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Edinburgh’s Register Club, the hottest spot for Hogmanay

HighLifeChannel November 9, 2018

Remember that NatWest ad from the turn of the century with a sweet old dear complaining ‘oh dear, my bank is now a trendy wine bar?’ Fast forward almost 20 years and the former global HQ of Royal Bank of Scotland is now not only a trendy cocktail bar but a five-star hotel comprising 50 apartment-sized rooms and an outpost of the Hawksmoor steak chain.

The Register Club  is the reservations-only bar of the new Edinburgh Grand Hotel and occupies the west wing of the building’s fourth floor. It’s approached via a landing that gives very good Grand, with a trippy op-art carpet radiating outwards from a rotunda that extends for the entire height of the building: keep away from the edge if you don’t want to feel like Jimmy Stewart in a dream sequence from Vertigo.

Once your reservation has been ticked off, you’ll find yourself in the wood-paneled former committee rooms of the bank, decorated with the sort of 1930s-style sage-green sofas your granny would be itching to put an antimacassar on.

Mobile phone use is not encouraged, Soho House style, but a menu printed with the old floor-plan provides a talking point, not least a ‘note-burning room’ that would be snuffed out in today’s mood of corporate transparency.

The building’s history as a bank may have been liquidated, but who wouldn’t rather pop a Champagne cork than pay in a cheque? There are a dozen Champagnes for the big spenders, from Billecart-Salmon at £65 to Krug Grande Cuvée at £270.

Serving Billecart-Salmon 2007 vintage by the glass (£19) is a classy touch, while the selection of 30 or so mainly European wines is more interesting than many lists twice the length.

But the main reason to come here is cocktails for around £12 a pop. House creations nod towards the RBS days in the likes of a whisky and maraschino Savings & Loans; even better are the ‘club classics’ such as the 1922 Clover Club made from Tanqueray gin, Cocchi Rosa, raspberry syrup and citrus, which tastes like a glass of summer pudding.

This being Edinburgh, there is of course whisky galore, with Speyside and Islay particularly well-represented, plus 10 bourbons, ryes and Tennessee whiskies for the American tourists who are living proof that there’s no taste like home, even after they’ve tracked down their family tartan on the Royal Mile.

To eat, there’s an undemanding menu of the sort of comfort food you crave after one cocktail too many: croque madame, a club sandwich, and a New England-style lobster roll with the regrettable addition of sun-dried tomatoes that didn’t leave us feeling Yankee doodle dandy. Full marks, though, for the soft brioche roll, and rustle of fabulous fries.

Some might say that having to reserve a table takes the spontaneity out of drinking, but I’d point them to tiny, noisy Bramble on nearby Queen Street, voted the UK’s best bar in the recent Top 50 Cocktail Bars awards but where I was almost floored by a foreign exchange student busting some moves to the DJ while attached to a Karrimor rucksack like a parasitic twin.

Personally I’m the sort of drinker who likes to reserve a table weeks in advance and for whom the idea of no bookings is about as appealing as a ‘children welcome’ sign.

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