Where to Dine and Drink in Glasgow, Scotland

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Referendum proponents lost the election, but they’re winning the battle of culture, as evidenced by Glasgow's thriving bars, restaurants, museums, and galleries.

Something’s stirring in Scotland. Something big.

Take Glasgow. It’s always been “gallus.” The vernacular is derived from the gallows, the instrument of execution that stood in Tollcross, and refers to the often mordant humor shown by city miscreants about to hang before public crowds in the 19th century. It means dark, attitudinal, funny.

But now it’s combined with something much more forward-looking. Scotland—and, in particular, its leading city—is in the midst of an unprecedented orgy of optimism. It is reflected in its new bars and restaurants, and in the artistic ambition of its museums and theaters.

Politics is key. Scotland voted last year on whether to separate from the United Kingdom. The nation’s actors, playwrights, and musicians helped facilitate the most extraordinary grassroots campaign. Almost 85 percent of the electorate voted. Proponents of independence lost the referendum but have been winning ever since. The Scottish National Party took an astounding 56 of 59 seats in May’s elections to the British Parliament.

Take a stroll along once-neglected parts of Glasgow’s West End. The banks of the Clyde are thriving again, redeveloped with the centerpiece the magnificent Norman Foster–designed SSE Hydro concert venue. The country’s rising confidence is also mirrored in its culinary stakes. Restaurants like the Gannet (44-14/1204-2081) and the Crabshakk (44-14/1334-6127), in nearby Finnieston, source their ingredients entirely within Scotland, with seafood the standout: herring from the Hebrides, Loch Fyne oysters, and plump scallops from the cold, clear waters of the west coast. These standards were impossible to imagine even a few years ago. Back then, there was the odd fancy restaurant, like the Ubiquitous Chip (44-14/1334-5007). But you had to make an event of it and book way in advance.

Finnieston is now studded with first-rate bars. The Park Bar (44-14/1339-1715) or the Ben Nevis (44-14/1576-5204) are more traditional, often patronized by Highland emigres who have come to the big city for work. But for the younger crowd, the Brass Monkey (44-14/1243-2170) or Lebowskis (44-14/1564-7988) are appropriately loud and raucous, with great music. They’re where an espresso cocktail is just as likely to be the tipple of choice as a pint of the foaming stuff.

More than anything, Scotland is now a powerhouse to rival England, and how it feels about itself is the key. The British capital is a more diverse, more selfish place, with emphasis on the individual. Though its shipyards and much of its heavy industry may be gone, Glasgow’s working-class solidarity lives on, and crucially, it stretches into the professions: social workers, teachers, accountants. When times are good, everyone shares in it, and that’s now fostering a real vibrancy. So, something’s stirring in Scotland. Something big.