One of Glasgow's best-known lanes was evacuated yesterday after a major fire ripped through bars, restaurants and a cinema, causing damage which may take months to repair.

Ashton Lane, in the heart of Glasgow's west end, was closed to the public from around midday yesterday as firefighters dealt with the blaze, described as a "major and complex incident".

The fire is understood to have started in kitchens of the Cul de Sac bar and restaurant as staff prepared for the lunchtime rush and spread to the neighbouring Grosvenor Cinema.

Shortly after fire crews arrived, diners were evacuated from the nearby Ubiquitous Chip restaurant amid concerns that the fire would spread further.

Fire investigation teams were not expected to begin their probe into the cause of the blaze until late last night, but staff at both venues and nearby premises said it started after a hot plate in the Cul de Sac caught fire and spread through flues and ducts, fuelled by the extractor fan.

At the height of the fire there were five appliances from across the west of Glasgow, 10 firefighters wearing breathing apparatus inside the buildings and four jets dousing the fire at various levels.

Aerial appliances were also on standby in neighbouring streets in case the fire spread.

Some three hours after Strathclyde Fire and Rescue was alerted, various parts of the complex were still being checked for undiscovered fires.

Although externally the venues did not appear to be badly damaged, it is understood the Grosvenor and Cul de Sac restaurant will be out of operation for a considerable time. The roof of the cinema is believed to have been particularly badly affected.

Both venues are operated by G1 Group, owned by Glasgow businessman Stefan King.

David Penman, the officer in charge of the operation, said the fire was "well developed and deep seated" by the time appliances arrived and the design, age and structure of the buildings made it difficult to bring under control.

He said: "It's a very complex range of buildings with a lot of hidden cavities. The firefighters have been working in very arduous conditions but have managed to bring it under control.

"We need to ensure the buildings are safe and the fire has been dealt with before we can allow the investigation teams in, but it would appear the fire has started at the bottom end of the range of buildings."

The cobbled lane is one of the city's best-known destinations for nightlife and is filled with bars and restaurants.

A full half-hour after the blaze began, early afternoon revellers were still eating and drinking within some of the unaffected venues but were moved further down the lane as the scale of the fire became apparent.

An hour into the inci- dent thick plumes of black smoke spread across surrounding streets, including Byres Road, the smell of the fire even permeating the platforms of the nearby Subway station.

It sparked a tense few hours for the owner of the Ubiquitous Chip, Ronnie Clydesdale, and his staff as the smoke appeared to creep closer to the well-known restaurant.

By 5pm last night it, along with the nearby Jinty McGinty's, had reopened, although the rest of the lane remained closed off.

Catriona Pope, manageress at The Chip, said: "We had 150 bookings for Sunday lunch, our busiest day of the week, and some people had already arrived and sat down when the firefighters told us all to leave.

"It was a fairly emotional few hours as we watched the fire appear to come closer and closer to The Chip. But we maintained a presence, kept our customers informed and breathed a huge sigh of relief when told we could go back."

As well as the Cul de Sac and Grosvenor, the G1-owned complex of buildings, Ashton Lane also houses bars including The Loft, Radio, Nude and The Lane.

The Grosvenor Cinema, which opened in 1921, was closed for refurbishment in 2002 and re-launched by G1 in 2003 after a multimillion-pound re-fit.

No-one from G1 was available for comment.