IT’S hard not to succumb to the rough-and-ready charm of Gallowgate, that stretch of Glasgow’s East End that begins just a few minutes’ walk from the upscale shops of Buchanan Street.

The Barrowland Ballroom occupies a sizeable part of the street. The 2,100-capacity venue, one of the best-known in Britain, fronted by a giant neon sign that has become a landmark, has played host to everyone from Bob Dylan to REM, U2, David Bowie and Oasis.

Next to it lies the Barras, the famed open-air weekend market. All around are pubs, shops and restaurants. An adult shop sits just opposite.

This is a street that stirs all sorts of opinions, some of them fairer than others. “A walk up the Gallowgate – takeaways, pawn shops and Celtic pubs ahoy – can feel a bit dicey on occasion, but it’s all part of the Barrowlands experience,” an English newspaper noted a few years ago.

“A dingy red-light area of Glasgow,” one architecture magazine said disapprovingly, back in 1999.

You get the picture. But things are changing. The area is increasingly home to creative businesses and a new generation of pubs and restaurants.

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The Creative East End organisation is one such; based at 200 Gallowgate, and led by Lauren Stewart and Jen McGlone, it provides space for initiatives and ideas to flourish in the interests of economic growth and regeneration. Over at Calton Entry, the thriving BAaD – Barras Art and Design – includes a fish restaurant, A’Challtainn, as well as concerts and a Sunday indoor market.

Just next to the Barrowland lies what was once a well-known Celtic pub. Bairds Bar: here, 19 years ago, the then interim Celtic manager Kenny Dalglish held one of the more unusual press conferences in the club’s history.

Bairds was shut down amid various well-publicised difficulties in 2014, but it was reopened recently as a restaurant, 226 Gallowgate, which has been praised by our sister paper the Herald on Sunday’s exacting restaurant critic, Joanna Blythman. “The people who opened 226 Gallowgate,” read her concluding paragraph, “seem to get old Glasgow, its mood, its character, its value.”

In Bain Street, close by the Barrowland, there is Saint Luke’s, a noted live-music venue, and the award-winning Winged Ox Bar & Kitchen. Other key local venues are the Van Winkle Bourbon BBQ Grill, at 267, and the award-winning pub, Hielan’ Jessie, at 374. WEST Brewery, at the Templeton Building in Glasgow Green, has been flying the flag for the East End for 13 years.

Something, it seems, is stirring in the Gallowgate.

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Next door to the adult shop you’ll see yet another new venture: The Gate, a lounge bar, a “modern Scottish pub”, the idea of Andy Gemmell, a well-known drinks consultant. Together with Tom Joyes, general manager of the Barrowland, Gemmell discloses plans to rebrand the area as the East End Quarter – to, in their words, “create the visual reason for people to visit East and make it a must-visit neighbourhood in Glasgow.”

More of The Gate first, though. It has a vivid yellow diagonal stripe across its facade and front door. It occupies a site that, from next year, will have been home to a remarkable succession of Gallowgate watering-holes for 200 years.

Gemmell, whose CV has seen him work in award-winning bars and travel the world as a whisky ambassador, speaks with pride of the history of these premises; the fact, for example, that when you enter you’re in the original close of a tenement that once loomed over the Gallowgate, two centuries ago. Faded uncovered signs, advertising long-forgotten businesses that once traded here, can also be glimpsed.

Gemmell knows the area well. His previous role, the marketing consultancy The Drink Cabinet, was one of the many businesses based round the corner in East Campbell Street, at the Glasgow Collective, whose founders, brothers John and David McBeth, were, he says, the first to bring a creative side to the Gallowgate. The collective includes Dear Green Coffee Roasters, voted Glasgow’s Favourite Business less than a year ago.

“Their premise was to bring young, up-and-coming businesses into the area. It’s that basic equation that we see, for example, in Hoxton or Shoreditch [in London’s East End] – affordable business space for younger people. I fell in love with the area after that. It’s had its issues, its troubles and everything else, but I just fell in love with it.

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“Three years ago this place came up for sale. It was a good price, and I saw the opportunity. Everyone thought I was mad.”

Why? “Because of its general reputation, which I felt was exaggerated; people’s perception of the area was always as if there was an invisible force-field when you get to The Tron [on the other side of Glasgow Cross from Gallowgate].”

He notes that both Trongate and the adjacent Merchant City have been flourishing in terms of bars and entertainment, but laments that “a stigma” has attached itself to Gallowgate.

“There are lots of factors that have given rise to this,” he says, “but people have highlighted these rather than looking at the positives of an amazing village in the middle of Glasgow city centre, with amazing people as well. Incredible people. I felt the area has what it takes to be an exciting hub for the city,”

The premises we’re sitting in were in a neglected condition when he first saw them. There were, for example, six different ceilings, all layered one over the other: “The place,” he says, “was like a Russian doll.” It was only at the start of this year he finally decided to focus all his energies on turning the space into The Gate.

“People were steering me off, saying, ‘what are you doing, opening a pub in the Gallowgate?’ But I just see the potential down here... and for the area.”

Sitting in his wood-panelled office, deep within the Barrowland Ballroom Tom Joyes says: “We’ve just got a feeling for the area. Not just myself, not just Andy, but everyone in the general area.

“Our company, Maggie McIver Ltd, founded the Barras in 1921 and opened the ballroom in 1934. In two years the market will be 100 years old.

“In all the 34 years I’ve been here, we’ve always been in a void so far as the various authorities – Glasgow City Council, the GDA [Glasgow Development Agency], the SDA [Scottish Development Agency], you name it have been concerned.

“We’ve never been city centre, we’ve never been really ‘East End’ – well, we are East End, but nowhere actually in it: it’s such a vast place. We were neither one thing nor the other. The ‘void’ was the word they all seemed to use.”

In the wider Gallowgate, Joyes observes that what has been evolving “are entrepreneurs, artistic types, artisans”.

Entertainment has improved, too: the ballroom is gaining in fame and worldwide prestige. And he argues the area is right on the city centre’s doorstep, not out in a distant scheme.

“We’re in this East End quarter,” he says. “I think you should look at the map of Glasgow and should be seeing Finnieston, the West End, Collegelands, the city centre, Merchant City – and the East End Quarter. It’s all the city centre, sprawling outwards. The sooner we get a recognised address of where we are, the better.”

“There’s CCTV being installed: the place can only become safer. The streets and pavements have been upgraded. The whole area is evolving. Our message is that, of an evening, you can go to the Merchant City, or the East End Quarter.”