aerial view of city

Edinburgh Cocktail Bars: Where to Sip in Scotland’s Capital

With a growing number of notable Edinburgh cocktail bars, Scotland’s capital is making a name for itself when it comes to mixed drinks. On a recent overnighter I revisited some old favorites for cocktails in Edinburgh and discovered a few new ones as well.

Panda & Sons is a stalwart of Edinburgh Cocktail Bars

Panda & Sons: Casually Cutting Edge Edinburgh Cocktail Bar 

Everyone from casual drinkers to cocktail aficionados beelines for this world-famous Edinburgh cocktail bar hidden beneath a vintage barber shop. Under founder Iain “The Cocktail Panda” McPherson and general manager, Nicky Craig, Panda & Sons continues to top best cocktail bar lists and win global awards. The bar’s diverse and downright awesome barteam turns out cutting edge cocktails made with innovative techniques against a backdrop of easy-going good times. McPherson was named “Innovator of the Year 2020” by Imbibe magazine for his pioneering work in developing the bar technique “switching”. Their coconut daiquiri exemplifies the practice, freezing the rum to remove the water and replacing it with coconut water. This is the kind of behind-the-scenes work and research that makes Panda & Sons standout and results in drinks that look deceptively simple but are unexpectedly delicious thanks to the unseen efforts behind them. The current menu Transcendence is dedicated to the bar’s extensive work in switching and other freezing techniques and showcases the quiet skill found here. 

Tip: If you like Panda & Sons, McPherson has two other bars, Hoot The Redeemer and Nauticus

Edinburgh Cocktail Bar & Lounge, Bramble, pulls in locals and industry insiders alike

Bramble: A Tiny Hidden Gem with a Big Reputation

Continuing with the theme of Edinburgh cocktail bars tucked beneath quotidian shopfronts, Bramble Bar & Lounge is underneath a dry cleaners. Bramble has a loyal following of locals but also pulls in cocktail curious and industry insiders from all over the globe thanks to its longstanding reputation on the Edinburgh cocktail scene. The small space gives off a cozy intimacy thanks to the ambient lighting and comfy armchairs. With a respectable collection of Scottish gins, it’s a great place to go local for a dry martini. Of course, given the bar’s name, new-comers should try their Bramble cocktail. But do leave time to work through their long list of creations, which is well worth a peruse. 

Tip: They don’t take reservations but they do open at 4pm so go early to score prime seating at the bar.

Hey Palu is a modern Italian bar in Edinburgh with a laid back vibe and legitimate skills

Hey Palu: Modern Italian Bar

Hey Palu is a modern Italian bar with a penchant for la dolce vita. With one owner hailing from the Amalfi Coast, it’s no wonder that they excel in the aperitivo and offer quality snacks sourced from across Italy. The bar not only delivers snappy spritz variations and negroni flights but also classics like the Hey Palu gin martini, served straight from the freezer at -19 and accompanied by truffle cheese olives – needless to say, one of my favorites. They also hold their own with their house creations, beers, and tasty Italian wines. This is the kind of unassuming and laid back bar with legitimate skills that I love to discover.

Tip: Order a Paper Plane, a modern classic that comes with material and instructions for a bonus activity.

Lamplighters, the rooftop bar at Gleneagles Townhouse, has a beautiful view over the city

Gleneagles Townhouse: Member’s Club and Hotel 

While exploring Edinburgh’s cocktail bars, treat yourself to a night at Gleneagles Townhouse. This new and modern ‘little sister’ to Scotland’s renowned 200 year old Gleneagles in the nearby countryside opened in 2022 as both members club and hotel. This contemporary venue is housed in a former bank with two centuries of history, remnants of which remain in the original vaults in the wellness area, stained glass windows and impressive staircase. With just 33 rooms, it feels boutique but also big with several common areas and coworking nooks as well as dining and drinking options. While it’s primarily a members club, hotel guests get honorary membership while staying, which gives them all-access. On the ground floor, The Spence serves meals, cocktails, and wine. On the rooftop, Lamplighters offer expansive views over the city and an up close look at the 5 imposing statutes lining the terrace. A mini-menu of 5 drinks inspired by the statues is available as well as a larger menu of light-hearted and well-executed options. The vibe is a little lively with the current menu focusing on fun drinks with a futuristically nostalgic vibe. Overall this chic address manages to be both beautifully trendy and traditional. 

Tip: Indulge on a new level with their delightful high-low option of caviar and crisps.

The Gleneagles American Bar serves award-winning drinks in a pleasantly dim ambience

Gleneagles: Award-winning cocktail menu in the countryside

If you have time for a countryside mini-break while exploring Edinburgh cocktail bars, think about an overnighter at one of Scotland’s most renowned hotels. Gleneagles is the home to The American Bar whose “Book of Berries” won the World’s 50 Best Bars Siete Misterios 2023 best cocktail menu. Head of Bars, Michele Mariotti, and the rest of the American Bar team created a collection of drinks that showcase ingredients from the country’s Perthshire region with a focus on sustainability. There is a real circle of use with waste from the hotel’s kitchens being incorporated into the bar’s offerings and vice versa.They even go so far as creating cocktail ingredients out of items that usually end up in the bin like their avocado pit orgeat. 

But you’ll go here for more than mixed drinks. Dubbed the “Glorious Playground,” this 850 acres estate boasts an array of spaces and activities to keep guests entertained for food, drink and fun. In addition to the American Bar there are several restaurants, including Andrew Fairlie’s,  Scotland’s only 2 Michelin starred restaurant. Golf enthusiasts tee off on one of three championship courses and adventure seekers enjoy off-roading, falconry, fishing and skeet shooting, all coordinated by the dedicated staff in the “playground snug.”

Tip: On The American Bar’s Book of Berries menu, there is one drink that isn’t a berry according to the botanical definition. Try and guess which one! 

As usual, this list is by no means exhaustive, so pull up a stool at any of these locations and get to talking to your bar staff who can surely share suggestions for other local venues where you should whet your whistle.  

More photos and info on my Instagram highlights for Edinburgh and Gleneagles.

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