First opened in 1883 next to Glasgow’s main train station, its doors leading straight to the concourse, the Grand Central Hotel is known as the city’s ‘grand old lady.’
Closed for over a decade, then re-opened four years ago after an 18-month renovation, it exudes a sense of history. Even the reception desks, resembling vintage train ticket counters complete with old-style table lamps, make one feel as if one is caught in a time warp.
It takes little effort to imagine erstwhile celebrity guests such as Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, Laurel and Hardy and Bing Crosby crossing the foyer to the bar or restaurant before and after a show. Not to mention world-renowned statesmen such as former US president John F. Kennedy and wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
More than 25 million dollars of investment in radical renovation by new owners, Principal Hayley, uncovered original marble floors, ornate plasterwork, beautiful hand-painted wallpaper, elaborate ironwork and intricate ceramic tiling, thus transforming a dusty, derelict building into a modern hotel with 186 rooms and suites as well as a business center with 21 rooms for meetings and conferences.
As a strong reminder of its key transport links, the walls of the lobby are adorned with twenty framed prints of vintage locomotives while a group of leather armchairs, set around a large, square low-slung wooden table in the center makes for comfortable seating. Overhanging octagonal glass lanterns provide bright lighting.
While the lobby can be a hubbub of people coming and going, beyond the concierge is a secondary waiting area more conducive to quiet conversation with armchairs beside the main oak-beamed staircase. Be sure to gaze upwards to admire the 70-foot chandelier – the second longest in Britain – cascading down the central, well suspended by giant steel beams in the ceiling.
Charles Leon Associates, interior designers of the renovated hotel, has recovered many of the original features of the old building including the impressive two-room ‘Champagne Central,’ a cosy lounge on the mezzanine floor with views down over the station clock and concourse. Reached along an oak-panelled corridor, it boasts a marble floor, an impressive rotunda dome with pillared surround and elaborate gold leaf fleck cornicing.
The hotel’s ‘Grand Room,’ with ornate carvings above the fireplace, caters for major banquets and events and boasts rococo design features along its ceiling.
Our suite was located on the fifth floor, with windows directly overlooking the glass roof of the railway station – a reminder to us of the movie, ‘Hugo,’ in which a boy lives high in the roof space of Gare Montparnasse. A military blue, black and ash-grey color scheme creates a subdued ambiance though the small sitting room boasted a tartan couch and leather chair. A TV screen built into a large mirror fronting the bed is a reminder of latest technology applied in the service of guests.
Such is the sound insulation we didn’t hear any noise from the station.
Two main dining options are available – bistro-style or more formal. Tempus Restaurant, on the ground floor, features polished wood floors and central columns with broad windows along one wall facing the street. The inner wall is covered in vivid murals depicting railway scenes while two large Murano-glass chandeliers hang from the high ceiling, both reconstructed from parts recovered from the old building.
Next to the restaurant is the Deli Central where drinks and light meals are served in a bright informal atmosphere of multi-colored chairs, chessboard floor and a refurbished ceiling of finely painted tin tiles.
Tempus was a lively buzz of people when we entered early evening for a pre-theater dinner but service remained efficient and friendly. The menu, while classic and uncomplicated, is varied, mainly catering for people lacking time to linger too long over dinner. We opted for starters of pan-fried scallops nestling in a light creamy sauce of lentils and bacon bits and bruschetta of tomato, basil and red onion sprinkled with crisp rocket and balsamic reduction. As a main, it being a damp evening, we both chose a more wholesome meat dish – duck breast, with wilted greens, potatoes, wild mushrooms and a red wine jus, which came cooked to our liking – seared crisp with a tender, pink interior.
Dessert was a delight – sticky toffee pudding with vanilla pod ice cream and toffee sauce and an aptly named chocolate indulgence with raspberry coulis.
For a sense of authentic Glaswegian history, friendly, efficient service and a convenient location from which to walk to city attractions such as the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), the art nouveau styled Princes Square Shopping Centre or the Theatre Royal, the city’s oldest performance venue, the Grand Central Hotel is an excellent choice.