Edinburgh is the UK’s prettiest city, especially on a cold winter night when there’s a bit of Christmas in the air.
It also has some of Britain’s best bars and restaurants, so we were very happy when OnLocation, our guide to the UK for travelling bartenders, turned its attention to Edinburgh.
Armed with bottles of Bulldog Bold and our best winter coats, we stepped bravely out into the Scottish night and found ourselves at our first bar of the evening:
Bond No.9: 84 Commercial St, Edinburgh EH6 6LL
Way back in the day, Bond No.9 was a bonded warehouse (hence the name), and as such offers some exposed brickwork and lovely ceiling beam action in the main bar.
Out back, there is a large indoor / outdoor patio area which looks out on a sort of fake canal water feature – all that remains of the Victoria Quay the warehouse once served.
This conservatory, for want of a better word, is a lovely space, tailor made for sunny days, and perhaps even better when the weather is bad and rain is pelting down on the glass roof. Hot buttered rum anyone?
On our visit, Bond No.9 was looking forward to celebrating its 5th birthday the following day and the staff were clearly excited about the coming big night. I’ve always taken the sight of staff hanging out at their bar on days off to be a good sign, and something tells me Bond No.9 is a dangerous place.
Owner Chris Flint was keen to show us his gin chops, and whipped up this Bulldog Bold cocktail:
The Dog’s Plums
- 30ml Bulldog Bold
- 12.5ml Pink Grapefruit juice
- 50ml Ume wine
- 20ml Colombard white wine
- 5ml Gomme
- 5ml Poppy liqueur
- Dash Peychaud’s bitter
Summary: Bond No.9 is a day/night bar; fight off a hangover in the conservatory with pulled pork, or generate a new one with a evening propping up the bar. Hummingbird wallpaper speaks to tiki-leanings, and their cocktails have punny names (their Żubrówka drink is called M Bison, which will amuse old blokes and gamers). This place has good time bar written all over it.
Bar Kohl: 54 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EJ
Bar Kohl has been open for 20 years, but the building itself has in one form or another dispensed booze for over a century. The venue is U-shaped: one side is quite modern and high street-looking. However the other side, which I’m willing to bet would be the one you spend most time in, is completely different.
A beautiful old wooden gantry back bar dominates the narrow space, along with blackboards advertising house infusions (candied ginger rum; tangerine bourbon, for example). The menu is heavy on sharing drinks, with a big selection of teapot punches, and the back bar is unsurprisingly rich in whisky.
Summary: Bar Kohl is pleasingly dimly lit, and its range of infusions encourages experimentation. Should you be doing the tourist thing, the bar is very close to the Grassmarket, making it an ideal refuge from Edinburgh’s crowds. If you are with mates, the teapot punches look like a good sharing bet.
Tigerlilly: 125 George St, Edinburgh, EH2 4JN
Tigerlilly is a bit of an Edinburgh monster and, if plush is your thing, is a must visit venue – Think boutique hotel frequented by pretty young things (and not so pretty but rich old things) and your mind’s eye wont be far wrong.
Pleasingly, Kevin Griffin was working, and while he regaled us with stories of his recent World Class adventures, made us a Bulldog Bold cocktail:
- 50ml Bulldog Bold
- 20ml Rin Quin Quin
- 15ml Lime juice
- 10ml Pineapple juice
- 5ml Agave syrup
- 2 Large mint leaves
- Garnish with mint leaf and 4 drops Peychaud’s bitters
Summary: Tigerlilly is plush but welcoming, a combination many venues shoot for and miss. The staff are great and you will always get good drinks here. Not Edinburgh’s cheapest destination.
The Westroom: 3 Melville Place, Edinburgh EH3 7PR
The Westroom’s exterior reminded me for some reason of Edward Hopper’s painting, Nighthawks.
Inside however, it is less 40s downtown diner and more high street cocktail bar. The back bar has been cleverly constructed from old doors, and it is this that grabs the eye as you walk into the venue.
Assistant GM, Niall McMillan, took some time away from his regulars to give us his picks for bars to visit later that night, and made us this Bulldog Bold cocktail:
Battle of Britain
- 50ml Bulldog Bold
- 12.5ml St. Germain
- 8ml Luxardo Maraschino
- 12.5ml Lemon Juice
- Lemon Twist
Summary: The Westroom has something of a wine bar feel to it. Close to the main drag and with a healthy spirits selection, it’s a good spot for mid-sight-seeing-or-shopping-gin and tonics.
52 Canoes Tiki Den: 13 Melville St Ln, Edinburgh EH3 7PR
This place is tiki as fuck. Owner Amanda Caygill and her team have essentially taken a boozer and tiki-vomited all over its interior. I imagine 52 Canoe’s cushion-strewn makeout booths bear a strong resemblance to the darker recesses of Lyndon Higginson’s mind.
You will immediately feel at home in this joint – there’s Red Stripe on tap, Mai Tais on the menu and the friendly staff are suitably attired, although tiki shirts and wooly hats is probably an Edinburgh-centric quirk.
On a warm day, the den has a nice little outside seating area just below street level, a perfect place for sipping Miami Vices and watching the world’s ankles go by. On cold days and any night, go and listen to surf tunes and drink rum.
Summary: It’s a tiki bar.
Devil’s Advocate: 9 Advocate Close, Edinburgh EH1 1ND
Devil’s Advocate is Stuart McCluskey’s (The Bon Vivant, Pep & Fodder, among other venues) newest addition to Edinburgh’s hospitality scene, and it is a beautiful one at that.
Nestled on a narrow alley straight out of Mary Poppins, Devil’s Advocate is all bare stone and glass; if this sounds sterile, the reality is anything but. Downstairs, the bar is dominated by an enormous, cage-like back bar, packed with one of the best whisky-heavy spirits selections I’ve seen in a long time. Upstairs, diners are escorted by excellent staff to a gantry of tables which afford excellent views of the bar and patrons below – a perfect people watching spot.
We ate at Devil’s Advocate, and having dined at Bon Vivant several times, had high expectations. These were matched in spades… the food was lovely. In fact, I had what I can only describe as the best chip I’ve ever eaten during the meal.
Because we lingered over the excellent food, we didn’t have time to get properly stuck into the cocktail menu, but the drinks we did taste were great.
Summary: For a joint open just two weeks, Devil’s Advocate already has its shit together. A beautiful space, with great food and enough interesting spirits to see you sipping into the small hours.
Lucky Liquor: 39A Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 3NH
If Lucky Liquor wasn’t so nice and clean inside, I’d describe it as a dive bar. Lack of roaches and sticky floor aside, the place feels like a dive bar, in the best possible way. There’s an old record deck at the end of the bar, and during our stay the only music we listened to came from suitably crackly vinyl.
The bar area itself looks like someone’s kitchen. White tiles sport dry erase marker specials, tin mugs hang from hooks and ‘ask your bartender about our off sales list’ is proudly written above the shelves.
Bar Manager Robin Honhold made us some cracking drinks, and we also enjoyed Boiler Makers served with a beer of the bar’s own design.
Summary: a brilliant place to lose a night. Simultaneously work your way through their stack of vinyl and cocktail lists. If you are on a crawl, make Lucky Liquor your last stop and get some take out.
Panda and Sons: 79 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 4NF
The second newly opened bar we visited, Panda & Sons is Iain McPherson’s baby. If you have ever propped up the bar at Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh, you’ve probably met Iain already, and regular readers will recognize his name as a frequent competition winner.
The bar feels, and is, subterranean. Low ceilings and dim lighting provide a gentleman’s club ambience, which is immediately dispelled by the staff’s tattooed youthfulness. It’s a big venue, with lots of nooks and crannies to be found, and would probably be an excellent place to make one’s move after an evening of wooing.
Iain was the consummate host despite our visit coming towards the end of both our night and capacity for drink, and he made us this very tasty Bulldog Bold cocktail:
- 60ml Bulldog Bold
- 2 Dash Bob’s lavender bitters
- 15ml Akashi tai Umeshu
- Barspoon PX Sherry
- 10ml Noix St. Jean
- Orange twist
Summary: This place has late night written all over it. I’d imagine Edinburgh’s bartenders filter into Panda & Co as their shifts end. A place to get your drink geek on in the company of like minded fellows.
Edinburgh in a nutshell
Edinburgh is a worthy destination for the travelling bartender – it can provide romance factor 50 for those with an SO, and is also the perfect cocktail safari destination – in addition to the venues we visited on this trip, the city is home to awesome bars like Bramble, Voodoo Rooms and the Bon Vivant, naming just a few.
Next time you have a weekend off, a few quid in your pocket and a thirst, Edinburgh is calling your name.