Ballie Ballerson opens in time for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe - we try Scotland's first ball pool cocktail bar

It’s the second branch for this business

Published 2nd Aug 2022
Updated 20 th Sep 2023

In troubled times, you may feel like regressing to the simple days of childhood.

There’s always the option of heading to your local swing park, but the presence of actual kids might spoil the experience.

Instead, try Ballie Ballerson - Scotland’s first ball pit cocktail bar. It's just launched at 14 Forrest Road, Edinburgh, in the former premises of what was McSorley’s and, before that, Oddfellows, Oz Bar, Malone’s and various other venues. In one of its many iterations, Sean Connery worked here as a bouncer.

Ballie Ballerson owner, Wenny Armstrong, chose this spot over her second choice of Glasgow, for the Capital’s bar scene and our festival.

She’s had to go carefully when re-designing the space. It’s a Grade B listed property, built in 1873 as Oddfellows Hall - a meeting space for the eponymous “friendly society”.

There’s now a huge open-plan bar area on the ground floor. For someone like me, who has failing night vision, it’s slightly disorientating, as this is all painted black, apart from neon wall art, including text that declares; “No t****ish behaviour”.

There are DJs, a photo booth, pizza, and mixologists who occasionally whip out a blowtorch to toast the marshmallows for the Island Time rum cocktail. Along with many other playful and sugar-orientated concoctions, all of which are under a tenner, they also serve a Capri-Sunha, which contains watermelon, pineapple and passionfruit, served in a Capri Sun style bag, but with a glowing colour-changing ice-cube inside. There’s a Skittle Sour and a Dibbie Dabberson, decorated with a lollipop and a sherbet Dip-Dab.

One of the cocktails comes with a light-up scrunchie.

The actual ball pool is up the stairs, and there’s an admission fee, which ranges from £4.50 to £10 for two hours, depending on the day.

It turns out it’s rather beautifully Barbarella-esque, in a mirrored room that’s got the air-conditioning cranked up to comply with health and safety conditions. The balls, which are regularly cleaned, are iridescent and glow, thanks to the LED floor.

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I worry that I might wade in, then lose something. According to Armstrong, someone did drop a £22k engagement ring at their London branch, but they managed to fish it out.

The last time I went in a ball pool was at Little Marcos, Edinburgh, circa 1985.

I feel confident that Gabbie Gabberson can remember how to do this. In the end, I freak out when I can’t find the floor and start sinking backwards. I imagine them finding a skeleton, clutching a handbag, at the bottom of the pool in a decade’s time.

However, they do have the ball equivalent of a lifeguard, who is watching me supportively. Or pityingly. They only come up to waist height. I’ll probably survive this. Other guests are less nervous. There is whooping and chucking of balls. Some make ball angels. Selfies are taken. 

The mezzanine level also features tubular slides. I don’t know where they go, but it turns out it’s back to the bar level, rather than out through rubbish disposal.

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After Ballie Ballerson, I feel I’ve got in touch with my inner child, but I needed an early night. It seems my actual age caught up with me.

Dibbie Dabberson

Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.
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