The WHISKI Rooms in Edinburgh opened its three doors last month. It combines a bar, bistro and a shop, on North Bank Street off the Mound, Edinburgh. But it very nearly was just two doors, according to co-owner, Anne Still.
She explains, “We had secured the lease on former gift shops at numbers 4 and 6, but the Bank of Scotland at number 7 came up for sale just as the developers rolled in. So we decided to buy that property too and expand our vision.”
Anne and Gary Still of Omnitaverns are the people behind the WHIKSI Rooms, which also owns and operates WHISKI Bar and Restaurant round the corner on High Street. In fact it was comments from their existing customers that brought about the WHISKI Rooms. “We were always being asked by our customers where they could go and buy the whisky we were serving, so we thought why not open a whisky shop with a bar attached. That way, customers could purchase straight away the whisky they’d tried in the bar. We have 500 whiskies in the shop and 300 in the bar,” says Anne.
Edinburgh-based architects KBAD worked in unison with Wagstaff Interiors and it was 13 weeks in the making. Anne wanted something unique and, as far as she knows, there’s nothing quite like this in Scotland. “We saw something in Paris called Lavinia, which is along the same lines, in that it’s a wine shop next to a café. But whisky is more worthy of a try before you buy, because it’s a lot more expensive for a start. And we wanted to provide a clean, classic design in a comfortable setting in which to eat and drink.”
The three areas are the bar, bistro, and the shop. The bistro has a large stag mural on the right hand wall as you enter. Below the mural is a red leather banquette, which stretches the entire length of the room. The opposite wall is exposed stonework.
The remainder of the floor space is populated with dark wood tables and chairs, with the latter covered in mushroom and green coloured leather. There are also two window seats, either side of the entrance, above which are medieval chandeliers in black with orange candles. The other two lighting sources comprise of spots and orange wall-lights.
There’s a bar at the far end of the space with a coffee station, which is overlooked by a smoked glass mirror. The bar is split-level and is shared by both the bar and the bistro. It’s a reddish marble top with a copper belt around the front. Behind it, in the bistro, are advertising posters featuring whisky brands in frames from as far back as 100 years.
A couple of stairs and an archway lead you through to the bar in the adjacent property.
Wooden shelves house an impressive array of whiskies and the bar is lit by a row of pendent lights with copper shades that hang exactly in line with the bar.
The building’s original features – namely the corniced ceiling – are pained in a greyish white. The tables and chairs are also dark wood, with brown and yellow leather upholstery. As in the bistro, the window seats and chandeliers are also a feature.
One of the things Anne is most proud of is the 12-point stag’s head, a rare find, apparently. It looks down on pictures of whisky distilleries old and new, period-pictures of workers and marketing material alike, from a host of iconic whisky brands.
The most interesting part of the space is tucked away slightly awkwardly at the back of room, beyond the bar. It’s a private area sponsored by Ardbeg whisky, which can be reserved for special occasions, although it’s open to anyone and everyone at all other times. It’s one large table, perfect for accommodating a small group of, say, ten. Red leather seating, Ardbeg-branded mirrors and pictures of dogs look brilliant. One of them is a period painting of a dog wearing a crown. But the pinnacle is the dog on the ceiling. Well, it’s more accurately a perforated outline of a dog, and the perforations are illuminated in white, on a greyish white mount.
The shop is accessed up another couple of stairs through the bar. It’s clean in its design with walls of illuminated shelves encased in wooden shelving displaying all the whiskies. And there’s a very keen man itching to share his passion for whisky patrolling it.
The whole thrust of the design is fairly clean and simple, and given its proximity to the Royal Mile, it will attract tourists without alienating the natives. With this in mind, I like the fact Omnitaverns didn’t go to town on tartan. There are only a suspicion of it on some of the seats and one tiny patch of wall. But it’s sufficiently Scottish, clean and comfortable to compete with the rest of the hullabaloo in this part of the city.