Edinburgh's skyline is spectacular, so why did it take so long to embrace rooftop bars? – Stephen Jardine

I was lucky enough to experience Edinburgh’s first rooftop bar.
Lamplighters, named for the Robert Louis Stevenson poem, where members can enjoy drinks, meals and views of the Edinburgh skylineLamplighters, named for the Robert Louis Stevenson poem, where members can enjoy drinks, meals and views of the Edinburgh skyline
Lamplighters, named for the Robert Louis Stevenson poem, where members can enjoy drinks, meals and views of the Edinburgh skyline

It was situated above my pal’s New Town flat. Our visits were infrequent for health and safety reasons but back when we were students that didn’t seem to matter as much.

Alan’s landlord told him never to access the attic so that is exactly where we went to stand on top of a pair of wobbling step ladders, prise open a skylight and pull ourselves up onto the roof where we would crack open the Paul Masson carafe and enjoy the fabulous views over to Fife and the less wonderful 200ft drop to the street railings below.

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Looking back, it seems strange that a city with one of the most spectacular skylines anywhere in the world took so long to embrace the idea of rooftop bars.

Perhaps Edinburgh’s Presbyterian city fathers thought it sounded too much like having fun, but it’s only in recent years that we’ve been allowed out of our darkened basement bars to stand with a glass in hand up high.

The first time I can remember doing that was at James Thomson’s much-missed Tower above the National Museum of Scotland. It offered an unusual view of Edinburgh Castle from the northside but was a proper restaurant rather than a bar.

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The same goes for Chaophrya, The Lookout and Harvey Nichols Brasserie, all places to sit and eat and enjoy the vista but not bars as such and that makes a difference.

A rooftop bar is a special place. You know the developer could have got more cash by turning it into yet another penthouse apartment or the kind of place couples come to eat overpriced steaks because they would rather look at the view than each other. Instead, it is this communal space where, for the price of a lime and soda, you too can look over the rooftops and contemplate life at the top.

Finally, Edinburgh is starting to offer that experience. Cold Town House in the Grassmarket actually offers you the chance to drink outside on the roof terrace with a view of the castle spectacular enough to make Instagram influencers go OMG while SKYbar in Bread Street takes you even closer to the clouds.

But perhaps the two most spectacular rooftop bars in the city have arrived post-lockdown.

Johnnie Walker’s 1820 Rooftop Bar offers the chance to be inside or outside with a perspective on Edinburgh’s skyline that is as fresh as it is impressive. It’s the perfect place to take a visitor to experience and toast the best Scotland has to offer with a dram.

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At the other end of the New Town, Lamplighters at Gleneagles Townhouse on St Andrews Square is the result of a five-year renovation of the old British Linen Company building.

It’s only accessible to those who have joined this members club but the up-close view of the Melville monument and the rooftop statues representing the key industries of the city is something any capital in the world would be proud to offer.

Later this year the W Hotel in the St James Quarter will go one step further with a rooftop bar offering 360-degree views. All this is great news for a city rebuilding hospitality post-lockdown, unless of course you suffer from vertigo.



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