The Willow Tea Rooms
97 Buchanan Street • Glasgow G1 3HF • 0141 204 5242
119-121 Sauchiehall Street • Glasgow G2 3EL • 0141 332 8446
In 1903, Kate Cranston opened The Willow Tea Rooms at 217 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, with interior and exterior designs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The translation of sauchiehall from Gaelic to mean “alley of the willows” gave the tearoom its name, and the willow became an integral part of the design. Mackintosh’s luxurious style was a fusion of Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts style, with a hint of the more geometric Art Deco style that was to follow. He designed four tearooms for Miss Cranston, and his now famous ladder-back chairs, decorative abstracted females, flower-inspired repeat patterns, and elegant use of light and space created an iconic tearoom style that is still very much part of the Glasgow landscape today. For, although all the tearooms closed down in the early 20th century, local businesswoman Anne Mulherne brought The Willow back to life in 1983 when she acquired two floors of the original premises on Sauchiehall Street and lovingly created a stunningly beautiful replica of the earlier tearoom. In 2016, her lease of the building came to an end and is now owned by The Willow Tea Rooms Trust, a charity whose aim is to restore the building to Mackintosh’s original design. But, determined not to give up, Anne moved her entire Willow Tea Rooms, with all the replica furnishings, into its new home in the old ballroom on the top floor of the nearby Watt Brothers department store (a sort of Scottish Selfridges) at 112–121 Sauchiehall Street. This could not be a more suitable location since, in 1929, when the original Watt Brothers store was extended, the architects involved were Kepple & Henderson, who once employed Charles Rennie Mackintosh as part of their team. And long before The Willow Tea Rooms Trust took over the original building, Anne had also opened another Willow Tearoom at 97 Buchanan Street, right at the heart of Glasgow’s shopping district, and that location celebrates its 21st birthday this year. It is modelled on another of Kate Cranston’s tearooms that once stood on Ingram Street and re-creates Mackintosh’s fabulous interiors for the White Dining Room, with its high-backed chairs and leaded glass screens, and the Chinese Room, decorated in vibrant blue tones, from the early 1900s.
The tea menu lists an impressive choice of 25 world teas, and The Willow Afternoon Tea delivers a wonderful selection of Scottish traditional treats to the table. Scottish smoked salmon, local free-range eggs with mayonnaise, and succulent ham with mustard and rocket fill the sandwiches, and sweet indulgences include homemade scones with strawberry or raspberry jam and clotted cream, Victoria sponge, lemon meringue pie, Empire biscuits, and Willow meringue, several of which appeared on the Miss Cranston’s original menu.
The decor, the traditional foods, the re-creation of the Mackintosh style, and the spirit of Kate Cranston in both tearooms are heart-warming evidence of Anne Mulherne’s dedicated loyalty to the Willow heritage.