Lapdance bar stripped away to reveal historic frontage

WORKMEN removed the woodwork at the front of a city lap-dancing bar - and discovered a historic gem.

The team repairing tenement flats above Big Daddy O's showbar on Lothian Road discovered decorative ironwork underneath.

They notified the project's architect Ian Riddell about the cast-iron column and part of a window frame.

He realised its significance and contacted Edinburgh World Heritage, the official guardians of the city's historic heart, who were funding the tenement repairs.

Their inspectors recognised the metalwork as the last remnants of a style of pub fronts which were the height of fashion in Victorian Edinburgh.

The heritage watchdogs are now anxious to see the metalwork preserved and possibly opened up to public view once more. It is, however, likely to remain under wraps for the foreseeable future.

The owners of the strip club are believed to be reluctant to alter the existing front of the club in order to expose the historic treasure.

The pillar and decorative metalwork were part of the front of the building when it was William Fraser Spirit Merchant before the First World War.

David Hicks, of Edinburgh World Heritage, explained that in the Victorian period it was fashionable for the pub window to sit in a cast-iron frame.

But he said that the frame required a lot of maintenance and in this case instead of replacing it, it had simply been encased in a wooden frontage.

He said: "It's a significant discovery as it's a unique surviving example of a late Victorian decorative pub frontage.

"It would have been nice to restore it to its former glory but that would require the co-operation of the owners."

Mr Hicks said Big Daddy O's leased the premises. He added:

"They felt the current decorative scheme fits in better with their line of business. We would have preferred to see a more sympathetic frontage."

The classic terraced tenement block in which the bar sits was built by architect David McGibbon in 1863. It is now C-listed by Historic Scotland.

Architect Ian Riddell, who is based at Dick Place, said: "We would have had a cast-iron frontage unlike anything else in the city. It would have been a very good restoration project.

"We came up with a detailed programme of work, all costed out, but unfortunately it will not now go ahead."

At Big Daddy O's, managing director Steve McDonald was unavailable, but manager Alex Smith said he hadn't heard anything about the discovery.

He said: "This is news to me. However it has been said to me that there is an old fireplace somewhere behind the bar within the building but I've never come across it."

Camra, the campaign for real ale, said every effort should be made to preserve such important parts of our social history.

Ken Davie, Camra's director for Scotland and Northern Ireland, said: "Edinburgh had a tremendous brewing heritage and we should have a heritage centre to celebrate that, of which pub frontages could be a part."

Back to the top of the page