodness it’s unreal’, and they don’t know where to look it’s made it all worth it. It has been really exciting to watch and show people around.”

Said Andy, “ We could have given Urban a facelift that people might not notice but when you come in you can’t help but notice.”

And, according to Emma, a facelift was the original idea before the project under the guidance of father Alan began to grow arms and legs.

She said, “It did start that way, as a facelift.  Then we’d come in and my dad was moving the bar and it grew and grew from there. It was at the point when everything was in a skip on the street when we thought, ‘Okay we are going for this.’

“My dad is very positive and is really excited about the last few months and this has given him something to focus on.”

And the appeal of the place looks to have definitely broadened out as customers were coming in dressed up for the weekend, for a casual lunch, or a private room.

Why was it called Ralph & Finns?  Said Emma, “I’m laughing because we don’t have a very good story about that.  It’s basically two people’s names that influenced part of the design. They don’t know each other. We just liked the name. That’s it really.

“Once it’s out there it’s just a name and when we starting seeing the branding that also reaffirmed that we had made the right choice. We did think at one stage that perhaps we should keep the Urban Brasserie name but once the design evolved, it became clear we should be renaming it.

“Many customers have told us that they have all been taken out of Glasgow because the interior design reminds them of bars all over the world and I love this. Mark Brunjes is amazing. All his designs are so different.  I gave him mood boards and Mark joined it all together and he took it to a different level. He also has such great attention to detail and the customers love this aspect too.“

By Jason Caddy





Category: News
Tags: Alan Tomkins, Andy MacSween, Emma MacSween, Glasgow, Ralph and Finns, Urban Bar and Brasserie