Abbeyhill is pretty much the opposite side of Edinburgh from Corstorphine and one of the city’s most famous attractions: Edinburgh Zoo. As a lover of animals, you can imagine my excitement a number of years ago when I noticed that a local pub may not have a zoo but it was advertising a “Safari Lounge” in neon writing. What animals would I be treated to?
In I went, heads turned and I was told the safari lounge was closed. Disappointingly, this was clearly a local, drinking man’s pub that had seen better days. Unsurprisingly, it closed down not too long after. Earlier this year, however, in a blaze of orange and brown, it reopened as The Safari Lounge. Surely I couldn’t be disappointed a second time?
I’d wandered past this place many times before I headed in with Mrs Bar Fly for a winter-warming pint and pot of tea respectively. I’d never really been clear on what sort of place it would be – for some reason I had a distinct cafe vibe in my head, perhaps to do with the kitchen being in the front window. Yup, the kitchen is situated right at the front of the bar, complete with deli-style counter. It wasn’t like this in the Central Bar days! Get beyond that rather jarring sight at the door and you’re treated to a beautifully-lit, welcoming and cosy interior.
First of all, I think it’s great that the red neon sign that misled me many moons ago has been preserved and now hangs behind the bar. Kudos for retaining a part of the original pub’s history when revamping so extensively. Mrs Bar Fly remarked that the low lighting and neon sign behind the bar gave the place an American bar feel and I find it hard to disagree.
But what of the animals, I hear you ask? Well, there are certainly animal-based artefacts aplenty and a distinct wild theme – the “Wild brunch menu” for a start. A crocodile or alligator head pokes out from the middle of the pub while animal skin stools sit at the bar and fabulous world map of animals dominates the wall opposite the bar. It’s fun.
In the back room (the original safari lounge), there is a more function room-style feel with banquette seating (animal pattern, of course) and standard seating. A handy space for a small party or suchlike, I would think. Between the front of the pub and the rear lounge is a cosy space that reminded me very much of Holyrood 9a. In the old days, this was where the dartboard was but that’s long gone.
It may not have darts but The Safari Lounge has a lot of orange. I love orange. I particularly liked the gents with its bright orange tiles and appreciated that even the hand-dryer was clearly picked to fit in the with theme of the bar. If it wasn’t, the “kangarillo” device is a fantastic coincidence. I don’t normally take photos in the toilets, but I thought this sink and the orange tiles was worth it.
The clientele in here on a busy Sunday afternoon was a real mix. Clearly it’s popular with couples but also locals and tourists alike. There were plenty bar staff, all young and a little trendy – the kind that like to lark around a bit but I won’t hold that against them. I was young once, too. I think.
There were three ales on tap and it was easy to choose on this occasion. I’ve heard a lot recently about the Pilot brewery that has set up in Leith, a part of town that has been without a brewery since something like the 1980s, and here was its IPA on tap. It was 6% plus, perhaps a stronger beer than I was seeking, but it was lovely. We didn’t order any food but the variety and quality that the chap was producing from the tiny kitchen looked impressive. The couple next to us tucked into sushi (an Edinburgh pub serving sushi? Whatever next . . .) and some kind of pork belly, I think. I believe breakfasts and the like are available at the weekend but I can’t speak definitively about their food offering, yet. I shall save that for another time.
The Safari Lounge is local and, like The Mash Tun, is catering to a section of the population that must be abundant in this part of town. It’s homely, the food looks good, the beer is interesting and it’s the kind of place you could happily settle into for a long afternoon or evening. It’s all rather jolly and bit more interesting than some of the paint-by-numbers bars that have opened recently. You might not see a real zebra or giraffe but I won’t hold that against it.