Perhaps Billy Lowe worked in covert operations in a previous life. First he gave the world the spy-themed Espionage, now he’s delivered Edinburgh’s Angels Share Hotel, a £500k-plus renovation of The Hudson on Hope Street, complete with speakeasy-style basement bar, Devil’s Cut, that he says requires a password (although people won’t be turned away without it), and is accessed via a concealed entrance.
As with all Saltire Taverns’ concerns there are no half measures, Angels Share has been designed to complement the standard bearer in the Saltire army, Le Monde. Said Billy, “I see it as a great sister venue to Le Monde, and I’ve had the blueprint for the idea for Angels Share in my mind since 2010. When I bought the Hudson 18 months ago I had this project in mind. And although since I’ve bought it, I have had numerous offers from operators wanting to buy or lease the premises, I stuck to my guns, and have renovated it. I plan to be here for the next ten years at least.”
The ground floor has been enlarged by moving the reception to the first floor so that Billy could make full use of the ground floor space which, he recognises, is at a premium in the west end of Edinburgh. It now houses The Angels Share bar and adjacent, smaller Club Room. Devil’s Cut is in the basement, which is accessed via the main bar. It also has 30 bedrooms on the upper floors which when we visited were still being renovated.
Angels Share showcases Billy’s usual attention to detail, all topped off with an exact and polished finish, plus lots of extravagant touches, for which he has to take some of the credit, as Billy never takes a back seat when it comes to the execution of a brief.
In the case of Angels Share, the brief was presented to Billy’s longtime collaborator, Chris Hines of Red House Design. Billy explained, “The brief to Chris was to build a quality, overnight institution, with a comfortable feel that oozed quality and was not too blingy. Contemporary, yet traditional, is what I was angling for. For instance the main bar has 8 chandeliers, initially we were going to put in one or two, but we decided to go for it.” He continues, “The Club Room next door provides a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the main bar, and dining-height tables in Devil’s Cut also mean that we can serve food on both floors should it be demanded, and the kitchen can cope with dining on both floors.”
So what’s it like? Both the bar and the club room have their own separate entrances. Once through the front door to the bar, it’s immediately brighter than the former Hudson bar. More daylight streams in through both the front windows and the windows along the wall of the ginnel separating both buildings at the front, the plan being for this to eventually become a smoking area. There are 120 black and white framed pictures of well-known Scots adorning the walls, and their sheer number make them a mainstay of the interior. This is a topic of conversation that excites Billy. He said, “I wanted to make them a real talking point and I had to use a bit of lateral thinking to feature all the people on my wish list. For example, I wanted both Frank Sinatra and George Best, neither of whom is Scottish, but I am a big fan of both men, so I got them included in the gallery posed next to Dennis Law and Ricky Fulton respectively.” The plaque underneath doesn’t refer to either of the most recognisable stars, a technique that Billy has adopted on a number of the prints.
The refurbishment also has the Lowe kitemark of quality stamped on it, from the copper-topped bar, complete with mirrored back bar in which the words Angels Share are etched, to the tin ceiling (reminiscent of Glasgow’s 29) and the mosaic tiles on the walls. The back bar also stocks a number of whiskies from now closed distilleries.
The booths are upholstered in soft black leather, and then of course there are the chandeliers. Billy got the inspiration for them during a visit to Buenos Aires. On the day we went walkabout in Angels Share, his team was just putting the finishing touches to them by topping off the candle-shaped lightbulbs around the edge of the chandeliers with mini, individually-designed shades.
Downstairs, through a very cool concealed mosaic tiled covered door in the main bar, is Devil’s Cut, an area that Billy is particularly effusive about. He said, “The Door says PDT (please don’t tell) which refers to the password. This was inspired by The Backroom in New York which I went to with some stockbroker friends. I had been there the night before after being told the password by the concierge at my hotel, so we went the next night, but I thought because I had the password my mates would have difficulty getting in, but to my surprise, they joined me in there shortly afterwards. Turns out you didn’t need a password after all. It was a PR ploy. So that’s what we are doing here. In fact we invited 150 concierges and then 50 taxi drivers for a coffee and a bacon roll where we told them the password, which they can pass on to their fares – maybe for a better tip!”
As we walked around Devil’s Cut Billy explained, “There will eventually be old ads hanging on the exposed brick walls that look as if they have been unearthed. Things like the old Coca-Cola and ‘Don’t be vague ask for Haig’ ads. It’s a 150-capacity venue, and I see it as an extension of the ground floor rather than a venue in its own right.” There’s also a newly-tiled floor in the basement, and the signature back bar mirror etching of the basement’s name.
The teapots in Devil’s Cut merit a mention too, as, according to Billy, a table of people drinking cocktails from a teapot can look a little surreal before they are joined by someone else drinking a bottle of beer for example. They’re certainly quirky.
The team was still working on the 30 guest rooms, which, say Billy, “Will eventually contain pictures reflecting different parts of Scotland – from Harris to Bishopbriggs. The individually-named suites (again, after well-known Scots) have already undergone some changes like the installation of new marble tops on the dressers.”
Billy had his second-best year in Le Monde’s seven-year history last year, which must bode well for the future of its new sister venue.