Design Focus: Cask & Still, Edinburgh

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The Cask and Still, formerly The Volunteer Arms, on Leith Walk in Edinburgh is the latest addition to Iain Pert and Gordon Gilhooley’s PG Taverns pub group, and marks another development in their ongoing relationship with Star Pubs & Bars following the opening of McSorley’s last year and the soon-to-open The Jolly Botanist.
When I met Iain, The Cask and Still was scheduled to open that very night. The bar was a hub of activity, with various tradesmen concentrating on snagging issues and staff scheduled to arrive to finalise the clean-up before the first customers began filtering into the bar.
Says Iain, “We had the concept ready to go, it was all about waiting for the right venue to become available. We had some conversations with Star Pubs & Bars about some new ideas that we had. They then came back to us with this site and we thought it fitted perfectly. Star are very keen to invest in new venues at the moment, and we have a real partnership with them.”
The interior design was completed by Rough Design, who worked with Iain and Gordon on the concept. Director Grant Rough told me, “We really enjoy working with Iain, Gordon and the guys at Star Pubs & Bars, as it’s both a challenging and ultimately rewarding journey. The projects always start with a strong brief and vision, and as this venture involved links with both Caledonian Brewery and Diageo the research phase of the process was particularly interesting. This led us to incorporate some subtle and playful references relating to the industrial nature of the brewing and distilling process within the project.”
As you approach The Cask and Still from Leith Walk the venue’s frontage provides a clear indication of the bar’s ethos. The exterior has been painted gunmetal grey, with the bar’s name printed in small, minimalist letters above a black, Victorian lamp. Large windows featuring the logo sit on either side of the doorway, and below there is barrel-effect wood panelling made from old flooring and metal straps. The outside seating area can hold up to 24 people, and features brushed metal tables and chairs in keeping with the design of the interior. The canopies hanging above the tables bear The Cask and Still’s two slogans, ‘Where Beer is the Hero’ and ‘Today’s Rain is Tomorrow’s Whisky’.
The message continues as you enter, with a large, neon red ‘Where Beer is the Hero’ legend bearing down from a reclaimed brick tile wall halfway up the room. The bar’s brickwork and red windows are a nod to Edinburgh’s iconic Caledonian Brewery, which was rebuilt in the old style following a fire.
The same whisky barrel-panelling from the exterior wraps around beneath the bar top, with the slightly worn, paint-dashed wood bound together with black, bolted metal. The bar top itself is light, varnished oak, with two bronze taps protruding from the surface for those wanting to add a little water to their dram. The back-bar has dark stained oak shelving in front of the brick wall, and houses an array of whiskies ranging from the well known, larger distilleries to rare expressions and single cask bottlings. Sitting above the gantry are small whisky barrels, nets and wooden delivery crates, a contunuation of the warehouse-feel theme.
When I asked Grant about the back bar he told me, “Iain and Gordon tasked us with designing a feature back display that would show off their trademark wide range of products. This was manufactured by the skilled team at Dimension Shopfitting with a specialist painter originally from New York working alongside the experienced decor team from Esk Solutions, achieving the reclaimed finish we wanted.”
Six cask ales line the bar top, featuring three regular ales and three rotating guests beers. Iain told me that there is also a spare line installed for a potential seventh ale, should the need arise. As you would expect from a Star Pubs and Bars venture, Heineken is featured prominently, with two Heineken Extra Cold taps as well as the latest in Heineken’s Smart Dispense technology. A doorway behind the bar leads into a small food dispense area, with a sign above the door highlighting The Cask and Still’s food offering, pies and pickles. A black, vintage clock hangs on the brick wall adjacent to the bar, and long-hanging metal lampshades illuminate the bar top itself.
Past the exposed brick pillars there is a snug seating area; tartan covered bar stools sit around restored whisky barrels and intimate booth seating featuring brown, leather banquettes either side of a table made from reclaimed scaffold wood. A large, chesterfield sofa is fitted into the wall, and directly above is one of The Cask and Still’s most striking features, a collection of inter-linked copper piping and pressure monitors that look like they’ve been transplanted directly from a nearby distillery.
A few, small steps take you down to The Cask and Still’s tasting room. Grant told me, “We transformed a neglected area at the back of premises into the ‘Tasting Room’ with our custom designed large format artwork and bespoke screen, which aims to convey the client concept of a ‘marriage’ between beer and whisky and allows the area to be used for everything from whisky and beer tastings to corporate events.”
The walls are lined with benches with burgundy, leather cushions, which face varnished wooden tables that match the beech wooden floorboards. Small, burgundy stools and leather-cushioned seats dot the tables’ exteriors. The area has a very traditional feel to it, and two large murals across the walls serve as a reminder to the heritage of The Cask and Still’s featured drinks. The first is a collage of old whisky barrels, date-stamped and worn. Two stand out however; one wears the famous Johnnie Walker logo, the other, bearing the pub’s name, looks as fresh and new as The Cask and Still itself. The second wall mural shows an old group photo of workers at the Lorimer and Clark brewery in Edinburgh, the predecessors of Caledonian Brewery. Iain tells me that Mr Clark himself is in the centre of the picture, a fitting nod to the city’s brewing heritage.
Despite The Cask and Still’s tribute to Scotland’s brewing and distilling past the bar is very much grounded in the present, and serves as a welcome, contemporary addition to Leith Walk. Yet for all the hard work that Iain and Gordon have put into the bar, they don’t have the time to take a step back and admire their work, as their other venture with Star Pubs & Bars, The Jolly Botanist, is due to open imminently. No rest for the wicked indeed!

Category: Features
Tags: Cask & Still, DESIGN, Edinburgh, Gordon Gilhooley, Iain Pert, PG Taverns, Star Pubs & Bars