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Photograph: Hey Palu

The 15 best cocktail bars in Edinburgh

Looking for a tried and tested classic recipe or a master mixologist's latest concoction? Here are some of the very best cocktail bars to try out in town

Huw Oliver
Arusa Qureshi
Written by
Huw Oliver
&
Arusa Qureshi
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There are so many excellent places to while away an afternoon or evening in Edinburgh, but what could be better than doing so with a cocktail in hand? Whether you’re wanting a traditional martini, a classy Italian negroni or a bubblegum-flavoured alcohol slushy (let’s be honest, we all have our moments), you’ll find them all at one of Edinburgh’s many specialist bars. Just like the city’s pubs, you can expect everything from the small and cosy to the weird and wonderful, with pages and pages of concoctions that will see you spoilt for choice. Heading for a day/night out or an after-dinner drink? 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

The Bon Vivant
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 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 décor 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 21st-century cocktail vendors.

Paradise Palms
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 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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The Devil’s Advocate
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 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 décor 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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  • Restaurants

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.

Panda & Sons
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 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’.

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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.

One Square
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 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.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 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 which makes their creations unique. 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 décor straightforward and if it wasn’t a permanent enterprise you could say the bar had the stripped-down appeal of a pop-up.

Tonic
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • 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.

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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.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars

If you’ve been running Bramble successfully in Queen Street for six years or so and then the chance comes to open a second basement cocktail bar, but in Stockbridge, you’d give it a go, wouldn’t you? Much more of a neighbourhood venue than its stablemate, The Last Word has less of the twilight mystique of Bramble but feels more accessible, with friendly staff, a wall-mounted squirrel (modest by the standards of most hunting trophies) and no shortage of expertise in the mixology stakes.

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Under the Stairs
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars

A spiral of stone stairs twists down from Merchant Street, past plant pots and fairy lights into this basement bar. Inside it’s a cosy, dimly lit hole to hide in with soft furnishings hanging off well-worn armchairs, and vintage clocks ticking away above the glowing fish tank. It’s open from noon for espressos, herbal teas, or coffees and hot chocolates laced with liqueurs – which is worth remembering on a particularly nippy and bitter January afternoon. 

Fancy a morning blowout? Here’s where to head...

The best breakfasts and brunches in Edinburgh
  • Restaurants

We all need to eat sometime, and whether you’re up with the sparrows or crawling out of bed at noon it’s important to eat right. The following is a list of the best places in Edinburgh to get your action-packed day off to a good start.

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