Design focus: The Golf Tavern

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When Billy Lowe made public his decision to sell The Golf Tavern the trade held its breath. The Saltire boss had made no secret of his desire to own the Edinburgh Bruntsfield institution, Lavishing it with a sleek new sports bar makeover back in 2003. New owners Signature Pubs have recently treated it to an equally as slick £500k refurbishment.
Judith Bevan worked at The Golf for Saltire Taverns and is now GM for new owners, Gareth and Nic Wood, and as such a long-standing member of staff, she’s not far off from being a curator of the pub. She says, “In essence Gareth wanted to take the Golf back to where it was a few years ago – and add his own unique take on the design. Even though what Billy Lowe did when Saltire Taverns last refurbished it was amazing at the time, we got a lot of feedback from customers along the lines of them liking the sports bar feel at first, but they missed the old Golf Tavern after time. What Nic and Gareth therefore produced is an updated, yet classic Golf Tavern. Since the refurbishment our customer demographic has swung from mainly students to professionals, locals and corporate business. So in both a business and design sense it has been a resounding success.”
My last visit to the Golf was during the Saltire era and every single penny of Signature’s investment is evident, the change is that radical. The interior design knowhow of Signature Pub’s long-time collaborators, Tibbatts Abel and CCI Developments, was enlisted to bring Signature’s vision to life. The exterior has been spruced up with a new sign, window shutters and even a drink fountain for pooches.
Inside, it’s structurally the same – split over two floors called the Main Bar on ground floor level, and Top Bar occupying the first floor space. Explains Judith, “When Billy blocked off some of the windows he had the presence of mind to protect and preserve them at the same time, so we found one beautiful original window in mint condition from the very first era of the Golf, which was moved to a more prominent place in the bar.” I have to say that the window is beautiful, made from stained glass, and bearing The Golf Tavern motif.
There is a sea of bric-a-brac, and this stands out like a sore thumb in the Main Bar, as does the altered use of the layout. The once island bar is no more, in favour of a beautiful oak bar made from reclaimed wood, stretching along the far wall, and says ‘traditional pub with a modern twist’ thanks to the innovative little pendant lights above the bar and mirrored ceiling. The bar is from Andrew Thornton’s, based in England, and it’s stunning yet quite simple in its design – made up from cone-shaped columns on the back bar, a rounded edge to the front bar and some ornate touches at the collars and cuffs of the columns, deliberately matching the Golf’s exterior brickwork.
Then there’s all the bric-a-brac. But it’s far from old tat, as Judith explains. “The church door tables were £8k a pop (they are beautiful) and Gareth took a van around reclamation yards and antique shops in England and filled the van with all manner of stuff for the interior.” Just a very brief rundown on what this encompasses takes in trumpets, pewter pots, toby jugs, snake ornaments, horse-brasses, a bike, a writing bureau, huge metal keys, some vintage newspapers as wallpaper and this is by no means an exhaustive list. Does it look good? To a point, although it’s perhaps a little too cluttered for my tastes, but the clientele are lapping it up.
The other focal point has to be the fireplace which Gareth required from a “country manor” and it forms the centrepiece the far left hand corner of the bar, which is also carpeted and is the closest the Golf comes to having a snug. The lighting is a spherical cage containing exposed bulbs, and is a nod to the lighting in Signature’s Aberdeen concern, The Illicit Still.
The ceiling is an ornate tin design, and the seating is a mixture of red Chesterfields, banquettes, leather chairs and tables for two, tucked away in some of the nooks and crannies.
Upstairs, the layout is unchanged but the Wood design motif has still been stamped firmly on this floor. Says Judith, “We are attracting a lot of corporate business and hires in Top Bar which didn’t really happen in the Golf in the past.” The first floor layout remains pretty much faithful to Billy Lowe’s footprint, with a pewter-topped bar immediately in front of you once you emerge from the stairs. For those unfamiliar with this space it’s a lot smaller than downstairs and Signature has reimagined the back bar with sleek glass and mirrored shelves. There’s a seating area directly opposite the bar with some sporting pictures illuminated. To the right as you enter from the stairs are two areas, one slightly raised and one not. The one that isn’t used to be elevated and almost caged off, but this has now been replaced by a chill-out area with lots of different styles, colours and textures of seating. Throw in some show jumping wallpaper and you have a stylish mix. The ceiling is festooned with mirrors in varying shapes sizes and coloured frames, but this is where the bric-a-brac begins and ends on this floor. It is minimalist in comparison to the busy feel below.
This has all the attributes of a friendly local and the locals are friendly, and I did overhear a couple who were stood in the doorway checking it out for the first time since the refurbishment. “I told you they’d made an amazing job of it” said one. “Yeah really takes me back,” was the reply before they took their seats. Just about sums it up.

Category: Features
Tags: bruntsfield, Edinburgh, signature pubs, the golf tavern