**Last updated: May 2017**
Each of the venues on this list has a unique spark and soul. Each one combines innovation with impeccable service, knowledge and passion and each one enhances Edinburgh’s reputation as a city awash with creativity and entertainment. It would be impossible to award a number one slot and so, in no particular order, here is the list of my favourite cocktail bars in Edinburgh;
I love Bryant & Mack. It’s both quirky and endearing, moody and cosy. Styled as a private detective agency with frosted windows, metal grates and worn down old doors, this speakeasy style bar has quickly become a firm favourite. Owners Ross Bryant and Jason Cormack believe the secret to great a bar is serving “great drinks to nice people”, a recipe for success as simple as it is true. This, coupled with an innovative cocktail list and a sky high attention to detail, sets Bryant & Mack apart. 87-89 Rose Street EH2 3DT
This carnival themed basement bar is a visual delight and a light hearted breath of fresh air. There’s a Punch and Judy DJ box. There’s a vending machine stocked with own brand booze laced ice cream. There’s an arcade claw machine filled with cocktail flavour prizes and an alcoholic slushier machine. While the decor is fun and laidback, the 1970’s inspired cocktails are still taken seriously and made to the highest standard. This is no a case of style over substance; Hoot The Redeemer has both in spades. 7 Hanover Street EH2 1DJ
The Blackbird has everything I like in a bar; good cocktails, good service, good lighting and a good garden. The garden, actually, is better than good. Bestrewn with fairy lights and dotted with plants, it’s a charming place to lose track of time. The custom cocktail menu is extensive and I’d be hard pressed to choose a favourite but ‘The Friday I’m In Love’ with Belvedere, lychee, lemon, mint, egg white and Prosecco would be a contender.
A relaxed, neighbourhood bar with an open fire and a clever drinks menu, The Last Word is a local’s haunt and a Stockbridge gem. I usually tend to order wine (the accompanying I.J. Mellis cheese board is too much to resist) but the grown up cocktail list is what they’re famous for. For gin and tonic drinkers the Hendricks based ‘Lear’s Lyric’ with ABA pisco, manzanilla sherry, avocado leaf, lemon, sugar snap pea syrup and the Bitter Truth celery bitters is a must try.
Tucked away off the Royal Mile in a former Victorian pump station, this bar is about as ‘Old Town’ as it gets. In keeping with this, the cocktail list is awash with hard liquor and a must for whiskey drinkers. As a non-whiskey drinker, I like gin based ‘Curiosity Killed The Captain’ with salted Riesling, sour cherry and watermelon. The staff are frighteningly knowledgeable about mixed drinks and are always happy to advise. 9 Advocate’s Close EH1 1ND
Bramble Bar and Lounge
Nestled beneath an alternation outlet on the corner of Hanover and Queen Street is Bramble, purveyor of artfully concocted alcohol beverages and six year resident of The World’s 50 Best Bars list. Ask anyone in Edinburgh for the number one cocktail bar in the city and odds are the answer is Bramble. The basement bar is simply decorated with subdued lighting, mismatched leather chairs and intimate candle-lit corners – all the better contrast to the Willy Wonka style cocktails. For anyone who (like me) lives for sugar try the marshmallow syrup based ‘Candy Crush’ or the ginger jam infused ‘Butter-Scotch’. 16A Queen Street Midlothian EH2 1JE
Accessed through a secret door hidden behind a haphazard bookshelf, this vintage barbershop speakeasy revives the 1920s prohibition era with elegance and authenticity. The cocktails are expertly prepared, charmingly named and a visual feast. Uniquely in Edinburgh, Panda and Sons also serve cocktails designed for groups. ‘Liquid Brunch’, a mixture of Ketel One, chamomile tea, ginger wine and fennel syrup presented in a teapot, serves three while ‘The Milky Bar Hero’, a combination of gin, liqueur, cognac, rose water and condensed milk, serves six. Also worth mentioning is ‘The Birdcage’, a blend of Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve, rhubarb and lemongrass shrub, Aperol, Angostura Bitters and a cinnamon clove mix served in a smoking bell jar.
13 is the lucky number at this Queen Street establishment. The menu of 13 cocktails, updated quarterly, is created using just 13 spirits, setting it apart from from the extensively stocked Queen street contemporaries listed above. Further differentiation comes from the decor which is fresh and bright with natural light, pavement seating and a dazzling chequered floor. The quirky and inventive menu incorporates ice-cream floats, Indian lassi and smoke infused trout alongside a dizzying array of additional elements to create a list that is truly unique.
Self-described “neon-lit dive bar” Paradise Palms has everything a sane person could want from a bar; eccentric decor, custom made cocktails and an AC/DC pinball machine. The colours are vibrant, the music is uplifting and the atmosphere is festive. The venue has a weird and wonderful aesthetic, catering to those with a taste for the quirky and serving as a home to the Pollyanna Cabaret and Variety show, a monthly book club, open mic sessions, ‘sci-curious’ soirees and more.
Wedged between the Irish bars of the Grassmarket and the infamous red lights of the ‘Pubic Triangle’, Dragonfly is a cocktail bar cut somewhat adrift from its peers. While by night the Old Town is more commonly associated with pubs and live music than award winning cocktail bars, the decor of this venue best represents the gilt-edged vintage and kitsch that the area is better known for by day. I like the ‘Bajan Basil’, a heady mix of Gay Eclipse rum, Cointreau, lime juice, sugar and fresh basil leaves, served straight up and the ‘Peach, Plum, Pear’, a cognac and champagne based gem.
A place I’m in so often I may as well have a business card printed that reads ‘I’ll see you in The Queens’, this charmingly olde-worlde pub is softly lit with an atmosphere that manages to be both stylish and comfortingly familiar. The walls are lined with books, private booths upholstered with leather and the amaretto sours are the best in town. This is not the most quirky or experimental venue on this list and the crowd is more likely to consist of bespectacled locals than vintage wearing hipsters but the high quality cocktails combined with the cosy environment and lack of pretension make this venue a firm favourite among Edinburgh residents and the ideal place to while away a rainy afternoon.
99 Hanover Street
This eclectic city centre bar is busy seven nights a week – partly due to the decor, partly due the music policy and partly due to the incredible cocktail menu. The bar staff are more than willing to take classic requests but the custom created “Rhubarb Streisand” and the vegetable based “Bitch Peas” are well worth a whirl. 99 Hanover Street EH2 IDJ
The Voodoo Rooms
Located in the heart of the city centre, The Voodoo Rooms is a multi-award winning historical venue serving some of the most inventive cocktails in the city. Combining the luxury edge of the Moulin Rouge with a dash of Addams Family decor, this gothic, palm tree filled space is as beautiful as it is inviting. The hard liquor selection is extensive but the cocktail menu is the jewel in the crown.19a West Register Street EH2 2AA