It's uncommon in the world of craft cocktail bars to find a dartboard among the decor, but at Edinburgh's recently opened Last Word Saloon, one hangs unabashedly on the wall – and it gets frequent use. Co-founder Jason Scott worked on Edinburgh's key cocktail hotspot, The Bramble, a dimly lit cellar with an unmarked door and a focus on heavy-duty craftsmanship behind the bar.
Scott's new venture is located directly across the Queen Street Gardens from The Bramble, in a quiet, upscale residential neighborhood peppered with art galleries and a few strollers. But the Saloon is decidedly unpretentious and laid-back, occupying two spacious, uncluttered rooms with dark green walls, and low chairs clustered around wooden tables tucked into corners. The overall effect lands somewhere between upscale pub and genial snooker club. The room is ideal for leisurely intimate gatherings: On a recent evening, a group of American journalists nestled in one end of the room for multiple rounds of spot-on drinks, while a trio of low-key rugby players and their dates debriefed in another. As the night wore on, the two groups struck up a conversation, sharing notes on various Scotch whiskies.
This blend of high-grade spirits and mixology with convivial atmosphere comes as a welcome counterpoint to the often too-serious shrines to cocktails around the world that are smothered in Civil War–era facial hair and an overarching seriousness. Here, you come for the good company and friendly vibe, and the excellent drinks just round out the happy scene. Scott and his team have created a menu that focuses on classic cocktails like the eponymous Prohibition-era, gin-based Last Word. ("Just the perfect cocktail, no need to try to improve on it," says Scott of this gem that was originally created at the Detroit Athletic Club in the 1920s.) The menu is rounded out with some innovative riffs on classics that mine some fairly obscure ingredients – case in point, the Who Dares Win, a twist on the Army & Navy, but made with orgeat (an almond syrup that adds a fatty, savory-twinged sweetness to a drink) and kummel (caraway liqueur). Even so, this is one serious bar where you won't feel self-conscious asking what gum arabic is. (In case you're wondering, gum arabic is a derivative of Acacia tree sap that is used to make gomme syrup, a sweetener and emulsifier that adds a silky touch to a cocktail.) [Last Word Saloon, 44 St. Stephen St., Edinburgh, lastwordsaloon.com]
• 25ml Fifty Pounds gin
• 20 ml fresh lime juice
• 20 ml green Chartreuse
• 12.5ml Maraschino liqueur
Pour all ingredients into a shaker, fill with block ice and shake rapidly. Double strain into a Chartreuse glass or a cut glass martini glass. Garnish with a cherry.
Who Dares Win (pictured, above)
• 60 ml Beefeater gin
• 25 ml fresh lemon juice
• 15 ml homemade orgeat
• 10 ml kummel
Pour all ingredients into a shaker, fill with block ice, shake rapidly, double strain into a cut glass martini glass. Garnish with star anise.