Despite the claw-like grip of recession, Edinburgh’s bar scene continues to develop at a rapid pace. As we’ve seen recently with other venues, the evolution of small, locals-oriented pubs into modern gastro-boozers seems to be the on-trade trend for 2012. Whilst the Swedes have claimed Leith, the rest of the city seems to be up for grabs in this respect – and a few weeks ago the Big Red Teapot group added another piece to the board in the shape of the Blackbird. Previously the Auld Toll, the pub sits on Leven Street near the Barclay Church, roughly halfway between Bruntsfield and Tollcross.
The BRT Group are owned by Colin Church and Martin Luney, who also run Broughton’s Treacle and Hamilton’s Bar & Kitchen in Stockbridge. Blackbird is, as you’d expect, along the same lines, and has now been split into two parts – the bar on the left, and the smaller dining area on the right. It certainly feels cosy, and looks the part with the chequerboard tiles, exposed brickwork and colourful ceiling. Walking past over the last couple of weeks, it always seems really busy inside – a good sign, given the current climate. You soon find out why, however – Blackbird is tiny.
The main bar area is dominated by three Chesterfield sofas – which look great, but take up half of the floorspace for the benefit of six people. There’s another sofa and a booth area at the back, on the way to the beer garden.* Cubed seats position next to the sofas, giving more drinkers a chance to sit, but on our visit there were ten people sitting in the whole bar. Not really a problem – we’re all used to standing up and chatting – except the kitchen is the other side of the bar, so any food coming to the dining area has to pass directly through the standing crowd.
*Reason for celebrating in itself – Edinburgh badly needs more beer gardens
Blackbird has the potential to be a great bar – the staff are friendly and clearly well-trained. Beer choice is as you’d expect, about ten taps of standard and modern-label lager. The bottled beer selection is good, with plenty of Camden Town, Redchurch, Anchor and others. The food smelled amazing, and we got a good view of as we moved out of the way each time a waitress moled her way through the bottleneck at the bar. I want to like Blackbird – but unless a sofa was free (or the sun shining), I’d avoid the squash and only go for the gastro, rather than the pub.