Design Focus: Cold Town House

4 Grassmarket, Edinburgh

Bucket loads of divine design inspiration evidently rained down on Tibbatts Abel, the people responsible for the look and feel of Cold Town House, Signature Pubs’ £4m overhaul of the former Robertson Memorial Church at the bottom of Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, that it’s hard to know where to start. This brewpub is top-to-bottom amazing, from the rooftop terrace and its stunning views of Edinburgh Castle, surely some of the best in the city, via the pizza and Prosecco floor and brewery, right down to the fire-pit in the ground floor bar and restaurant.

Like anything worth having in this life, it required a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and there were a few hiccups along the way. They mostly came down to the fact that there were some holdups with this three-storey building’s extension, going out towards the castle at the back of the building.

Louise MacLean, Signature Pubs’ director of sales and marketing explained, “The extension went into the bedrock of Edinburgh castle and you’d think that the clue would be in the name and that this wouldn’t have requires any preparation of the ground, but it turned out the bedrock wasn’t as strong as we thought, hence the delay on the project.”

As the official home of Cold Town Beer, Cold Town House also marks the return of brewing to the Grassmarket, a tradition dating back to the 16th century. The spend is evident in the quality of the finish and the sheer ambition of the place just as soon as you enter off the street, and Signature’s marketing manager Mhari Minto kindly took some time away from organising a horse, cart and 18th century barmaid clip-clopping over Edinburgh’s cobbled streets to promote the new venue to show me around it just before the soft-opening at the end last month.

A lobby greets you as soon as you enter with a lift and stairs with a clutch of large green metal lights hanging down from the very top of the building, falling down in the centre of the square snaking staircase. There’s also a plan to include a photo booth in the lobby, according to Mhari. You can also see the bar, to the left from here through the glass window-wall, and beyond it to the back of the space and that new extension, into the spacious seating area. Roomfood Ltd. supplied all the loose furniture, internal and external.

Cold Town House is a sister venue to Signature’s Cold Town Brewery on the capital’s Dunedin Street and Cold Town’s brewpub status is confirmed right away by the eight 500L metal tanks that grace the back of the bar against the glossy white brick shaped tiles. Opposite the bar and looking out onto the lobby is a row of stools and a shelf that looks back into the lobby. The stools have been upholstered in orangey brown leather. The bar’s superbly finished, with a white marble bar top and copper taps, atop of which are nifty little holders where a half pint glass lives that will be filled with the beer in order that customers can check out the colour of the beer to minimise agonising and queues.

The whole feel of the place is quite industrial because, as you go deeper into the ground floor, the exposed air conditioning makes it so, but there are also softer touches, which was quite deliberate. Said Mhari, “We were keen to step away from the traditional masculine associations that you find with beer pubs. The look and feel is warmer and more feminine. Each floor feels like a home.”

Other standout design features on the ground floor are the mixture of upholstered booths, in a kind of zigzag monochrome pattern as well as teal velour, and the brick walls that separate them. The walls are a mixture of retro wood paneling, murals (like one depicting the brewing process from ‘milling’ via ‘mashing’ through to ‘conditioning’). There are also some exposed brick patches among an otherwise plastered wall, white concrete floor, plenty of greenery hanging directly from the ceiling and in hanging baskets, plus some interesting pendant lights with plant pot-shaped shades. In the middle of a high posing table sits the fire pit I mentioned earlier.

Up a floor is the Pizza and Prosecco floor, as well as the brewery, with the whole process displayed for customers to see, courtesy of floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Behind the bar on this floor is a specially imported dual fuel gas and wood pizza oven from Naples, Italy, which took two months to make. Again, the wrap-around bar has been fashioned beautifully from marble and overlooking it is a DJ booth in what used to be the church pulpit.

If you look up into the rafters of this floor you’ll see the pipes and industrial ventilation workings of the brewery part of Cold Town House, but further into the Pizza and Prosecco floor is a seating area, with tables and booths along each wall, and you can catch a glimpse of the castle from one vantage point. This seating, plus rotating windows that open into the brewery allow fall the sights, sounds, smells of the Cold Town Beer brewing process in. The design of these seats is interesting. Brow leather contrasts with great fabric cushions and more marble on the tables. Some of the seating has also bravely been upholstered in green, black and pink, which sounds like a clash in theory but works in practice.

The top floor gives you access to the terrace, which, as well as that view, also utilises a wooden framework that houses seating with multi-coloured (red, pink, blue) submissions and on which Signature plans to include an awning. The most interesting terrace furniture has to be the old ski lift seats and ski gondolas that have been shipped in from Alpe d’huez.

I’ve also got to give the dispensing van (converted by roomfood Ltd.), serving as a bar, a nod. It had to be placed on the roof using a crane. I’m sure the festoon-style lighting will really make for a wonderful atmosphere on a clear night, complete with an illuminated castle.

Cold Town House is a design triumph for Signature Pubs. They could so easily have let the castle views do all the talking, but instead, they’ve really gone to town on a feast-for-the-eyes interior refurbishment that’ll surely contribute to packing them in.

Jason Caddy

Category: Design, Editors' Picks, News
Tags: Cold Town House, Edinburgh, Grassmarket, jason caddy, signature pubs