Screenshots via 'Trainspotting' / Film4; Photographs by the author A major bank recently did one of those awful, trying-very-hard-to-be-zeitgeisty press releases in which it revealed that putting money into property in a "Trainspotting postcode" in 1996 would have, in hindsight, been a very sound investment. House prices in the locations the film was shot have increased by over 200 percent; they salivated, as though the onslaught of impossibly high living costs is universally received as great news.
Apparently no one has told Sick Boy, Trainspotting's perennial not-quite master criminal.
"The great wave of gentrification has yet to engulf us," he jokes in recent sequel T2, as he introduces the ramshackle pub he has inherited. The bar is meant to be in Leith, the Edinburgh dockside district that has, in reality, been steadily gentrifying for two decades.
Likely for that reason, the producers of T2 scouted out a pub near Glasgow to film at in its place, with the decaying wasteland of Clydebank's waterfront—safely free of Michelin-starred restaurants—providing a more fitting backdrop.
Much the same dilemma faced the filmmakers of the original Trainspotting film in the mid 90s, which, a bit of east coast scene setting aside, was famously shot in Glasgow. So what has happened to those iconic locations over the past two decades? Have they too been overcome by a tsunami of pop-up shops, wine bars, and hawkish estate agents?
To find out, I went on a tour of the key Trainspotting sites around Glasgow to see what I could find.
The Night Club
The night club scene, in case you don't remember, is the bit where Ewan MacGregor's anti-hero Renton meets Kelly Macdonald's schoolgirl Diane for the first time, as "Atomic" by Blondie reverberates in the background.
The Volcano nightclub was a real venue, situated in Partick in the west end of the city. But like the fate of so many clubs since, it was flattened soon after featuring in the film, and luxury apartments and expensive student housing now, predictably, occupy its streets. Where once under-agers took pills, partied all night, and got off with strangers,
there are now lonely freshers in their studio apartments and, apparently, a "beautifully landscaped internal courtyard."
Verdict: Partick has long been at the frontier of gentrification in Glasgow, stuck right between the River Clyde's former shipyards and the leafy boulevards of the west end. The area's changed beyond recognition since the mid 1990s, so no surprises here as the great wave of gentrification claims Benalder Street's Volcano night spot as its first victim.
The Pub Where Begbie Kicks Off
The famous pint-to-the-face pub may be situated right by the residences where Glasgow University pack their thousands of new arrivals in every autumn, but few of them would ever dare step inside here. Its reputation preceded it—it was definitely not a "studenty place," because, well, haven't you seen Trainspotting?
That remained the case until a couple of years ago, when a hip local chain bought Crosslands, as it was once known, and rebranded it as the Kelbourne Saint. The arrival of wooden paneling, craft gins, an obsession with rotisserie chicken, and a playlist of easy listening music did not take long to follow. Far from there being any dead babies crawling on the ceiling, there are instead whole corners of the pub devoted to storing high chairs and children's books.
Verdict: This pub got gentrified, and no one leaves here till we find out who did it (although at least you can buy a cocktail named after everyone's favorite psychotic pint throwing hardman, Franco Begbie).
The Cafe with the Milkshake
The waves of Italian migrants who arrived in Scotland in the early 20th century brought many brilliant things with them, not least ice cream and deep fried pizza. Tiny Italian eateries also started popping up all over the central belt, and Café d'Jaconelli on Maryhill Road is one of the finest examples. There since 1924, its most famous moment came in 1996 when Renton and Spud sat down for a strawberry milkshake and a dab of speed.
Verdict: Jaconelli's hasn't changed its décor in about 50 years, let alone its menu, and it's all the better for it. Certified yuppie free zone.
The Street Renton Overdoses On
Only a few minutes drive from the center of Glasgow, Possilpark feels like a different world. The parts of the area featured in Trainspotting looked pretty close to demolition 20 years ago, so it's little surprise to find that not much remains now aside from empty streets, overgrown and strewn with broken glass.
Verdict: I don't think the urban landscape of Possil has won many accolades in recent years, but congratulations this time around—it's far and away the least gentrified of any of the original Trainspotting locations.
Straight after overdosing, Renton gets rushed to the emergency room. The filmmakers used Canniesburn Hospital in Bearsden, a posh area to the northwest of the city. The basic structure of the building is still there, although it's now all been turned into luxury penthouses. In this eerily quiet, Neighborhood Watch suburbia, there are no signs of screaming ambulances or drug addicts getting hauled out of taxis.
Verdict: Thinking of ways to gentrify what is already the poshest part of the city must be pretty tough, but turning a pre-war hospital block into luxury apartments just about manages that, so great work Bearsden.
Most of the Interior Shots
Tobacco has long been intertwined with Glasgow's history: Much of the city's early wealth came from exploiting the transatlantic trade in the product. Many of its grandest buildings once housed the wealthy tobacco merchants, and the city had huge cigarette factories as recently as the 1980s. Once of those factories, on Alexandra Parade in the east end, happened to be lying empty while the makers of Trainspotting were scouting for a large space they could take over. They ended up constructing sound stages inside it, and many of the indoor scenes in the film were shot there.
It's now a giant office block housing call-center staff, so the next time you're on the phone to a Scottish-sounding call handler at British Gas or Sky, be sure to ask him if he's in the same building that the baby dies in and where Renton falls into a carpet.
Verdict: Not so much gentrification, more just an emblem of all the shitty jobs that post-industrial Britain has gifted us.
Follow Liam Turbett on Twitter.