It seems like a lot more time has passed than the twelve months since the Hanging Bat opened – which, I guess, is as good an indication of its success as you can think of. As it was taking shape, plenty of ideas and rumours were swirling around the foam-flecked, smartphone-ready Edinburgh beer scene. That it wouldn’t serve pints. That it would serve in-house smoked barbecue. That there’d be a brewery out the back, and a garden out the front. It’s a testament to the people involved with getting the Bat up and running that so many of these ideas were paid forward to opening weekend – even if the bat-wing awning never quite saw the light of day; financial sense precluded Lothian Road becoming a Dotonbori-style animatronic attraction.
The success of the Hanging Bat is down to prioritising the holy trinity of modern bars: design, events and service. I don’t think anyone doubted that the beer wouldn’t turn out to be great; a bar overseen by a distribution company has an immediate advantage, particularly one with as many contacts as New Wave have. Spend a working lifetime establishing the links, getting to know the people, and then flick through that pocket book when the time comes. It’s a perfect relationship; the modern UK beer scene has standout producers stretching from the wind-pushed Northern Isles to the craggy tip of Cornwall – the Hanging Bat is very definitely a tribute to, and depiction of, this flourishing movement.
But it isn’t just for the geeks. Maybe it was, when it opened, as they whispered about the number of taps and the gravity-dispensed casks and soforth. But you turn up and stand near the bar, listening to people asking for “two number fours and half a nine” and realise (thankfully) that a wider crowd have now taken to it. Beer, I mean – the great thing about what bars like we have today are doing, is that they are de-mystifying ‘craft’ beer. Some in the business haven’t clicked on to this yet – the only way to become fully inclusive, so that great beer becomes the norm, is to normalise it. Call it artisan, boutique, whatever, but make people who don’t use unTappd realise what beer can be about, and attract people who pop in, as well as those who check-in.
Ah, but how does the Hanging Bat do this, with no pump clips, and a looming chalkboard of ciphers? Well, you get everyone involved with the place completely clued up on what they are doing, and they become the key component of the bar’s success. Yes, the general public should embrace fantastic British beer, but it takes work. I remember being in the Bat once, a while ago, near two youngish guys who were both utterly bemused by and tittering with incredulity at the beer board. They literally had no idea what any of the twenty offerings were. So they ‘fessed up at the bar, and were taken through all of the base types of beer, with samples, until they found something they liked.*
*Although, I confess, I did chuckle over-hearing someone else ask for ‘two gin and tonics and a William’s Caesar Orgasm’ – if Williams Bros ever do beer cocktails with Caesar Augustus, there’s the name, right there.
The Hanging Bat are by no means the only bar that have a patient attitude with their customers; there are similarly open attitudes in both directions along Lothian Road, much less within the same city. But it was a brave decision to deliberately serve this style of beer without adornment. The only chance of explanation is to speak to the person serving you; this is what makes the difference, what helps our breweries get their ideas across. It makes me proud to live in a city where I can go to tap takeovers with twenty different beers from the same producer, and have them explained to those who have no idea. ‘Craft’ beer is a club; a clique. It’s a foreign language – still – to most. But the interest is there, and in places like the Hanging Bat is where it will truly develop.