Up and down Scotland, the finest single-malt Scotch whisky distillers and ale brewers are found everywhere from big cities to villages and into the countryside. This means an abundance of excellent spots to try a new beverage. Here are six of Scotland's hottest cocktail bars.
1 Princes Street, Edinburgh
The classy Balmoral Bar is in the hotel of the same name. An Edinburgh landmark and firm favorite of locals and visitors, this hotel has the best location in Scotland's capital city, next to Waverley railway station and with views of Edinburgh Castle. If you're looking for five-star service in an equally upscale setting, this is the place.
Despite its posh reputation, the bar is not stuffy. A twenty-something friend living in Edinburgh recommends it as a hot bar perfect for times when that little black dress needs somewhere to go. Expect classics with surprising twists, like a citrus cosmopolitan with blueberry juice. Sample the Cocktail Tasting Menu at £25 ($40) if you're not driving.
Perhaps your idea of a hot bar is champagne or a single-malt whisky served up and accompanied by harp music from the balcony? Try Bollinger's Bar in the hotel's pretty Palm Court.
Dragonfly Cocktail Bar
52 West Port, Edinburgh
The Dragonfly’s mixologists have a definite following, possibly because they're right in the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town district. Or could it be their unique creations? Here you may find a kumquat floating in your vodka, or maraschino and more with your 12-year-old Glenfiddich single-malt Scotch whisky. You can just imagine what's in the "Guinness Daiquiri," which they claim takes exactly 119.5 seconds to make.
If these concoctions sound odd to you, just stick to updated classics such as the Watermelon Mmmartini, one of the staff picks. Cocktails range from £3.70 ($5.85) to £7.95 ($12.50), and the Dragonfly bartenders are mixing for the crowd every evening until 1 a.m.
The Corinthian Club
191 Ingram Street, Glasgow
The Corinthian Club is a "setting of the highest European standard," in the words of The Herald Magazine. This is a 24-hour bar, brasserie and casino with 14 glamorous rooms rolled into one. Housed in a stately 170-year-old former bank building, its soaring ceilings, glittering chandeliers and ornate plasterwork are more palatial than practical. I know people who say they could charge admission just to come and look at this place after a £5.7 million renovation in 2010. It's all happening on all five floors and especially 'round the baby grand piano at the circular bar lit up in blue lights.
Choose from the cocktail menu featuring a "Perfect 10 Martini" at £6.75 ($10.70) or "Breakfast at Tiffany's" at £6.25 ($9.90). If you're in the mood to show off your moves, the dance club is downstairs. Celebrity spotting, anyone?
11 Exchange Place, Glasgow
Imagine being aboard the Queen Mary but without the motion sickness. After all, the famous Cunard ocean liner was built here in 1935 at the Glasgow docks on the Clyde River. At Rogano, handsome art deco interiors recall the fashionable, decadent 1920s (check when building decorated) of the upper classes. Go for a Bellini to indulge in that era’s atmosphere and you'll feel a world apart.
Enjoy the oyster bar upstairs, with fresh seafood from Scottish waters. This landmark is the oldest continually operating restaurant in Scotland; think Duke and Duchess of Windsor mixed with “Mad Men,” all set in bustling Glasgow.
The Bar at Gleneagles
Gleneagles is a world-famous five-star hotel, spa and golf resort considered one of the best in Scotland. An hour from either Edinburgh or Glasgow, this country-house resort is set on 850 acres in lush Perthshire. Here is the place for sampling the best and widest array of single-malt Scotch whiskies in the perfect setting. Condé Nast Traveler’s "Best Whisky Bars" list notes that this bar serves 120 malts. Gentlemen, grab your finest dress kilt in the family tartan and you'll fit right it. Although your kilt may have no pockets, you'll want to bring a wallet.
If you don't fancy a whisky, there's vintage champagne, excellent wines and the very best ales and stouts on draught into the wee hours. The Blue Bar is a cozy showcase for Johnnie Walker Blue Label, with heated leather sofas around the fire pit. The Dormy Clubhouse Bar & Grill has a tandoor open-fire oven and views over the 18th holes of the King's and Queen's golf courses.
333 Union Street, Aberdeen
Soul Bar is housed in a former church resplendent with stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings. This hotspot's garden has heat lamps, an absolute essential to keep Aberdonians happy and warm. The bartenders run a mixology school which includes a “Bloody Mary Red Snapper”; the twist is a balsamic glaze. The “Garden Martini" uses only Scottish ingredients. Cocktails from £6.50 ($11), non-alcoholic drinks from £3.50 ($5.50).
For anyone wanting a night on the town in the UK, DrinkAware.co.uk is a handy guide to facts about drink units and measures for informed, responsible handling of alcohol. Fortunately, taxis and public transportation are widespread in Scottish cities.
by Laurie Jo Miller Farr