I wrote in my last post about an old man’s pub being transformed into a fabulous modern yet characterful boozer when I mused on the Fountain at Fountainbridge. Well, a week later and I was in yet another conversion from old to new. This time it was The Flying Dog, formerly the Trafalgar Bar, on Henderson Street in Leith.
Now, I was never in the Trafalgar so can’t pass comment on it pre-refurb though I can imagine it was similar to a number of pubs in the Leith Walk/Easter Road area. Local, uninspiring, coming away at the edges and never quite the same after the smoking ban. So what of it in its new guise as The Flying Dog?
First, the name. Not 100% sure where it’s come from (it’s nothing to do with the Flying Dog Brewery) but a clue could be in the menu – it’s gourmet hot dogs all the way. 2013 bandwagon safely jumped upon (see Jeremiah’s Tap or the Huxley). Now, I like a hot dog so I’m not complaining and at between £6 and £7, the ones served here are reasonable. I went with the eponymous ‘Flying Dog’ dog which came covered in chilli, cheese and jalapenos, served with a small side of sweet potato fries (normal potato fries are so 2010). All this was served in a plastic basket and it was tasty enough but then it’s hard to mess up a hot dog. Complemented by a pint of Ossian from Inveralmond, it was a pleasant enough lunch, with friendly service. But, I have a problem with what this place is.
As the Trafalgar, it was a pub – plain and simple. As The Flying Dog, it is promoted as a “bar and diner”. When you walk in, I would say my first thought would be “cafe”. The woman who I can only assume was the landlady definitely had a head waitress aura and it was pretty clear that the bar wasn’t really for approaching or sitting at, despite the stools. Instead, the main space at the front of the bar offers seating for around 35, mainly on small tables of two to four. Seating is on spartan chairs or one of the many small stools. It reminded me of a budget version of the Vintage that moved into the old Cafe Fish earlier this year.
I worry for a place like this. It’s trying to capitalise on the current trend for gourmet hot dogs, craft beers and a taste for modern, mismatched interiors but I’m not sure they’ve quite achieved it. Hot dogs are hot dogs and no matter how many different varieties there are, 90% of the dish is the same in all instances. In terms of beer, their selection is not huge – although they have 10 on the wall behind the bar, the likes of Belhaven IPA, Best and the like fail to inspire. As for the interior, its quite spare and a little draughty, if I’m perfectly honest. There may be a draught excluder across the bottom of the door but the chill wind that blows in whenever the door opens is only going to get colder as we go deeper into winter. Don’t even get me started on the trendy practice of listing prices as “6.5” and the like. Pounds? Stones? Cabbages? Who knows.
Don’t get me wrong, they’ve obviously done a great job in transforming the place but I don’t know where it fits into my life. It’s not somewhere I would meet a group of mates; it’s not somewhere I would return to for food on a regular basis given the limited menu; it’s certainly not a “local” pub; and not really a destination one either. Could it be a place for a date? Maybe. I was there on a lunchtime and maybe come evening, it is cosy, busy and full of character but I’m not so sure. Yes, the whole place is nice and bright, the staff are pleasant and the food is fine but nothing screams “Come back!”
I wish the owners of The Flying Dog all the luck in the world. It’s a brave move to open such a venture and I know they’ll work hard to try to make it succeed. Hopefully it will but I’m not about to put it into my top 10 or hurry back.
The Flying Dog is at 24 Henderson Street, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 6ED. Find it on Facebook here.