Design Focus: The Salvation of Leith
Based in premises that once upon a time barred Edinburgh citizens from entering, The Salvation of Leith is now an inviting proposition for everyone from craft beer lovers to history buffs, wherever they hail from.
The Landmark Pub Company now has a portfolio of seven bars all over the Capital, but it’s perhaps never faced quite as unique a challenge as that posed by The Salvation.
Company director Grant MacDonald, business development manager Jane Corrigan and Rough Design were tasked with ensuring that the bar not only stands out in the increasingly hip district that is The Shore, but also honours the 145-year history of a building that’s been a vital charitable institution and a whole host of different pubs in its time.
Grant MacDonald informed DRAM, “The property has such a unique history, integral to Leith’s history, and we thought it only fair to recognise that. For around 70 years, from 1872 to 1953, it was the HQ of the Association For The Improvement Of The Condition Of The Poor in Leith.
“During their occupation the business was a ‘ragged school’ for destitute children, a nursery for the disadvantaged, a soup kitchen, a clothing exchange and a boarding house.”
He continued, “It was also used as a house of call – which is recognised on the logo devised by local artist Will McEvoy – where Leith Dockers and labourers could be paid, away from the allure of alcohol or ‘other temptations’ around the Shore!
“The former Association is still operating to this day as the Leith Benevolent Society and their members were very helpful to us. We decided that we will make local charitable donations at the end of the year as there is so many great groups, clubs and associations working on our doorstep who really are integral to the Leith community and beyond.”
The first thing to catch your eye upon arrival at The Salvation is a beer garden that will surely make the bar destination number one for the local sun-worshippers. This outside area is spacious, kitted out with stylish seating in bright shades of red, green, blue and white and provides an excellent view of the Water of Leith and the swans that often linger there. The exterior features a brass plaque elaborating on the building’s rich history and a sign bearing Will’s logo against a navy blue background.
Internally the Salvation is divided into two areas, a front bar and a back bar. The front bar has a mix of high and low tables plus leather banquette seating, beige on one wall and electric blue on the other. Pride of place on the wall above the beige banquette goes to an old-school pub advertising mirror, its message reading, ‘Edinburgh and Leith Breweries’. A vintage fireplace nestles underneath some exposed brickwork and patrons can relive the days of their youth by planting theirselves down on former school chairs, supplied by Peppermill Antiques.
The main bar is flanked by a large customer-facing craft beer fridge – a significant addition according to Grant MacDonald.
He said, “There’s over 100 cans and bottles from the UK and around the globe, and it works well for us as customers can suss out what they want in their own time.”
The back bar is home to even more craft beer and spirit delights and has also been tailored to act as The Salvation’s primary space for functions.
Said Grant MacDonald, “One of the first things Grant Rough identified was, instead of the booth seating we used to have here, why don’t we have one long bench so that it opens the room up and makes it ideal for private gatherings?”
Cinema seats bought from a local auction house have proved a big hit, whilst the lighting has a definite theme throughout, one very much in tune with the distinct character of Leith.
“We didn’t want to design a place and not have a nod to the past, because it used to be called The Waterline, and it was very nautical, it was all ropes and ship’s wheels,” Grant MacDonald added. “People get it, it’s a subtle nod, because historically this place would have been full of dock workers. Rough Design managed to source a load of nautical lighting and Elan Electrical had the daunting task of sorting it out. I don’t think they have hung former lighthouse lamps and boat lighting in a bar before, so that was a slight challenge for them!”
The bar officially opened in April, and with Jane – who’s also ran Landmark outlets Jeremiah’s Taproom and the Empress of Broughton Street but was born and bred in Leith – steering the good ship Salvation, Grant is very satisfied so far.
“There’s a good mix of people down here in terms of business and the locals. You’ve got that solid Leith and Shore clientele, who’ve been great, really receptive, and also the business side – this area is media city, it’s where all the media, digital and TV guys are based, and we’re finding they’re using the bar and are delighted with what we’ve done. It was a Belhaven managed house, which probably hasn’t been focused on as much by them. We looked at the model we’ve got for The Empress and Jeremiah’s and thought, ‘Would that slot down into the Shore?’ And yeah, it does. So we’ve went with casual dining in terms of food and backed up with a really good spirits portfolio. We make burgers from our own recipe and we’ve got our own signature sauce, Salvation Sauce. There’s a bit of a Mexican influence too. But predominantly, one of our key focuses as a company is craft beer. We want the best beers on, so whether that’s a Scottish beer from West Lothian or the Borders or it’s a small batch produced by a brewer in Northumberland or Norwich, we’re going to try and have it on.”
A venue alive with history, it seems The Salvation of Leith can also look forward to a bright future.