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The Grand Central Glasgow: It’s Renaissance Time

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The Grand Central Glasgow: It’s Renaissance Time

October 21
20:07 2013
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Built above the city’s Central train station in 1883 and extended some 30 years later, the Central, as it was then known, was the city’s foremost destination for businessmen, film stars and dignitaries, and for the next 100 years it enjoyed an almost ethereal reputation amongst the great and the good of society.

However, after being sold by British Rail in the 1980s and passing through a collection of private operators in the intervening years, the building inevitably fell into disrepair and its light faded as more modern establishments emerged and fought for supremacy.

All that’s now changed, of course, and the newly refurbished, reopened and renamed Grand Central Hotel is back on the books and aiming for glory once again.

Twenty million pounds buys a lot of expertise and equipment these days, in spite of inflation and Britain’s current economic predicament. Having stripped the hotel back to basics in 2009, the team of architects, consultants, designers and labourers set about redesigning and rebuilding the interior of one of Scotland’s most iconic structures.

As newly installed general manager, Laurie Nicol played an integral part in the planning and execution of every step of the process, and has been keen to make a start on marketing it – as much for herself and her team – as for future guests: ‘There’s a natural interest in the building, and people were desperate to see it open again,’ she explains. ‘Many Glaswegians can clearly remember the Central Hotel as it was, and I’m sure anyone who had been in it before will recall how much potential it had back then.

‘The architects and designers bore this in mind when they embarked on the refurbishment, and they have rebuilt the interior in a way that respects its heritage while adding modern touches that will make it appeal to travellers from all walks of life.’

Starting her career as banqueting supervisor at Glasgow’s Moat House International in 1990, Laurie worked her way up the ladder before joining Hilton Hotels a decade later as Area Sales Manager in Aberdeen. After 11 years with the company, eventually becoming Director of Business Development for the Hilton’s Glasgow hotels, she joined the Grand Central in January and has hit the ground running:

‘We had to work very closely with interior designers, architects and Historic Scotland to preserve the hotel’s original features,’ she explains. ‘The Italian marble floors and ornate cornicing have all been preserved, and the ceiling in the grand ballroom underwent something of a rebirth as a set of windows that had been blocked for decades were uncovered, raising the height of the room by three metres.’

Charles Leon, of Charles Leon Associates, who oversaw the design process, was careful to remain sympathetic to the building’s existing form: ‘We sought to design a hotel that’s fit for today’s lifestyles, while respecting the existing character,’ he says. ‘This process alone unearthed its own set of surprises and revealed many period features that had been lost over the decades.

‘As well as the second set of windows which have been hidden for the past 30 years, we also uncovered and restored the Caledonian Railway Station’s Crest of Arms above the feature fireplace.

‘Through diligent restoration work we’ve been able to keep the romance of the hotel alive while bringing it up to date with a contemporary look and feel.’

Walking into the 350,000sq ft space today evokes a curious blend of wonderment and anticipation; wonder at the 100+ years of history that percolate through the corridors – not least from the portraits of past guests like Cary Grant, Fred Astaire and Vivien Leigh which adorn the walls. And anticipation at what lies ahead for this most illustrious of institutions. Now incorporating 186 fully refurbished bedrooms, three executive suites and 21 function rooms – all of which have been kitted out with state-of-the-art technology including WiFi and plasma TV screens – the hotel sits in a sort of stark but supremely elegant contrast with the old and the new, the classic and the contemporary.

Elsewhere, the hotel boasts the Champagne Central bar on the entresol level which overlooks the concourse of Central Station and Tempus restaurant which, along with the rest of the F&B operations, will be looked after by the inimitable James Murphy [see profile]. Finally, Deli Central, the only in-hotel delicatessen in Glasgow, is due to open later in the year.

Laurie herself is well aware of the potential demand for a first-class food offering in the centre of the city: ‘I’ve collaborated with James in the past, we know each other well and we’re keen to put the Grand Central’s food offering back on the map’ she says.

Indeed, it would appear they’re well on their way: Despite only having opened in September this year, the hotel has already hosted 25 events and they have pipeline of business totalling almost £1m on the books for the year ahead.

‘The suites have been named after people who made a lasting impression on this place,’ adds Laurie: John Logie Baird transmitted the first long-distance TV images from the hotel in 1927, Robert Rowand Anderson was the Scottish architect who designed the hotel along with Central Station in 1876, and John F Kennedy who stayed at the hotel over the years have all left their mark in more ways than one.’

And that pretty much sums up the aura of this most auspicious of buildings; on the one hand it’s a towering architectural tour de force that’s steeped in history, glamour and mystique; an elegant and enduring legacy of a bygone era. On the other, it’s a triumph of restoration and contemporary interior design, unequalled facilities and state-of-the-art technology. It’s like having one foot in a time machine and the other in the Tardis. As unique selling points go, this contrast alone will make it one of the most sought-after venues in Scotland.

Visit for an interview with James Murphy, Executive Chef, Grand Central Glasgow





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