The Skinny Guide to Merchant City & Trongate

Our 2022 guide to the lavish and fancy Merchant City, and its creative and adventurous neighbour in the Trongate

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 05 Jul 2022
  • 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. 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 River Clyde.

Merchant City


Paesano, Miller St

Food

No trip to this part of town is complete without a stop at Paesano (94 Miller St), home of the tastiest Neopolitan-style pizzas in town. It’s by no means the only Italian joint in Merchant City, though. Glance down 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. For those who prefer pizza of the deep dish variety, Thundercat (86 Miller St) is introducing Glaswegians to hearty Chicago-style pizzas. 

If Paesano is Glaswegians' favourite pizza, neighbours Piece (100 Miller St) is their best-loved sandwich place. 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. Merchant City institution Cafe Gandolfi (64 Albion St), arguably serves 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.

Drinks

Merchant City is at its most lively in the evening. Venues like Merchant Square (71 Albion Street) (a busy cluster of pubs in a covered courtyard) and Bar 91 (91 Candleriggs) are popular with the after-work crowd. But bars here can be pricy, so we’d point you in the direction of the more cheap and cheerful boozers on the Merchant City periphery, like Strathduie Bar (3-5 Blackfriars St) and Babbity Bowster (16-18 Blackfriars St). Another great bar, and easily missed, is the tucked-away tapas place Brutti Compadres (3 Virginia Ct).

Merchant City is home to Glasgow’s LGBTQ+ community, with gay bars 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 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, although nightclub and arts venue Bonjour (37-45 Saltmarket), which only opened last summer, has quickly become a firm favourite.

Trongate

Food and drink

Mono (12 Kings Ct, King St) and The 13th Note (50-60 King St) are sister venues with an ethos of serving delicious plant-based scran and tasty beers, and hosting great gigs. 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 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 you're after a quick bite in this part of town there’s Shawarma King (113 King St); as you can probably guess, shawarma is on the menu. Another adored local eatery is Cafe Cossachok (10 King St), serving up authentic Russian fare in gorgeous surroundings.

Indie shops

Ace indie record shop Monorail Music is located inside Mono, where you’ll often find co-owner Stephen McRobbie of The Pastels behind the counter. 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. There are also 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.

Merchant City & Tongate cultural venues and art galleries

Celtic Connections at Old Fruitmarket, Candelriggs

Established in 1983 by a group 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: Street Level Photoworks, a dedicated photography gallery space; Glasgow Print Studio, which is marking its 50th anniversary with an exhibition running at Kelvingrove Museum (18 Nov-10 Mar); and Project Ability, a gallery championing local amateur artists with learning disabilities.

Key art institution The Modern Institute has two galleries in this part of town: an intimate warehouse space underneath a railway arch (14-20 Osborne St) and an airy gallery housed in a former glass-blowing factory (3 Aird's Ln). 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. Nearby South Block (60-64 Osborne St) is a similar hive of activity, combining a public ground floor gallery with studios above. New to the scene is The Glasgow Gallery of Photography (57 Glassford St), which recently opened as a dedicated gallery for photography.

Within Trongate 103 you’ll also find Sharmanka, a unique 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.

City Halls & Old Fruitmarket (100 Candelriggs) are Merchant City’s main hub for the arts. Once a bustling market, they now play host to an array of events and are a key venue for Celtic Connections (19 Jan-5 Feb 2023) and Merchant City Festival (28-31 Jul 2022).