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;
1. 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 rum and tequila selection is extensive but the cocktail menu is the jewel in the crown.
Recommended: ‘The Exuberant Mr. Lockhart’, a Grande Absente flame blasted creation containing Wild Turkey American Honey, Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, lemon, apple and peche bitters.
19a West Register Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2AA.
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. Within this sparsely decorated whitewashed basement bar, fantastically innovative cocktails of Willy Wonka ingenuity such as the marshmallow syrup based ‘Candy Crush’ and the ginger jam infused ‘Butter-Scotch’ are created. Midweek, the subdued lighting, mismatched leather chairs and intimate candle-lit corners of this venue attract a laid-back, understated crowd seeking a venue that serves high quality custom made cocktails in an environment that facilitates relaxation and good conversation while the addition of a DJ at the weekend kicks the atmosphere into a slightly higher tempo on Friday and Saturday nights.
Recommended: ‘The Bramble’, for which the bar was named, is a classic combining Hayman’s London Dry Gin, fresh lemon juice, sugar syrup and Creme De Mures.
16A Queen Street, Edinburgh, 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.
Recommended: ‘The Birdcage’, a sensory delight, combines Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve, rhubarb and lemongrass shrub, Aperol, Angostura Bitters and a cinnamon and clove mix, served in a smoking bell jar.
79 Queen St, Edinburgh EH2 4NF
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.
Recommended: The ‘Megawatt 2.0’, a fruity vermouth based concoction served in a lightbulb.
39A Queen St, Edinburgh EH2 3NH
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. Go early for food (the Ninja Buns are frighteningly addictive) and spend the evening enjoying the spectacle.
Recommended: ‘The Higher Place’, a joyful mix of raspberry gin, hazelnut syrup, peach liqueur and prosecco.
41 Lothian Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1HB.
Wedged between the Irish bars of the Grassmarket and the salacious 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. The perfect place to round off a day’s sight seeing, visitors can climb the Royal Mile before slipping down the Castle Wynd steps and directly into Grassmarket Square.
Recommended: 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.
52 West Port Edinburgh EH1 2LD.
While technically two separate establishments, both of these cocktail utopias are located within the same building, affording me the thrilling opportunity to sneak an extra venue onto this list. At street level is The Huxley, a light airy space selling burgers, milkshakes and an ever changing list of glorious cocktails. So ever changing, in fact, that I am still mourning the loss of two former favourites, the lingonberry based ‘Jammin’ In Ikea’ and the apricot and vanilla infused ‘Huxley Harpoon’. Despite the marvellous menu currently on offer, I live in abject hope that both will one day return. Below The Huxley and accessed through a separate entrance is Head & Tales, a liquid treasure trove and Edinburgh Gin distillery site. Watching the contents of two copper stills bubble, boil and vaporise while sipping the fruits of the process is a unique experience and the relaxed atmosphere makes this venue the perfect place for an overdue catch-up.
Recommended: at The Huxley give ‘Smoking Barrels’ a mixture of in house blended whiskey, camomile sugar and peach bitters. Below the stairs, try ‘Don’t Speak It’s Name’, a Blackwoods, pear and herbal blend.
1-3 Rutland Street, Edinburgh EH1 2AE
This charmingly olde-worlde pub is softly lit with an atmosphere that is both classy and as comfortingly familiar as hot buttered toast. The walls are lined with books and the private booths upholstered with leather. This is not the most quirky, 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.
Recommended: The ‘Amaretto Sours’, a simple classic served exactly the way it should be.
e49 Frederick St, Edinburgh, EH2 1EP
9. Spit / Fire
This Dublin Street bar is better known for it’s wide range of beer and whiskey brands but, for me, the sprightly Julep menu is the unique selling point. ‘Agave Barb Sum Sugar’ is a sweeter take on the classic while ‘Don’t Be A Prick’ combines a stronger taste with sound advice. Classic whiskey cocktails such as the ‘Old Fashioned’ and the ‘Sazerac’ are also available, alongside a full food menu on the upper floor.
Recommended: The ‘Kentucky’ Julep, a fragrant Americana classic thats combines Even Williams with mint, sugar and bitters for a clean, simple taste.
26B Dublin Street, Edinburgh, EH3 6NN.
Scheduled to open for business in September 2015, brand new venue Three is set to bring something unique to the Edinburgh cocktail table. After attending a tasting preview, I can personally vouch for level of care, attention and invention that is being invested in the menu. Twists on the classics include the ‘Jah Colada’, Pimento Dram Liqueur blended with ice cream, El Dorado Rum, coconut syrup, banana and sugar, and the ‘Twisted Tommy Margarita’ while the pineapple flavoured ice ball at the centre of the ‘Pineapple Aged Negroni’ is set to become a venue favourite.
Recommended: ‘The French Toast Martini’, a Stolichnaya Vanilla Vodka, Disaronno, cinammon, chocolate syrup and maple foam blend.
3 Queensferry Street Lane, Edinburgh, EH2 4PF