Let’s begin with the easy choices.
Leith is an undeniable haven for foodies, with a wealth of excellent (and some not-so- excellent) establishments; home to a brace of 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 beyond a few notable exceptions – I’m doffing a cap to you, Black Fox and The Lioness Of Leith – the mixed drink seems to be treated with the same affection as the metric system is in America.
The word ‘cocktail’ does sneak on to many menus around Leith but very much as an afterthought, reflecting the relative lack of care and consideration given to the drinks themselves.
Thank goodness, then, for The Roseleaf (23-24 Sandport Pl, EH6 6EW).
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 temperance advocates have an almost overwhelming choice of teas, coffee and homemade cordials and fizzes.
Much like Leith, Stockbridge has never been short of fantastic places to dine but seemed slow off the mark when it came to libations.
The Blue Parrot Cantina has been quietly purring along since the mid nineties but were you to want anything besides classic margaritas your choice was pretty limited.
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 and Treacle both have sister bars (the former imaginatively called the Bon Vivant Stockbridge, the latter Hamilton’s) serving exemplary cocktails alongside excellent food.
It’s no surprise that new addition Chameleon calls itself a
‘Cocktail and Tapas Bar’ and not the other way around, since its mixed drinks should get at least as much praise as its mouthwatering edibles.
But it is to the Last Word Saloon (44 St Stephen St, EH3 5AL) 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.
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 pubs and restaurants such as Blue Blazer, Castle Terrace and The Pompadour.
Cocktails seem to flourish more here too, given the abundance of choice.
Sibling bars Sygn and The Westroom are practically Siamese twins less than a street away from each other, with the Montpeliers group’s Indigo Yard sandwiched between them and The Voyage of Buck just a hop, skip and jump away.
Lebowski’s turns a movie-character’s affectation into the basis of an entire menu of milk-based mixed drinks 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 (1a Rutland Place, EH1 2AD).
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 cocktail menu is, unsurprisingly, gin-heavy but goes a long way towards showing the versatility of this popular spirit.
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 (Candy, Opal Lounge, Tigerlily and Rabble) reside round these parts, as well as the aforementioned Bon Vivant and Bramble.
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.
Treacle, Nightcap, Hoot The Redeemer and Tonic all unfussily go about their business like anyone secure in their expertise should, while impressive-looking newcomer KIN could be one to watch.
Special mention should be made of The Lucky Liquor Company on Queen Street, whose premise of a seasonal bottle roster is simple but whose enigmatic and ever-changing menu may not always 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.
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 Epicurean at the G&V Hotel and a short skip further down George IV Bridge brings you to the self-assured Villager.
Shimmy down some of the smaller tributaries of the High Street and you’ll find the upmarket decadence of Monteith’s, the well-crafted Scotch whisky cocktails of Michael Neave’s Kitchen & Whisky Bar and the industrial chic of The Devil’s Advocate.
Gin lovers will find juniper-infused nirvana in 56 North – even though its location out beyond the University hub makes it somewhat of an oasis in a desert of drinking dens and takeaways.
But if you can successfully manoeuver through the boisterous Grassmarket then respite can be found in the colonial décor of Dragonfly.
Nestled just far enough away from the brashness of the Grassmarket to feel like sanctuary, 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 its alter-ego as a free comedy venue during the festival.