Iain Meldrum of The Mixolosopher blog navigates the five corners of Edinburgh to bring you his pick of the city’s cocktail bars.

Leith

Ok let’s start off easy. Leith has more than its fair share of excellent (and not-so-excellent) establishments for food and drink; home to two Michelin-starred restaurants (and a star-garnering chef in the form of Tony Borthwick) as well as some superb places for Asian cuisine, fresh fish and craft beer. But with the relocation of Bond No.9 to the heady heights of Picardy Place, the Shore is in short supply of exceptional drinkeries.

The word ‘cocktail’ does sneak on to menus around Leith but very much as an afterthought, reflecting the care and consideration rarely given to the drinks themselves in these establishments. Thank goodness, then, for The Roseleaf. Tucked away among some characterless apartment buildings and a builders’ hire company warehouse, this cosy venue captivates with its mish-mash furniture, porcelain-fixation and collection of hats. Pretence is a foreign word here. Pride of place goes to their sharing ‘pot-tails’ – cocktails seemingly ripped from the mind of Lewis Carroll and served in vintage china teapots.

The less adventurous can be content with a wide selection of beers and spirits as well as a few wines and the abstainers have an almost overwhelming choice of teas, coffee and homemade cordials and ‘fizzes’.

Roseleaf

Stockbridge

Much like Leith, Stockbridge was never short of fantastic places to dine but seemed slow off the mark when it came to libations. In more recent times, however, the cocktail stalwarts of central Edinburgh have decided to spread their tentacles to this thriving part of the city.

The Bon Vivant has a sister bar (imaginatively called the Bon Vivant Stockbridge) serving exemplary booze and grub. But it is to the Last Word Saloon, the errant child of relative veteran Bramble, to which we turn. Another cosy spot, expect to be equally dazzled by both the skills and the facial hair of the barmen.

The cocktails range from classic to modern to downright experimental and the menu sports a very handy glossary explaining some of the more intriguing ingredients. And don’t be alarmed by the sound of a chainsaw starting up – that’s just ‘Pixie’, the Last Word’s ice-processing power-tool.

last word 2

West End

The Lothian Road area does have its charms (though occasionally they’re the kind of charms that are worn by women wearing very little else) as well as some top-notch bars and restaurants such as Blue Blazer, Castle Terrace and The Pompadour.

Sibling bars Sygn and The Westroom are practically Siamese twins less than a street away from each other, with Montpeliers’ Indigo Yard sandwiched between them. Lebowski’s turns a movie-character’s affectation into the basis of an entire drinks menu and One Square at The Sheraton is brimming with gin and well-presented plates of food.

For the best juniper-based japery, however, the place to head is Heads & Tales. Formerly soul-less style bar The One Below, it has been reborn as the new home of Edinburgh Gin, with two working stills gleaming proudly behind tempered glass. The bar-cum-distillery offers tours by day and becomes a vibrant venue by the time the offices close. The menu is, unsurprisingly, gin-heavy but goes a long way towards showing the versatility of this popular spirit.

Heads & Tales

New Town

Here’s where things start to get tricky. The sheer concentration of bars in the New Town – most notably around George, Hanover and Frederick Streets – makes it very hard to heap praise on any one in particular. Nearly all of Montpeliers’ solid roster of venues reside round these parts, as well as the aforementioned Bon Vivant and Bramble. 99 Hanover holds its own – though, as the Abba song goes, music is their first love.

The Balmoral Bar’s cocktail list is as long as it is pricey and gin gets another chance to shine in Juniper at the Royal British Hotel. The Place on York Place and Tonic on North Castle Street seem to unfussily go about their business like anyone secure in their expertise might – and special mention should be made of The Lucky Liquor Company on Queen Street, whose premise is simple but whose enigmatic and ever-changing menu may not suit the novice drinker.

Venture a little further, however, and you’ll almost miss Panda & Sons. The false front of a barber-shop gives way to this seldom-quiet speakeasy bar, showcasing some of the best cocktailian craft in the city. The menu, which reads as much like a storybook, is a treasure-trove of forgotten classics and award-winning modern concoctions, all prepared with expert skill.

panda and sons

Old Town

Traipsing up and down the cobbles of the most ancient part of the city you can be forgiven for thinking the Old Town is one enormous Scottish souvenir shop. But veer away from the Royal Mile and you can discover some serious purveyors of mixed drinks, as well as a plethora of traditional pubs and bars.

For those with bottomless pockets and a desire to show off there’s the G&V Hotel Bar (formerly the Missoni) and a short skip further down George IV Bridge brings you to the self-assured Villager and impressive-looking newcomer Sligh House, the totally overhauled successor to Bar Kohl. Along some of the other tributaries of the High Street you’ll find the upmarket decadence of Monteith’s, the well-crafted whisky cocktails of Michael Neave’s and the industrial chic of The Devil’s Advocate. But if you can successfully manoeuver through the boisterous Grassmarket then respite can be found in the colonial décor of Dragonfly.

This old hand (by cocktail bar standards, at least) has evolved over the years into a first-rate lounge which doesn’t take itself too seriously, perhaps something to do with their alter-ego as a free comedy venue during the festival.

Dragonfly

About The Author

Iain Meldrum

Iain Meldrum (aka Mixolosopher) has over a decade of experience at the top of the drinks industry as both a bartender and trainer. He is passionate about all things alcoholic - though in a responsible and philosophical way, of course.

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