Design Focus: Nauticus, Edinburgh

NAUTICUS 142 Duke Street, Edinburgh EH6 8HR

Once upon a time there were three guys with one big dream: to open a bar in Leith that captured the heart of what was going on at the shore, that wove in the area’s rich history, and that contained a good few traditional design nods. They acquired the former Parlour bar on Duke Street, worked really hard during a four-month refurbishment, and their dream came true last month when Nauticus became a reality.

Those three guys are Kyle Jamieson, Iain McPherson and Sam Chapman. Iain and Sam have got form, with Panda and Sons and Hoot the Redeemer, both in Edinburgh, already under their belts, while Kyle worked with the duo at Panda and Sons and has managed various bars in the capital including The Bon Vivant and Devil’s Advocate.

The three of them decided to collaborate and approached Admiral Taverns for the tenancy, getting the keys in April, and, as Kyle, who showed me around, told me, this is a celebration of all things Leith and all things Scottish. He said, “All our house pours are Scottish brands, and if we can’t find a Scottish tequila, say, then we go for a Scottish supplier. We’ve a classic rum from Cadenheads for example.”

Anybody who’s familiar with the old Parlour bar and it’s insipid looking blue painted interior – including all the lovely wood panelling that the guys stripped back over a week – won’t help but be moved by the power of this transformation. Unlike some redesigns that throw a ton of money at a place and rip out its heart and soul in process, there’s nothing soulless about the design that principally Kyle and Iain came up with. Said Kyle, “Iain and I designed it. We started at the toilets, which we switched incidentally, and this was our starting point for the entire design and we worked our way out from there. We wanted to strip it back to what it used to be, or what we imagined it looked like because our research couldn’t really find out much before its days as The Golf, and if the amount of old-school regulars we’re attracting is anything to go by, from both Parlour and its days as Golf, it’s been given a resounding thumbs up.”

They sourced many of the bar’s interior ‘talking points’ themselves, and, as Kyle also explained, it’s more of a hobbyhorse for one of them. “Iain is an avid hunter of antiques from fairs and stuff and he was able to source most of what we’ve used. The only remaining original features are the cornicing, the fireplace and the McPhersons mirror above the door.”

The bar’s exterior is green, with a gold painted sign and two nifty little ship insignias in oval frames. You get to drink in the whole of the bar as soon as you step inside and it’s a square space with wooden parquet flooring throughout, with the bar on the left and the fireplace on the right. The walls are all painted in a racing green with wooden panelling to dado rail height. The bar is lit by antique chandeliers.

Straight ahead and off to the right is a slightly raised oblong offshoot area. This long narrow space with a window at the very end has a floor to ceiling (practically) wooden bookshelves full of books and nautical themed object d’ art, like model ships, and non, like trumpets. A red leather banquette runs the entire way along the wall. There are square wooden tables that run the entire length of it at the moment, but the plan is to eventually replace them with circular ones. On the wall above the seat are several beautiful carved wooden pieces that used to decorate Panda and Sons. There’s also an upright piano nestled into the bottom right hand side of the shelves that’s played every Monday evening by a local guy that popped his head in one day and volunteered his services.

The fireplace has been painted in gunmetal grey, on top of which sits a model of another ship, two Victorian lamps, the likes of which you might see on an old-fashioned horse-drawn carriage, and on the wall above it is a collection of pictures of Leith-related stuff. Either side of the fireplace is banquette seating in green.

The jewel in the crown has to be the bar. A wooden bar-front is topped with beautiful mother of pearl that came in sheets and took two days to assemble. The bar font is temporary and a new one is currently being hand-blown in Italy. The mother of pearl shimmers, set off by the bar-top lighting that look like antique pieces, with flame-shaped shades, not unlike Lady Liberty’s torch, but on long, thin brass stands. Also on the bar is the helmet of a Captain Nemo-style metal diving suit with an illuminated globe inside that depicts the changing timeline of the seasons. There are two other helmets that have been wall-mounted to roughly head height for customers to pop their own head into for a social media photo opportunities. They must have had small heads in those days or I have a big noggin.

The back bar’s constructed from old library shelves, complete with working wooden ladder that slides around on a rail so that that the high-up spirits can be reached. Each square inlet has been backed by a mirror and is illuminated. The bar stools are upholstered in Harris Tweed, with grey dominating, which dovetails well with all the green.

On the way to the toilets, straight ahead and off to the left via the raised area as you enter, is a triptych of goldframed mirrors and a picture of all the different types of knot, and the last word has to go to the toilets. They’ve been outfitted in lovely white and green brick tiles and what looks like heavy duty porcelain sinks, that again have an antique feel, above which is one of those old-fashioned liquid soap dispensers that you have to rotate downwards to use.

The more time you spend in Nauticus, the more design details catch the eye. It’s already garnering quite a reputation as a bartender’s bar, and I can see why. It’s cornering the ‘lived in’, comfortable end of the market, with a stylish twist.

Jason Caddy

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