In yet another stroke of luck, I was told on Thursday afternoon that I had won cocktails for four at The Malmaison hotel for the following evening. Now, I had a bad movie night planned for Friday, so I quickly contacted the bad movie viewers and asked if they fancied something more civilised to start the evening with. I’ve never yet known anyone turn down a free cocktail so I wasn’t surprised when they said yes.
The Malmaison in Glasgow is, I think, trying to alert people in the city to the fact that you can eat in its restaurant and drink in its bar, even if you’re not staying there. The chain has recently completed refurbishments to many (if not all) f its Scottish branches and the Chez Mal bar in the Glasgow branch is brand new. Naturally, none of this can have come cheap, so making sure potential patrons are aware that The Mal exists must be top of the agenda. So far this has been seen in prizes offered to Yelpers, as well as discounted meals, drinks and nights available through Groupon, Itison and 5pm.
Chez Mal is a cool, if highly stylised bar. The spiral staircase leads down from the hotel lobby but plenty of light gets in from the windows in the ceiling and you easily forget that this is a hotel bar. There’s popart on the walls, as well as quotes and cheesy jokes, and one wall is lined with beer casks. The chairs are comfy and very, very blue and made me inclined to stay in the bar a little longer than I otherwise might have (a comfy seat will have me ordering another drink; a bar stool will have me downing my first and running for the exits).
Our waitress was totally wonderful, attentive and cheerful, she chatted to us about the menu, suggesting a drink or two. Weirdly she pointed out what was “usually popular with the ladies” and what was “usually popular with the men.” I’m not crazy about assigning gendered preferences to alcohol, which seems a little bizarre, but I’ve seen it outside the Mal as well, so maybe it’s based on a bunch of flawed market research and some misguided attempted to ensure every customer enjoys their drink? I’d rather they’d just say, “this one’s sweet and fruity. That one’s quite dry and rich” etc. Nevertheless, she was happy to answer questions and suggest things based on what we liked.
Soon we had ordered a round. We were ordering from the “Thank Mal It’s Friday” menu which, thanks to Scottish licensing laws, actually runs Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. All the cocktails on the menu cost £5 (on other days of the week you can expect to pay more like ~£10). I chose the Tawny Manhatten, a twist on the classic which contains tawny port and which was totally delicious. My friends went with a Mojito, a Whisky Sour and a New York Sour (another twist on a classic). Unfortunately, two New York Sours arrived. When we mentioned the mistake, they brought us a Whisky Sour and said we could keep the spare New York Sour – giving us all the chance to try a sip.
Both sours were good, although I still felt I’d made the right choice with my drink. If you’ve ever had the Porter and Rye cocktail at Porter and Rye, it’s a little like that kind of drink. Slightly sweet but not overly-so, with no-nonsense about hiding the alcohol, it feels like a real cocktail and one that I’d happily sip all night. My partner, who usually can’t be tempted to order anything other than a Mojito, which is exactly what he did for the first round of drinks, liked it so much that he ordered one for the second round. Apparently the Mojito was far too sweet, with detectable granules of sugar collecting in the straw as he sipped. Oh well, one failure out of four isn’t so bad.
Meanwhile, we had been brought spiced peanuts and popcorn to nibble on. The popcorn was coated with… something. My first guess was parmesan, but later I ammended this to garlic salt. In the end, who knows? Both snacks were delicious and very moreish, a nice upgrade to standard bar nibbles. It made me wonder what the food in The Honours restaurant is like here.
Some time while were were enjoying our first round, one of our friends who was nearby came to join us. After some deliberation, during which she’d asked if the Pina Colada could be made without cream (she’s lactose intolerant) she was lead to order a Painkiller. Apparently because this basically is a Pina Colada without cream. This one certainly looked quite cool, arriving in a kind of tin mug with a wedge of orange and a pineapple leaf. However, it tasted a little strong for her preferences. She should probably have just asked to swap the cream in the Pina Colada for more pineapple juice or something.
My next drink was a Dirty Vodka Martini, which was absolutely flawless and one of my friends went for the actual Pina Colada just out of curiousity; he wanted to compare it to the Painkiller. His verdict? “I like it better, but it’s quite sweet and you definitely couldn’t drink this much cream if you’re lactose intolerant.” You can’t fault his logic.
We brought the cocktail drinking to a close, very happy that my winning (and their mistake with the sours) had allowed us to try nine cocktails for only £20. However, had we paid the full price of £45 that would still have been an excellent deal and the Thank Mal it’s Wednesday/Thursday/Friday menu is a great option if you’re looking for reasonably priced cocktails in the city centre.
I think their only struggle will be to get people to move that far from the options available on Sauchiehall Street and Bath Street closer in to the city. Perhaps it would make a good pre- or post-theatre option if you’ve been to The Kings. Hopefully all their work to make people aware of their bar will pay off.