From its luxurious 1900s Art Deco design to a perspex box filled with hundreds of yellow rubber ducks, a visit to The Voyage of Buck in Edinburgh’s West End feels like stepping back in time, but with one foot firmly rooted in the present.
Four years on from opening The Blackbird on Leven Street, Big Red Teapot owners Martin Luney and Colin Church have transformed the former Bert’s Bar on William Street, which they bought last October.
Like the rest of their Big Red Teapot venues, the pair had a big say in the bar’s design and worked closely with their main contractor, SPLINTR Design and Fabrication. This is the first time the duo chose to base the concept of their bar on a fictional character – who they have invented, world traveller William “Buck” Clarence, who between 1900-1935 they have travelling to Paris, Taipei, Cairo, Havana, London before heading back home to Edinburgh.
Their chosen muse has inspired the slick yet eclectic Art Deco décor, which includes ‘antique memorabilia’ from Buck’s fictious travels. Colin said, “You go round Edinburgh and see these blue plaques with ‘such and such lived here at this time’. In keeping with the style of the street and the time of this part of Edinburgh, we came up with this story. It’s a fictional character but based around real life events and characters that might have featured in his The Voyages.”
The pair went on their own journey to source various ‘artefacts’ which are displayed around the bar, including framed vintage posters of Cocchi Vermouth di Torino from the 1930s found in Edinburgh antique shops, French music score books bought in Paris and an old cocktail menu from Havana.
Colin added, “We did a little bit of research on Prague, Paris and London during that era but we didn’t want to be a speakeasy or themed bar. I think there’s enough nods to today that it doesn’t feel like that. It was really important to us that this was a bar for 2016 not 1920.”
The walls have been painted in a rich blue called Inchyra Blue, from bespoke paint supplier Farrow & Ball, and have an Art Deco double arch pattern running below the light wood dado rail. Both have been kept the same colour to fit the traditional style of the period, says Colin.
The Voyage of Buck’s dining area on the right is filled with wooden tables and French bistro-style chairs that would look at home in a Parisian cafe. An original slate grey fireplace filled with church candles and a large cow-hide floor rug, sourced from Jeffreys Interiors in Stockbridge, combines to create some warmth, while a large mirror on the back wall creates the sense of more space.
A popular design feature can be found beside the two comfortable booths at the window. Each has a large button on the wall which, when pressed, lights up a sign that reads “Cocktails”. Colin says customers love it and have already been sharing photos of it on Instagram.
The bar itself has been deliberately widened, given a gorgeous marble top, and lined with tall, comfortable yellow stools with tall backs, designed by Colin and Martin. Colin explains, “It’s really important to us that you sit at a bar and have a really nice experience. It’s not just a case of going up, getting served a drink and going to sit somewhere else. Getting people to sit at the bar is a huge part of what we’re trying to achieve here. We’ve got a wide bar at Hamilton’s and wanted to recreate that.”
He added, “We wanted to introduce marble, gold, wood, fabrics, brass and all these luxurious items. We’ve introduced bling to the West End but it’s our interpretation of it – we hope you come in and feel you’re somewhere special.”
This idea is replicated in the wallpaper the pair designed for the ceiling – a repeating scalloped design of golden arches encasing a stylised artichoke on a dark blue background, which was created by Big Crayon Design. The artichoke is also The Voyage of Buck’s marketing symbol and is meant to represent Buck’s family shipping logo.
Left of the bar, by the window, is a seated area that contains a brown Chesterfield sofa, two large wing back chairs, and a bespoke glass and brass table designed by Lily Morris that contains the inner mechanisms of a piano – one of two that Big Red Teapot inherited when they bought the unit now occupied by The Blackbird.
The second piano has been kept in one piece. Painted bright yellow, it sits outside just by the bar’s entrance. Colin pointed out that its been such a talking point with customers that it had to be glued shut to stop people playing chopsticks on it!
Another quirky feature has been dubbed ‘The Duck Box’ – a huge perspex box hanging from the ceiling above a long, oblong booth at the back of the bar which is filled with a horde of yellow rubber ducks and lit from above.
Colin explained, “I actually have a perspex box in my house with two rubber ducks in it – we both love the idea of doing this for no reason. We just wanted to do something fun and different. Who else has a plastic box of yellow ducks hanging from the ceiling? We just like to try things we haven’t seen before. The overall effect is a bit like a step back in time but with one foot still in the present. It feels like true piece of our Red Tea Pot family.”
That family, which also includes Treacle, The Blackbird and Hamiltons, is destined to keep growing, hints Colin. “Our ten year plan was to get five bars in a decade, and that’s us on four in eight so watch this space! And then we’ll focus on the brand’s we’ve got and figure out another ten year plan.”