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Photograph: Hey Palu

The 18 best cocktail bars in Edinburgh

For a swish drink or three, here’s our round-up of the very best cocktail bars in Edinburgh

Huw Oliver
Arusa Qureshi
Written by
Huw Oliver
&
Arusa Qureshi
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Fancy a classic Italian negroni? Or maybe a cocktail that arrives with a massive cloud of smoke? Whatever your taste or disposition, Edinburgh’s many specialist bars will have you spoilt for choice. And with new spots opening all the time, you’ll never tire of the wondrous recipes that the city’s finest mixologists concoct next. From small, hidden speakeasies to popular themed-bars kitted out with decadent furnishings, here are our favourite bars in the city for that perfect cocktail.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best bars in Edinburgh

Best cocktail bars in Edinburgh

  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars

Tucked away on Thistle Street in the New Town, The Bon Vivant has the external look of an informal restaurant, and an internal decor dominated by warm, soft wood and candlelight: ersatz trad where no one really cares about the ersatz element. It feels comforting, the bistro-style menu is a major part of the experience and the venue has none of the aesthetic stridency associated with some twenty-first-century cocktail vendors.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars

It would be easy to write Paradise Palms off as just another wacky student bar, but the vegetarian soul-food menu, eclectic events calendar and fun cocktail list make it a far more attractive proposition. That cocktail menu in particular makes for happy browsing, starting with shots at £3.60 then moving through popular classics and more complicated cocktails at the £8 mark. Try the Buckfast Daiquiri for something extra special.

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars

A venue from the Bon Vivant stable, this arrived in 2013 and occupies one of the most atmospheric sites in the Old Town, on Advocate’s Close – a stepped, narrow thoroughfare that climbs from Cockburn Street to the High Street. It occupies a soaring old Victorian pump station and the interior has no shortage of space; the decor is all bare brick, beams and wood. Like the Bon Vivant mothership, it hardly looks like a cocktail bar at all – mainly because it’s not. Rather, it’s a modern bistro-bar with a decent food menu, a commendable selection of single malt Scotch whiskies – including the award-winning Ardbeg Uigeadail – but also a way with mixology that’s wholly dexterous and certainly worth seeking out. 

  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars

Once upon a time the discerning Edinburgh drinker saw cocktails as hideous blue things with umbrellas and sparklers, fit for immature palates and the weekend disco-mating crowd – or something that only popped up in old movies. However, back in 2006, Bramble sneaked on to the scene in this New Town basement: discreet, skilled, hip and staffed by enthusiasts. With its alcoves, distressed look, tea lights and relaxed speakeasy feel, it was a slow-burning hit.

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56 North is known for specialising in all things gin, with a list of the spirit that runs to several pages, a car park turned secret gin garden and gin masterclasses for all the connoisseurs out there. You can even select from over a dozen tonics, softs and mixers to add to your spirit of choice, cocktails ranging from bubbly to slushy or alcohol-free gin, if you’re that way inclined.

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European

The main bar of the Voodoo Rooms sits along one wall of a long dining room illuminated by high-arched Victorian windows which overlook its central side-street location. This first-floor bar is adorned in black and gold furnishings, with an elegant and interesting cocktail menu to match. With names like ‘Tea for Tiger’ (Wildcat gin, Pataka ginger liqueur, vanilla gomme, peppermint tea and lemon bitters) and ‘Flight Club’ (Grey Goose vodka, apricot brandy, a little egg white, salted rosemary gomme and lemon bitters), you’ll spend your evening being wowed by the staff’s intricate creations.

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars

Arriving in late 2013, Panda & Sons is a concept bar for cocktail connoisseurs. At street level, it presents as an American barber’s shop, while down in the basement, the basic makings of a Queen Street bar are all present – wood panelling, an old-fashioned look – with additional props and touches that can be quite a hoot if you’re in the mood: panda imagery, a bookshelf that doubles as a door, eccentric ornaments, plus a plaque that reads, ‘In 1832 on this spot nothing happened’.

A relatively new kid on the Edinburgh bar scene, Hey Palu revolves around the Italian aperitivo style of drinking – chilled out enough to whet your appetite before a big meal. Expect amari, bitters and vermouths scattered throughout the menu, beautifully crafted cocktails like the White Strawberry Negroni and Golden Gimlet and top notch snacks like truffled pecorino, pasta dishes and affogato with your choice of Italian liqueur.

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One Square
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars

Although the Sheraton has been around for more than 30 years, it was a 2012 refurbishment that created its bright and eye-poppingly colourful One Square Bar and Restaurant with the bar focusing very much on mother’s ruin. Since 2015 it’s had its very own brand of small batch gin in collaboration with local micro-distiller Pickering’s, there are around 60 other gins available behind the bar and, yes, why of course you can do a connoisseur gin tasting here. Other spirits are available – and other cocktails obviously, even dessert ones – but if you want a gin cocktail in Scotland’s capital then you can’t ignore One Square.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars

Launched in summer 2013, this sister venue to Bramble and the Last Word Saloon has 13 bottles of base spirit behind the bar and uses them to conjure up 13 cocktails with the drinks changing every three months or so. They also make some of their own syrups and cordials too. If you’re a regular, you see the cocktail menu change, season by season; if you visit every few months you’ll be surprised by a whole new drinks list every time. The approach is experimental, the decor straightforward and if it wasn’t a permanent enterprise you could say the bar had the stripped-down appeal of a pop-up.

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars

Tonic has been around for more than 15 years so it’s a survivor. In its handy central location, just off George Street, the friendly staff create a real sense of welcome in the contemporary, non-flashy interior – and serve up a commendable cocktail list. There’s a logic and creativity here, and the mixology tends to be thoughtful but fun. It doesn’t take many people to fill this place, but if you catch it on some quiet late afternoon just after opening, or a midweek evening, it’s a chilled space for a quality drink.

A snug and stylish bar on York Place, Nightcap is a great place to pop in for a quick after-dinner drink (or a nightcap, if you will... we see what they did there). Even more so if you’ve spent an evening laughing until your insides hurt at the Stand Comedy Club down the road. It may be small but the atmosphere is extremely laid back, to the point where you’ll feel right at home after just one drink. Order from their menu of ‘Altered Classics’ which includes the Bellini Rosa, Seaside Gibson and Turbo Paloma or go for a house cocktail like the fancy Champagne Julep or Argyll’s Rising, featuring Bowmore 15yo Scotch Whisky.

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If you like your drinks to come with a side of drama, The Alchemist may be just the place for you. Described as ‘a mystical apothecary’, this cocktail bar is located on the fourth floor of St James Quarter – the city’s newest retail district. And as the name suggests, you can expect to be bewitched and bewildered by the many unique creations that are concocted by the bar’s mixologists. Popular choices include ‘The Mad Hatters’, which will fill the space around you with smoke and fragrance, and ‘Cherry Poppins’, a raspberry gin-based cocktail that arrives with a cherry fog bubble.

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