Aug 30, 2023

First in: Virgin Hotels Glasgow hotel review

Reviewed by Steve King

Why book Virgin Hotels Glasgow?

For a chance to see this marvellous, complicated, characterful city from an unfamiliar angle. For the art, the music, the good times. For the Lobster Hot Dogs.

Set the scene

A gleaming new tower of metal and glass looming over the River Clyde at the foot of the elegantly old-fashioned South Portland Street suspension bridge. Inside, a mixture of both the gleaming new and the elegantly old-fashioned. Picture a Cunard Liner redecorated by graffiti artists, with an equally good cocktail list – but with DJs instead of a string orchestra.

The backstory

Richard Branson opened his first Virgin Records shop in 1971 when he was 21 and practically broke. The rest, to coin a phrase and a few billion quid, is history. These days Virgin Group’s hospitality brands include Virgin Voyages, Virgin Limited Edition and Virgin Hotels. Then there are hospitality-adjacent brands such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Atlantic Holidays, Virgin Australia, Virgin Balloon Flights, Virgin Experience Days, Virgin Hyperloop and Virgin Galactic. And then there are all the other Virgin brands that have nothing to do with hospitality.

The first Virgin Hotels property opened in Chicago in 2015. Today there are six of them dotted across the United States, with more in the pipeline, and two of them in Britain. Edinburgh opened in June 2022, and this spot in Glasgow opened in August 2023.

The rooms

Space efficiency is of the essence in each of the 240 rooms. They are all, regardless of their size (and they do vary quite a bit), designed in a “two-chamber” style, with sliding doors or curtains separating both sleeping/living and loo/bathroom areas, dividing them up in a way that is intended to enhance rather than diminish the sense of space.

The décor, too, is consistent throughout: pale and creamy with vivid red accents – most conspicuously, the mini-bar fridge, which stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. And if the sore thumb looks as if it is throbbing with intoxicating, thoughtfully curated, locally produced sugary treats, that is because it is.

The in-room art is charming, especially the photograph of the Girl with a Magnifying Glass mural – a clever picture of a picture. The actual mural is only a few minutes away, on the side of a building in Mitchell Street. It is one of several huge – and hugely popular – murals in Glasgow to bear the tag “Smug”, nom de guerre of Australian street artist Sam Bates. This is one of the great things about the hotel – the art inside encourages you to set off in search of the art outside.

At the top of the building are the three biggest rooms, Sir Richard’s Flat, Lady B’s Flat and the Kasbah Tamadot Suite (after the Virgin Limited Editions property in the Atlas Mountains). These were still works in progress at the time of my visit, but, if their Edinburgh counterparts are anything to go by, they should be lovely, offering loads more space and a few additional design twists, along with fantastic views.

Food and drink

Terrific. On the ground floor, the Commons Club restaurant and bar, and a plush, intimate space for drinks and mischief known as The Shag Room; on the mezzanine level, yet another restaurant and bar, the Highyard. Still under construction at the time of my visit were the Funny Library Coffee Shop and a whisky bar called Rocks on Fox Street.

Executive chef Jean-Paul Giraud, a Glasgow stalwart (Scottish mum, French dad), late of The Spanish Butcher, has come up with an exotic yet accessible menu that brings together Scottish-contemporary, Asian, Middle Eastern and classic Continental European elements. Thus you might, for example, pair your Aberdeenshire lamb cutlets with a side dish of cauliflower shawarma and pomegranate, puffed freekeh, crispy leaves and smoked tahini yoghurt. There is also a sense of playfulness, as with the cured salmon served with compressed cucumber, sea buckthorn, pickled fennel and a gin-and-tonic granita (melt-in-your-mouth brilliant); or the Lobster Hot Dog – a lobster, crayfish and salmon dog on a clotted-cream brioche bun, with ’nduja ketchup, fennel mustard and a dusting of caviar (as kooky, as opulent and as wrongly-right as it sounds).

Cocktails? Also terrific. Try barkeep George Collinge’s optimistically named Sunshine On Clyde (strawberry gin, Amaro Montenegro, passionfruit liqueur, raspberry syrup and lemon juice), with a flavour profile its creator describes as “fresh, fruity, Um Bongo”. Having soaked up a little of that rare and precious Glaswegian sunshine, you might feel emboldened to explore its Dark Side (cocoa butter-washed bourbon, crème de mûre, port, chocolate bitters, cherry bitters). “Boozy, buttery gateau,” is how George describes it. Aye, lad. Spot on.

The spa

There is no on-site spa, but in-room wellness treatments can be arranged through the concierge.

The neighbourhood/area

A complicated subject. This is a fascinating, historically rich part of the city that has for many years been in need of some TLC and a bit of good news. It is very much to be hoped that the hotel’s presence will not only draw visitors and locals alike back in this direction but also give some impetus to long-mooted plans to revamp the riverside.

In any case, Glasgow has a very compact and easily navigated centre, and the hotel is super convenient for a whole pile of stuff. If, for argument’s sake, you had a particular interest in music (and Glasgow is steeped in music), you could draw an only slightly wiggly line that would run from the incomparable Barrowland Ballroom to minimalist Mono to the historic Britannia Panopticon, past the universally revered Sub Club and the evergreen King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, then on to the stadium-sized OVO Hydro and the freaky-deeky SWG3, with minor detours along the way for the Royal Concert Hall, the Scottish Opera and the Scottish Ballet. Honestly – you can walk to all of these places.

The service

Glasgow has a well-deserved reputation as a uniquely friendly, relaxed and unstuffy city. This is an admirable quality most of the time, though it can lead to slightly hit-or-miss, tonally dissonant experiences where hospitality is concerned. Virgin Hotels Glasgow appears to have struck just the right balance between pally-ness and professionalism, with a young and largely local team – warm, enthusiastic, humorous, knowledgeable, proud. (When I asked why the name of The Shag Room in the Edinburgh sister hotel had been changed just a few weeks after opening to The Scarlet Lounge while the new Glasgow hotel unhesitatingly reverted to The Shag Room, the head concierge replied simply: “Edinburgh wasn’t vibing with it. But we’re, you know, fine.”)

For families

There are eight “double-double” rooms that are designed with families in mind, to each of which adjoining rooms may be added for serious clan gatherings. When the Funny Library opens, it will include colouring books for wee tots, as well as a selection of children’s books and board games. (And of course reading material for grownups. And a coffee shop.) The hotel is also pet-friendly, with dog beds available on request at no additional cost (as long as they fit in the lift). Babysitting services for whippets and whippersnappers alike can be arranged through the concierge.

Eco effort

“As a brand, Virgin Hotels has a commitment to achieving net zero by 2030. At a local level, we opt to work with local, sustainable suppliers at every turn and that applies to food, drinks, guest amenities and even the décor. Our Glasgow property has an A-minus energy rating with aspirations to get to A plus once everything is finished.” So say the management.

Accessibility for those with mobility impairments

Excellent. There are eight fully accessible rooms equipped with multiple emergency call points and wet rooms with adapted loo seats and grab rails. Those rooms are available on eight floors, all of which have wheelchair access (as does the entire hotel).

Anything left to mention?

A number of partnerships with local businesses were already in place at the time of the hotel’s opening, including expert-led walking tours and limo services, with various others under discussion. This reviewer was particularly taken by the hotel’s connection with an outfit called SneakersER. Founded by two Glaswegian sportswear tragics, SneakersER was something of a pioneer in bespoke sneaker-laundering and customisation. A night on the tiles in Glasgow is likely to leave your best biscuits looking stale. These guys will restore them to a state of freshly baked deliciousness. The concierge team at the hotel will make the necessary arrangements.

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Location Map

Why book Virgin Hotels Glasgow?Set the sceneThe backstoryThe roomsFood and drinkThe spaThe neighbourhood/areaThe serviceFor familiesEco effortAccessibility for those with mobility impairmentsAnything left to mention?