Why book the Grand Central?
No other hotel in Glasgow is more intimately connected to the city than this one, physically, socially, sentimentally. The location – its walls form two sides of the Central Station – is unique. On an average non-pandemic-struck weekday up to 120,000 people pass through its luminous skylit concourse. From certain places inside the hotel (the Champagne bar on the entresol level, rooms 110-114 and 210-214 on the first and second storeys) this quotidian carnival of comings and goings is entirely visible. The energy is palpable without being intrusive.
Set the scene
In a curious way, the Grand Central exists as much for Glaswegians as it does for visitors. Most locals will have had something to do with it – they will have had a drink or dinner there, attended a wedding reception or a work event, have looked up to check the time on its splendid clock tower that rises high over the main entrance on the corner of Gordon and Hope streets. Many city-centre hotels exist in isolation from their surroundings, full of people from elsewhere. The Grand Central is not like that. It is Glasgow in miniature.
What’s the backstory?
Like the city itself, the hotel has been through more than its fair share of ups and downs since it opened in 1883. In its heyday, it hosted captains of industry, royalty (rock’n’roll and otherwise) and Hollywood megastars. (Roy Rogers even checked in with Trigger. The photographs of the fully duded-up cowboy signing the guest register with his loyal palomino looking patiently over his shoulder are even more extraordinary than those, presumably taken shortly afterwards, showing the unlikely couple making their way up the broad staircase, side by side, almost, you might say, romantically, like honeymooners.) By the 1990s, however, the hotel had become shamefully run down. A programme of rehabilitation began with a change of ownership in the early 2000s. It was acquired by the InterContinental Hotels Group in 2018 and, after further renovation, reopened under their Voco brand name in 2021.
What can we expect from the rooms?
Comfortable, contemporary, yet retaining enough of their Victorian swank (and quirks) to lift them out of the ordinary. The views are always interesting. Rooms on the upper storeys looking down onto the station roof are perhaps most startling of all – the roof is a beguilingly beautiful mosaic of 37,000 angled panels, a translucent sea of glass. At the time of writing, the three largest suites – on the first storey – were still under renovation but shaping up nicely. These are named in honour of John Logie Baird (who demonstrated the first long-distance television transmission in a room in the hotel in 1927), John F Kennedy (though in fact he only stayed for lunch) and the building’s architect, Sir Robert Rowand Anderson (who, in addition to this hotel, designed the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh and Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute, each a masterpiece of its kind). The management might consider redressing the gender imbalance by naming other rooms after some of the hotel’s eminent female guests – Mae West and Vivien Leigh among them.
How about the food and drink?
The hotel has a distinguished history in this respect, too. The original dining room was a place of stupendous proportions and considerable glamour. (It is now used for events.) From the 1920s until the 1970s the hotel’s Malmaison restaurant – ‘the Mal’ – was one of the best restaurants not only in Scotland but in all Britain. The site it occupied is currently in limbo. It will be interesting to see what happens next. The Glasgow foodie scene is booming and there is a fantastic opportunity to do something special with this storied space. Meanwhile, the hotel’s equally well-loved champagne bar, Champagne Central, is doubling as the restaurant, serving an interim menu of small plates and sharing platters.
What’s the neighbourhood scene like?
Over the centuries, Glasgow’s centre shifted gradually westwards from its medieval cathedral precinct to… well, here. It remains a compact city, and, though other suburban hubs have sprung up, the area around Central Station still feels like town; the thick of it. It is difficult to account for its crazy mixture of splendour and scuzziness to those who have not seen it, or who only wish to see the scuzziness. Within two or three minutes’ walk from the front door of the Grand Central are some of the finest buildings in Britain and some of the ugliest; venues and institutions that have nurtured the best of popular and high culture; the offices of companies that helped define the course of history; betting shops and sectarian drinking dens; ornamental details in stone and glass and iron as delicious as anything in Rome or Vienna or New Orleans; signs of long-term neglect and indifference as depressing as anything in Delhi or Detroit.
Anything to say about the service?
Warm, friendly, without starch. Very Glaswegian. Though the hotel no longer offers a dedicated concierge service as such, there is a wealth of expertise and experience among the front-of-house staff, several of whom are concierge-trained and one of whom, Alan McDougall, is a longstanding member of the prestigious Les Clefs d’Or association of top-notch concierges.
Is it suitable for families?
The hotel’s 16 ‘double-double’ rooms are terrific for families – or in any case for families whose children are still young enough to prefer being near their parents to having a room of their own next door or across the corridor. In-room tepees are available, as are low-sugar, kid-friendly snacks and – brilliantly – animal-themed toiletries and bathrobes, so that nobody need envy mum and dad’s conventional fluffy white numbers.
How’s its eco effort?
All the bedding is made from recycled plastic – pillows, duvets, mattresses. You would never know unless you asked. Purified water is provided in glass bottles. Bathroom minis have been banished in favour of larger refillable containers.
What’s its accessibility for those with mobility impairments like?
The lobby is smoothly accessible from the concourse entrance and all public areas can be reached by lift. There are four specially equipped bedrooms, three with accessible shower, one with accessible bath, all with grab rails, emergency pull cords and wheelchair-height peepholes in the door.
Anything left to mention?
The blown-open books and upside-down typewriters stuck to the walls of the anterooms on either side of the champagne bar are, to this reviewer at least, a baffling and regrettable design goof. As if there had been an explosion in a secretarial college. Direct your gaze instead towards the gigantic globe chandelier above the bar itself, a glitterball de luxe that might almost serve as a civic emblem, suspended between a gold-leaf-encrusted ceiling and a fine marble floor, while at neighbouring tables bold laddies ply bonny lassies with fizz and blether, and wee wise grannies who’ve heard all that before make quick work of their Porn Star Martinis, and outside the currents of a great city go swirling by.
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