By Gillian McKenzie
Books may have lined the walls of 62 Miller Street in Glasgow at one time, but it’s spirits that now dominate in the former Stirling’s Library.
New bar The Spiritualist opened in the blonde sandstone building last month, bringing with it an extensive range of more than 300 spirits displayed on a vast five-tier glass and mirror gantry, complete with rolling library ladder.
It’s the centrepiece in a venue which has been a long time coming for owners Ryan Barrie, who launched Citation in the city’s Wilson Street ten years ago, and Jim Ballantyne, of Camelot Catering Systems.
As Ryan explained, he and Jim have spoken about joining forces for some time.
“I’ve known Jim for years and we’ve always talked about doing something but it’s only in the last couple of years that we’ve spoken seriously about it,” Ryan told SLTN.
“Our skills complement each other – Jim when it comes to back of house and my front of house experience.
“We looked at a few sites and we saw this at an early stage. It was stripped into clean units, which is sometimes easier; you can put your own stamp on it and you avoid the strip out cost.”
That said, there was still a huge amount of work involved in the refurbishment.
The project, on which Ryan and Jim worked with Stephen Paterson of Burns Design, got underway at the turn of the year and was completed for the March 10 launch following what Ryan described as a “considerable” investment.
A major part of the work centred on the vaulted basement, where customer toilets and the kitchen, complete with chef’s table, were installed.
On the ground floor, the stripped out space was completely transformed, starting with the entrance. A new glass ‘shop front’ was installed behind the facade, creating space for a covered ‘city garden’ with tables and French café-style chairs.
Inside the 170-capacity unit, the space has been ‘split’ into defined areas, which cleverly incorporate the two rows of columns that run the length of the unit.
When it comes to fixtures and fittings, the ‘floating’ tables opposite the bar, which are lit internally so they appear to ‘glow’, are arguably the show-stopper, while the 80-cover restaurant space at the back of the venue features a mix of round and square white tables with a combination of loose seating in either blue or ochre leather, banquette seating upholstered in a herringbone design fabric, which ties in with the herringbone floor, and a large curved booth upholstered in blue.
And while The Spiritualist’s name may be inspired by the vast range on the back-bar, there are a couple of nods to the past in the design, including a Victorian school desk and dresser, which are used as maitre d’ stations, and three large black and white portraits on the back wall, including one of Robert Cornelius – said to be the first photographic portrait ever produced – who seems to peer round the column at the far end of the venue.
Lighting ties the whole look together.
The ‘floating’ tables glow brighter as the night goes on.
“The idea is that you come here for the whole night – have a drink at the bar then move to the restaurant area and back to the bar – so we needed lighting that changes as the night goes on,” Ryan explained.
“We spent a lot of money on the lighting and a lot of time sourcing LEDs that give a warm light. The tables in
the bar get brighter so they really glow as the night goes on, and the lights above the restaurant tables hit the white surface and they also glow – it means the eye is drawn to the tables.”
The Spiritualist’s food and drinks offer is also intended to command attention.
Food menus span breakfast, lunch and dinner, with the lobster burger – a breaded lobster tail on brioche – a best-seller.
On drinks, the offer is dominated by spirits, sourced from Hotsauce Drinks; there’s also an extensive wine range, supplied by Inverarity Morton, a broad range of draught and bottled beers, and a substantial cocktail list, including a number which are served in ice spheres.
It’s an offer which is going down well with customers, according to Ryan.
“When we first looked at the unit we did think ‘is Miller Street ready for this?’ But we’ve been blown away by it so far,” he said.
“I’m really pleased with how it looks; and we have a quality offer and service.
“It’s easier to ‘wow’ someone on the way into a venue; it’s wowing them on the way out that counts.”