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Edinburgh Cocktail Bar Reviews

Edinburgh is a delightful city and home to many fine bars and restaurants. Emma from Gin Monkey has provided us with an insight to a few of its cocktail bars.

Bramble

Address:
16A Queen Street
Edinburgh
EH2 1JE

Telephone:
0131 226 6343

Website:
www.bramblebar.co.uk

Overall Rating:


Review

Bramble sits on Queen Street in Edinburgh. Yes, that’s right – Queen Street. What’s that? You’ve walked down that street a thousand times and never seen it? Well i’m not surprised…it can be quite difficult to spot!

Having visited Bramble about a year ago, I was fairly confident I knew where it was, especially after a quick google search. However, without my local Edinburgh guide to show me the way I had a ‘I have no idea if i’m going in the right direction’ moment which didn’t fill my friends with confidence in my navigational skills! The result was that when I led them down the fire escape esq stairs and through the large black door they were looking dubious to say the least…

However, as soon as we walked through the door everyone’s eyes instantly widened and necks started craning in an attempt to take in our surroundings. Bramble is just one of those places – when you enter the bar it feels like you’re walking into a completely different world. In Bramble’s case, it’s a bit like walking into a cave..what lighting there is is provided by glowing lamps and candles and there are loads of nooks and crannies where you catch glimpses of other drinkers as you move towards the bar.

When we got to the bar we were directed to a table and given cocktail menus to look over. Cue more confused looks from one friend, as I had just been handed a rather battered looking hard backed copy of Oliver Twist…not to worry though, Bramble uses the hard covers from classic books to hold their menus :)

The menu had changed since the last time i’d visited and unfortunately they no longer serve the Mayas Daiquiri (an avocado based daiquiri). This was disappointing as this drink has for many years become my everest. Since I first came across it in Bramble on my first visit, I have been trying to recreate the taste/texture/amazingness, however no matter how much I have tried, it never works out quite right!

But, with a whole new menu to explore we quickly settled into our seats to choose what we wanted. This was no easy task, which is very familar territory at Bramble as their menus have always been full of drinks that I want to try! Kudos for Bramble too, my whole experience took a turn for the better when one of my friends, lets call him M, declared he wanted to try the ‘Butterscotch’. Cue an excited squeak from my corner as M is a notorious beer drinker, and I have yet to see him be tempted by a cocktail anywhere we’ve visited.

Because we were sat by the bar I got to do what I like best – watch the bartender make the drinks. He did so with a great amount of skill and patience, taking his time to make sure each drink was how it should be. I’m a great fan of this – i’d rather the drinks be made right than quickly, afterall good cocktails take time to craft! I also watched him try each of the drinks before finally serving them which is also essential in my mind – if you don’t sample the drink then how will you know for sure that it tastes how it should, and that you haven’t done something silly like mistaking salt for sugar (it happens more often than you think… just wait for my review of Voodoo Rooms!).

Sitting by the bar also gave me the chance to have a look over the spirit selection on the back bar which is incredible! They have such a great range, with some bottles i’d never heard of. Excitingly for me they have an amazing gin range (hence the name – a Bramble is a classic gin cocktail) which is nice to see for once. Too often you find bars specialising in whiskey, rum or tequila but never really gin. With the ever growing range of different and unusual gins on the market at the moment (Hendricks, Millers, and the new Genever) it’s great to see a bar like this out there.

When our drinks arrived, each of them was really well garnished, and one of them even arrived in a tea cup mounted on a martini glass stem! They also tasted fantastic, although I have to admit that one of their creations involving curry was a little too ‘out there’ for us.

All in all Bramble is absolutely fantastic. The bartenders are amazing at what they do, well skilled, and help to give Bramble a chilled out atmosphere. In my opinion – any bar that can tempt a lifelong beer drinker into ordering a cocktail is obviously onto a pretty good thing.

Recommendations include the Butterscotch and Blueberry Soup.

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The Raconteur

Address:
50 Dean St
Edinburgh
EH4 1LQ

Telephone:
0131 343 3221

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sun: 5pm-late

Website:
www.theraconteuredinburgh.com

Overall Rating:


Review

Opened in the closing months of last year, The Raconteur is a joint venture of some of Edinburgh’s best bartenders (their past lives lived in Ricks, Tigerlily and Harvey Nicks). We were really lucky to come across it during our visit, as it was recommended to us by someone at Tigerlily. A real lesson behind this one – if you find a bar you like ask the bartenders for recommendations before you leave – chances are they’ll come up with some other great bars you may have never found otherwise.

For an out-of-towner, it felt to me like the bar was down a bit of a back street – indeed the taxi driver didn’t think that there was a bar on the street. When I have since mentioned it to friends from Edinburgh they know the street but also have never heard of the bar – so get there quickly before everyone finds out about it, because believe me this place is awesome.

The property used to be a pub, this much is evident. However, I like the fact that the owners have chosen to keep a lot of the character, yet give it the feel of a bar. It’s got a real speak-easy style to it helped along by the bluesy music and the bartenders atire (think shirt arm-bands and braces). That being said, it does show a bit that they have only just started up, and it feels like there’s more to do here to achieve the atmosphere they’re after, but by no means let this put you off.

The bar was initally very quiet when we arrived, infact the only other customers were friends of the new owners – bartenders from other bars in Edinburgh who were stopping off for a drink after work. However, we were made to feel very welcome as soon as we stepped though the door, and they seemed chuffed that they’d been so highly recommended – i think the exact words from the guy at Tigerlily were ‘They’ll make you some of the best cocktail’s you’ll ever taste, I think their drinks are some of the best you’ll get anywhere in Europe.’

After such a glowing recommendation the drinks certainly had a lot to live up to, but we were far from disappointed. The menu itself is very short, comprising of only five cocktails accompanied by a handful of wines and beers. However, the choices have been carefully thought through and will cater for almost anyone’s taste. Plus at The Raconteur you get a champagne coup full of pretzels to munch on with your drinks (in my book you get extra brownie points for nice bar snacks).

Our first choices, made straight from the menu, were wonderfully crafted gems. They were generally new twists on old ideas, which I always enjoy – the Blood and Sand was particularly special. For our second round however, we decided to give the reigns over to the bartenders and have something that was not on the menu. After describing what I liked, I was presented with a Genever Gin Daisy which was pretty damn good, after visiting the Bols museum in Amsterdam in the summer it was nice to see how the new Genever was been recieved by the UK industry.

During the evening people wandered in and out of the bar. Some had come to see what the new place was like, and some knew the owners and wanted to see what they’d done with the place. All were warmly welcomed and if necessary gently steered though the menu. The bartenders certainly know their stuff too, but aren’t know-it-alls who love that they know more than you. They don’t turn their noses up at you if you’re clueless or if you just want a beer, and they’re happy enough to chat with you while you’re waiting for someone, or if you’re there by yourself.

I really like the fact that they bartenders are so involved in the bar, because they’re really just mates who wanted to open their own place. I think it’s this that makes The Raconteur so special, as it gives the place a relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy their fantasic drinks. I honestly can’t recommend this place highly enough and plan to revist again to see what they do once they’ve got themselves more established. After all…the word Raconteur means ‘one who tells stories with skill and wit’ – having tasted their drinks, they’ve definitely got the skills part covered.

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Tigerlily

Address:
Tigerlily
125 George Street
Edinburgh
EH2 4JN

Telephone:
0131 225 5005

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat – 11am-1am
Sunday – 12noon-1am

Website:
www.tigerlilyedinburgh.co.uk

Overall Rating:


Review

Tigerlily is a bar, restaurant, club and boutique hotel at the west end of George Street in Edinburgh. I was lucky enough to be staying in the hotel for a couple of nights when I first encountered the bar which looked impressive from the outset. Further inspection showed they had a vast, and well chosen range of spirits lining their shelves.

We took up a couple of stools at the bar and started to look through the choice of cocktails on offer. The menu was surprisingly easy to navigate – sections such as ‘Around the World in Eight Tea Drinks’ split the menu up into groups containing drinks based on similar influences.

After much deliberation I chose a Breakfast Martini, and my friend went for a New York Iced Tea. The bartender got to work on our drinks, while having a chat with us about our stay so far. This was great, however when our drinks arrived we found ourselves with a Breakfast Martini and a Crushed Raspberry Fizz. Whist the mistake wasn’t the end of the world (we were going to stay for a few drinks), I would have prefered the correct drink over the chat! In all fairness we were asked if we would like him to make our original choice, but as the bartender did so whilst taking another customer’s order, and becuase the bar was so busy, we didn’t really feel we could ask him to do so (maybe that’s my fault though – I hate to cause unnecessary fuss!).

Anyway, back to the drinks themselves – the Breakfast Martini was exceptional, one of the best i’ve ever had – there was the perfect amount of bite from the marmalade, and overall the drink was really well balanced. As for the Raspberry Fizz, it was nice enough and pretty much what you’d expect – sweet and vodka based. Although none of my further choices lived up to the initial wow factor of the Breakfast Martini, all were well made and presented. Other recommendations from our exploration of the menu include the Treacle and the Chilean Chica.

Overall Tigerlily is a nice looking bar, with friendly staff and some great drinks on offer. The mistake with our order was a minor one, which has had no influence on my rating, plus the drink didn’t appear on our bill at the end of the night – happy days. The cocktails at Tigerlily are very well made by knowledgeable bartenders and the menu itself is well put together and makes an interesting read. The only thing that put me off was all the suits, but i’m sure that was only due to the time of the year (it was just before Christmas on a weekday!).

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The Voodoo Rooms

Address:
19a West Register Street
Edinburgh
EH2 2AA

Telephone:
0131 556 7060

Opening Hours:
Mon-Thurs – 4pm-1am
Fri-Sun – 12noon-1am

Website:
www.thevoodoorooms.com

Overall Rating:


Review

Unfortunately we struggled to even get through the door when we arrived at The Voodoo Rooms. Things couldn’t have been more different from the first time I visited – rather than strolling up the stairs into a quiet bar we found ourselves squeezing past loads of people with pints in hand. Never one to give up easily I battled on and eventually we all managed to reach the top of the stairs. It was only then that we realised that everybody was waiting to go into the function room (duh!) as we had managed to turn up 20 minutes before a really popular gig.

So, after about 15 minutes of feeling like tinned sardines, the doors to the function room opened and the bar pretty much emptied – happy days! We finally managed to get to the actual bar to pick up a cocktail menu before collapsing into one of the booths by the windows. The booths are great as they help to give an intimate feel to the room despite the high ceilings and huge windows. However this layout it doesn’t strike me as the best use of the space, as there were many instances of them being occupied by just two people with others having to stand at the bar.

So, to the drinks – the cocktail menu is fairly short and split into four sections: “Dude Looks Like a Lady”, “Time Gentlemen Please”, “Fix Up Look Sharp”, and “Generation V”. Splitting the menu up is always a good idea, especially if it done in a way that groups the drinks into sensible sections so the list is easy to navigate -Voodoo Rooms does this well – congrats. We chose A Mango Rumpus, Dutch Rhubarb Crumble, and a Corpse Reviver (the gin not the brandy version – the #2 I think?) from the specials list. Unfortunately however, they had run out of Rhubarb compote and couldn’t make me a Dutch Rhubarb Crumble, so instead I chose an Oriental Hot Pot.

When the cocktails finally arrived (a little slowly, but i’m not one to argue about time to craft good drinks), we soon got to work at sampling each of them. Overall they were fab, however as the Mango Rumpus began making its way around the table, there was a distinct salty flavour coming through the mango. Another few sips and a look back at the menu and we were pretty sure things were not as they should be! Upon taking the drink back to the bar the guys couldn’t have been nicer about the whole situation, (even if they did try to tell me they’d tasted it before they served it… *ahem – clearly not!*) and they quickly whipped us up a (salt free) replacement.

Other than the salty hiccough the drinks were fantastic. Each of them not only looked great, but tasted lovely too. For the rest of the night we sampled a number from the standard and specials menus and were pleased with our choices. The specials list is a great idea as it can help keep regulars interested and giving them new choices.

Overall Voodoo Rooms is not the most polished of cocktail bars, and it was a shame they didn’t have some of the ingredients to make the drinks. However, as long as you avoid busy gig nights you’re sure to be served some lovely looking and tasting drinks in great surroundings. It was the little things, like the care taken over the garnishes for the drinks (one had a miniature rose bud floating on the top) which made me really like this place. Plus a quick look at the pictures will give you a good idea of just how impressive the historic building is, with its moulded ceilings and huge windows (although our view out of the them was slightly obscured by some scaffolding).

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