Edinburgh Playhouse set to expand after snapping up neighbouring bar
It has been an institution on Edinburgh's gay nightlife scene for decades. But now the neighbouring bar to Scotland's biggest all-seater theatre is set for a new life after being snapped up by the famous venue's owners.
The Ambassador Theatre Group, who run the Edinburgh Playhouse, has taken over the site of the former Cafe Habana on Greenside Place for an expansion.
The company says it has "regained a piece of its history" with the move as it will honour the original design of the Playhouse, which dates back to 1929, when it opened as a cinema.
The site of one of Edinburgh’s first gay bars is set to be revamped over the next few months and will be open late to allow Playhouse audiences to enjoy an after-show drink when it reopens next year.
Although direct access to the venue is likely to be created from the bar, the former Cafe Habana is expected to operate as a stand-alone venue, with the Playhouse’s management pledging it will be a “safe and inclusive space” open to both audiences and the wider community in Edinburgh.
The facade of the bar is part of the original design of the Playhouse, which was modelled on the Roxy Cinema in New York. Shop units were created on either side of the main entrance, with sweets on sale on the right hand side, where the current box office is.
The other unit had various guises, including as a dressmaker and an electronics store, before it became Chaps bar in the 1980s. It was also known as Fusion and Cafe Kudos before becoming Cafe Habana more than 20 years ago and remained hugely popular with the city’s LGBT community.
However the end of an era was signalled when it was put up for sale by long-time owner Lorraine Rourke and closed down in the summer.
The Playhouse remained a cinema until 1973 until dwindling audiences led to it being sold off. A campaign to stave off the threat of demolition led to it hosting Billy Connolly, Diana Ross, Queen, Kiki Dee, Rod Stewart and Elton John concerts.
The then Lothian Regional Council secured the future of the Playhouse in the late 1970s by buying the building and it underwent a full refurbishment before reopening as a full-time theatre in 1980.
The Ambassador Theatre Group, operators of the Playhouse, said the Cafe Habana site said the building’s facade would now be “restored to its original 1929 design.”
Playhouse theatre director Marie Nixon said: "It’s such a key part of the facade of the building and is a very close mirror of our box office space when you look at it.
“One of the really exciting things about this is that we’ll be able to reunite the whole facade, and have the Playhouse looking and feeling as fabulous as it should and as it was originally intended.
“The bar is in a gorgeous position, right next to our main entrance, and it’s been operated in a fabulous way. We’ve always been really proud to be its neighbour, particularly in the way it’s supported the LGBT community for decades.
“We’re now looking at what we do with that space when it is part of the theatre, and thinking about what is possible in terms of audiences and experiences.
“I would hope that things wouldn’t change dramatically and that folk would find it equally welcoming.
“I would hope that it becomes an open door to our building. We’re thinking about how we make sure as many people as possible get to experience it.
“But there will also be more opportunities for people who come to a show to stay with us a bit longer and soak up the atmosphere.”
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