The Secrets of Rogano: A Glasgow Institution
On a dark rainy day in Glasgow, the lights which often canopy Royal Exchange Square could really do with being on. Murky figures hurry beneath umbrellas past an unsuspecting building, and inside, the clocks tick on the walls with the same regularity of timekeeping since they were first placed there in the mid-1930s. The clocks aren’t the only original fixtures in this time capsule from the age of Gatsby and the prohibition. A step inside is akin to stepping onto the HMS Queen Mary in her heyday – in fact everything from the carpet to the mirrors was directly inspired by the ship’s sumptuous interiors. Can you guess where we are yet? Glasgow’s oldest restaurant, Rogano, of course.
In a time that values the new, the modern and the always-updated, it feels indulgent to take a seat in a Rogano booth and peruse a menu that has remained largely unchanged since the restaurant first opened its doors. Then again, if the Lobster Thermidor is as sublime as everyone says, then there really is no point in changing it. There hasn’t been complaint from the guests, including but not limited to: Elizabeth Taylor, Rod Stewart, Sir Alex Ferguson, Nat King Cole, Robbie Coltrane, John McClelland CBE, Keira Knightly, Ewan McGregor, Johnnie Lee Miller, Nigella Lawson and many more … it may, in fact, be more efficient to list the people who don’t consider it as a must-visit in Glasgow. We arrive at 11am as the staff prepare tables for the lunch rush, which will in fact most likely be a languid and relaxed affair. You don’t get dressed up and ready for a visit to Rogano just to eat and leave. The whole experience is to be deliberated, enjoyed and matched to a good wine.
Rogano is a celebrated seafood restaurant, 30s-style bar (which really does date from the 30s), celebrity haunt, actual ghost haunt (just ask about the ghost on table 9) and café. It is also an institution, a place where couples who shared their first date there still come with their original menus 30 years later, a place where the best table has been painstakingly designed to afford the people sitting at it with both privacy and a view of every nook via the original mirrors, and where the Joseph Perrier champagne dotting the shelves and booths has been destined for the clientele since it was bottled in France and specially labeled with the R: for Rogano, their fine dining and all the glitz, glamour and intrigue that comes with it.
The name is often assumed as an Italian moniker, but you wouldn’t find it in their dictionary. It is in fact derived from the names of the two first owners. One, a Mr Rogers, and the other, Mr Anonymous, who chose obscurity as a way of removing the cloud of association with illegal drinking that would have surrounded him as a bar owner when travelling prohibition-era America.
It seems fitting that both name and place have retained their sense of mystery, intrigue and exclusivity into the age of digital oversharing, but this sense never was entirely accurate. The sumptuous, champagne-laden interior may seem from a distance age, but Rogano’s doors are always open to welcome you in. The staff go about their business whilst sustaining conversations with regulars, the Christmas dinner guests have been coming so long that they each have their own favoured table on December 25th without so much as a request, and if you want a cocktail the way it was intended to be served in the good old days, then look no further. The Rogano traditions are well-ingrained for good reason, and they can’t wait to introduce you to them.