The Skinny Guide to Merchant City & Trongate

Our guide to the lavish and fancy Merchant City, and its creative and adventurous neighbour in the Trongate

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 22 Nov 2021
  • Tron Theatre

Many sides of Glasgow rub up against one another in this corner of town. The lavish architecture of the Merchant City points to the prosperity of Victorian-era Glasgow, a wealth that the city is just beginning to reckon with given it was built off the back of the slave trade. Today the area, home to fashion boutiques and fancy cocktail bars, acts as the unofficial poster boy for the city; if you’ve ever seen a Visit Glasgow ad, chances are shots of this neighbourhood’s palatial streets and well-heeled revellers were included.

Marketeers rarely point their cameras south to Trongate, however. The link between the shopping thoroughfare of Argyle Street and Glasgow Cross, the historic gateway into Old Glasgow, this is where the city’s capitalistic excess recedes, giving way to the more authentic side of town. As with many cities, it’s here, in the neglected corners, that artists have made their home, with some of Glasgow’s most creative venues, most adventurous galleries and most-loved independent shops found in the streets sandwiched between Trongate, Saltmarket and the Clyde.

Merchant City

Once the haunt of Tobacco Barons like John Glassford and Archibald Ingram (whose names still adorn Merchant City’s two chief thoroughfares), this part of town now specialises in designer clothing stores, cocktail bars and high-end restaurants. But in among the flash are some of Glasgow’s hippest food and drink destinations. For example, no trip to this part of town should be complete without a stop at Paesano (94 Miller St). This Napoletana pizza place is always hopping, with its wood-fired ovens throwing out the tastiest pizzas in the city (arguably the country). It’s by no means the only Italian joint in this neck of the woods, though. Take a glance down the pedestrianised John Street – home to relaxed Italian cafe Osteria (no. 17) and pizza joint Slice (no. 15), as well as The Italian Centre (no. 7) – on a particularly warm day and you might mistake it for Milan.

If Paesano is Glaswegians' favourite pizza, neighbours Piece (100 Miller St) could lay claim to being their best-loved sandwich place. And if you’re after something less dough-based, head around the corner to Sprigg (241 Ingram St) for a tasty range of freshly made salad bowls. Long a Merchant City institution is Cafe Gandolfi (64 Albion St), who arguably serve the best breakfast this side of the M8, but not far behind is bakehouse Singl-end (15 John St), a fave for weekend brunch. Newer on the scene is Plantyful (3 Osborne St), an all plant-based bakery and deli that’s helping Merchant City join Glasgow's extremely vegan-friendly food scene.

It’s in the evening that Merchant City is at its most lively. Venues like Merchant Square (a busy cluster of restaurants and pubs in a covered courtyard) and Bar 91 (91 Candleriggs) are popular with after-work drinkers and couples on date nights. But bars here can be a bit pricier than other areas of Glasgow, so we’d point you in the direction of the more cheap and cheerful boozers on the periphery of Merchant City, like Strathduie Bar (3-5 Blackfriars St), an ace pie and ale howff, and Babbity Bowster (16-18 Blackfriars St), which has a fab wee beer garden. Another great outdoor space, and easily missed, is the tucked-away tapas place Brutti Compadres (3 Virginia Ct).

Clubs in this part of town, like the trendy Corinthian Club (191 Ingram St) and the Mediterranean-themed Arta (62 Albion St), cater to the 'young professional' crowd. Merchant City is also home to Glasgow’s LGBTQ+ community, with gay bars and clubs peppered across it. Katie's Bar (17 John St), Delmonicas (68 Virginia St) and The Underground (6A John St) all guarantee a fun pre-club atmosphere while AXM (90 Glassford St) and Polo Lounge (84 Wilson St) are the two big destinations where you can dance the night away. The pick of the LGBTQ+ hangouts, however, might be The Riding Room (58 Virginia St), which is loved for its wild cabaret nights.


Cultural venues and art galleries
Trongate is home to some of the city’s most-loved arts and culture institutions. Established in 1983 by a group of young Turks from the School of Art, Transmission Gallery (28 King St) is a vital artist-run space supporting early-career artists. Former Edwardian warehouse Trongate 103 (103 Trongate), meanwhile, is home to several other important artist spaces. It houses Street Level Photoworks, a dedicated photography gallery space; Glasgow Print Studio, which contains a custom-built printmakers workshop and two exhibition spaces; and Project Ability, an essential gallery championing local amateur artists with learning disabilities.

Another key contemporary art institution is The Modern Institute, which has two galleries in this part of town: an intimate warehouse space underneath a railway arch (14-20 Osborne St) and a more airy gallery housed in a former glass-blowing factory (3 Aird's Ln). And The Briggait (141 Bridgegate), a splendid Victorian market hall, is a buzz of artistic endeavours, featuring dozens of artist studios, two exhibition spaces and a gorgeous indoor courtyard. The nearby South Block (60-64 Osborne St) is a similar hive of activity, combining a public ground floor gallery with studios above.

Within Trongate 103 you’ll also find the utterly unique Sharmanka, an amazing exhibition of hundreds of tiny carved figures that perform a haunting show set to music telling tragicomic tales of human endurance. The theatricality continues a few doors over in a former church that's home to the Tron Theatre Company (63 Trongate), one of the most important producers of contemporary theatre in Scotland.

Food and drink
Mono (12 Kings Court) and The 13th Note (50-60 King St) are sister venues with an ethos of serving delicious plant-based scran, tasty beers in a welcoming atmosphere and hosting great gigs featuring local and touring indie artists. Closer to the Clyde you’ll find two even more well-established Glasgow boozers: ​​The Clutha (169 Stockwell St) and The Scotia (112 Stockwell St). Both reek of Glasgow history, are old haunts of the city's favourite son, Billy Connelly, and usually have some form of toe-tapping live music in the evenings. Music also runs through the veins of Maggie May’s (60 Trongate), an always lively rock bar.

If it’s food you're after in this part of town you’d be mad to overlook one of Glasgow’s finest takeaways: Shawarma King (113 King St); as you can probably guess, shawarma – as well as kebabs and falafel – are on the menu. Another adored local eatery is Cafe Cossachok (10 King St), serving up authentic Russian fare in gorgeous surroundings.

Indie shops
Arguably Glasgow’s best indie record shop, Monorail Music, is located inside Mono, where you’ll often find co-owner Stephen McRobbie of The Pastels behind the counter or rearranging the crates. Comic book nuts, meanwhile, can find a great selection of comics (new and vintage) and graphic novels around the corner at A1 Toys (31 Parnie St).

Across the arcade from Mono is vintage shop Mr Ben (6 Kings Court), which has been keeping Glasgow scenesters stylish for decades. But if you can’t find anything in their huge collection of retro clobber don’t worry, there are two other great second-hand clothing shops next door – Minted and West Vintage – and within spitting distance is The City Retro Fashion (41 King St), making this corner of Glasgow a fashionista’s delight.