Glasgow’s oldest Italian restaurant and one of the city’s oldest pubs, which has links to Frank Sinatra, are set to close – making way for a new £30m hotel.
Restaurant O Sole Mio, dating from 1965, and iconic boozer the Iron Horse, which opened in 1872, will close their doors for the last time within the first few days of February when their leases expire.
The pub and restaurant are among five businesses on the the corner of West Nile Street and Bath Street closing as plans progress for the £30m multi-storey hotel development.
Jennifer Brooks, who runs the Iron Horse, and Djamel Benouari, who took over O Sole Mio exactly nine years ago, spoke of their sadness at the loss of their livelihoods and two Glasgow institutions.
The Iron Horse was previously known as The Empire Bar, which served the theatre-goers and stars of the famous theatre of the same name around the corner.
For the past few decades it has served as a ‘city centre local’ for Glaswegians and meeting point for the Tartan Army fan group.
In its 55-year history O Sole Mio has been frequented by celebrities, including Billy Connolly and footballers.
Former Rangers and AC Milan player Gennaro Gattuso, now managing Napoli, met his wife Monica Romano in the restaurant while Lorenzo Amoruso was a regular.
George Capital, which now owns the block, is seeking permission to flatten the site to make way for a hotel, that the developers say will create 100 new jobs.
Mr Benouari, 62, said: “We knew it was coming because the lease had not been renewed.
“But when the shutters come down, I’ll be sad. The miracle I was hoping for didn’t come.”
More than 400 objections to the plan were lodged with the council while a petition created by the Iron Horse attracted more than 2000 signatures, with objections coming from as far as Azerbaijan and the US.
The Blue Lagoon fish and chip shop will also shut as well as a small beauty business and betting shop Paddy Power is already boarded up.
Ms Brooks took over the running of the Iron Horse in the 1990s with her father Eddie.
The former Empire Bar became the Iron Horse in the 1960s and after a couple of name changes in the 70s and 80s the pub re-opened with the existing name.
Ms Brooks said the family is focused on helping the venue’s 12 staff find other jobs, while a Tartan Army farewell party is planned in the final weekend on February 1 and 2.
She said: “I’ve had elderly customers who say they saw Frank Sinatra in the Empire Theatre.
“There was a door in the theatre that backed onto the pub and the acts used to come in for a drink during intervals.
“We just want to say goodbye to as many of our regulars as possible.
“The Tartan Army meet here and they are planning something for the final weekend.
“Our focus now is helping our staff, arranging training courses for them.
“We get a lot of veteran groups meeting here so we have also been trying to find them other places to meet.”
Mr Benouari took over O Sole Mio from the original owners, the Romano family, after a long and successful managerial career in Glasgow’s hotel and restaurant industry.
Restaurant tycoon Mario Romano died in 2011 at the age of 71, leaving a £4m fortune and is survived by his wife Pina, who sublet the lease to Mr Benouari.
He spent £70000 refurbishing the restaurant, which boasted Scotland’s first wood fired pizza oven.
They have contacted customers who had made bookings for later than February 1, which Mr Benouari called “the last supper”, and he is assisting the restaurant’s 15 staff to find new jobs.
He said: “It hasn’t really sunk in that in three weeks time we won’t be here.
“I know the Romano family are quite sad.
“It was the first venture of their father’s.
“There are a lot of memories wrapped up in the restaurant.
“I hear stories everyday. ‘I met my wife here, we got engaged here.
“I remember Lorenzo Amoruso in the kitchen showing us his new cook book. He now owns a restaurant in Italy.”
A Glasgow City Council spokesman confirmed the hotel application is “working its way through the planning process”.